Malawi: HIV-positive farmers improve nutritional status with mixed farming

July 22, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

Clement Mbewe and his two children sit on the verandah of their corrugated iron sheet house, eating the breakfast prepared by Mr. Mbewe’s wife, Edith Mbewe. Mr. Mbewe is eating soya porridge while the children drink tea with bread.

He says: “I take soya porridge every day for breakfast because it is nutritious for a person like me who is HIV-positive. I was advised by the doctor to eat nutritious food every day so that I boost my immune system.”

Mr. Mbewe comes from Masitimale village in Ntcheu district, about 200 kilometres south of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. He tested positive for HIV in 2001. After his diagnosis, he lost hope and thought life had come to an end. He had no clue how to maintain the balanced and nutritious diet prescribed by his doctor.

Davie Muhasuwa is the coordinator of antiretroviral therapy at Ntcheu district hospital. He says people living with HIV and AIDS should eat foods with lots of vitamins and minerals to boost their immune systems, including vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, milk, fish, grains, nuts, and avocados.

Mr. Muhasuwa explains, “Nutritional status and the progression of HIV are strongly interrelated. Malnutrition accelerates the HIV infection.”

After five years of living with HIV, Mr. Mbewe found the magic formula for eating nutritious food. He joined the Chitungu support group. Other HIV-positive members encouraged him to start mixed farming, an approach that involves both growing crops and raising livestock.

He explains, “Through the group, I learnt that, being HIV-positive, you need to improve on nutrition. I started mixed farming together with my wife in order to improve our nutrition status.”

Mr. Mbewe started rearing animals like chickens, pigs, and goats. He also began growing a local, high-protein variety of maize alongside crops like groundnuts, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, soya beans, and vegetables.

He adds, “I have three hectares of land where I now plant different crops…. I now have a variety of foods in my house which are essential for my nutrition.”

According to Mr. Mbewe, mixed farming has not only helped his family improve their nutritional status, but also improved his crop yields. He explains, “Since I started practicing mixed farming, my production has increased. I now harvest over 100 bags of maize on the same land I used to get less than 60 bags.”

Arnold Kachitsotso is another farmer in the Chitungu support group. He says the group learned mixed farming from the government extension worker in 2005 as a way to help members produce and eat a nutritious diet.

Mr. Kachitsotso says that mixed farming helps farmers keep their fields under continuous production throughout the year with different crops, while also rearing animals. He adds that this helps them achieve food and nutrition security every year.

Mixed farming also helps Mr. Kachitsotso save the money he used to spend on expensive chemical fertilizers—he now grows legumes such as groundnuts to help keep his soil fertile.

Enifa Banda is an extension worker who trains farmers in the Chitungu support group how to practice mixed farming and prepare nutritious food. She says, “I also teach them how to prepare balanced meals for their good nutrition because people that are HIV-positive are required to eat all the six groups of food.”

In Malawi, there are six food groups. These include: vegetables, fruits, and legumes (the bean and lentil family that includes beans, groundnuts, and gram crops). The fourth food group is grains and other staples such as cassava, maize, yam, and plantains or cooked bananas. The fifth is oils and fats such as cooking oils and avocado. And lastly, foods of animal origin such as beef and eggs, but also including insects and rodents.

Mr. Mbewe says mixed farming has benefitted him both because his nutritional status has dramatically improved and because his income has increased—he sells some of the animals he rears.

He says: “My life is not the same. Since I started practicing mixed farming, my family no longer faces hunger because we have sufficient food to eat. The variety of crops that I grow also helps our bodies to grow healthy.”