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Liberia: How fish farming can help people living with HIV in Liberia (The Guardian)

Moses King had one major problem. Though the 48-year-old subsistence farmer living with HIV has coped with the stigma of his disease, and was able to access antiretroviral medication, Mr. King and his family of six children could not get the right food to eat.

Mr. King grows vegetables and buys rice. But meat and fish, which are good sources of protein, are expensive in Liberia.

He says: “Subsistence farming allowed us to survive, but we had so many problems. We could not get any protein, and we were not getting the nutrients we needed to sustain ourselves.”

Good nutrition is particularly important for people with HIV. Research shows they need a much higher than average level of protein to prevent their health from deteriorating. Good nutrition is critical when taking antiretroviral drugs. But food in Liberia is very expensive. Rice is often imported and costly, and most people cannot afford fish and meat.

An estimated 50,000 people in Liberia are living with HIV. Sixty per cent are women or girls. The disease is still surrounded by stigma and discrimination. Half of those living with HIV in Liberia are not receiving treatment for the infection.

Pate Chon is a counsellor who works with people who live with HIV. She has been living with HIV since 1992. After watching a documentary about a fish farm in Thailand, she decided to set up a project in Liberia to employ people living with HIV and give them access to a reliable source of protein.

Ms. Chon says: “Many of the people I work with don’t have the means to have a balanced protein diet, and fish is such a clean source of protein … it is something we can farm.”

Ms. Chon met a man named John Sheehy who had studied aquaculture, and they decided to establish a fish farm. He raised money to build a non-profit fish farm near Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

The project has grown into the Grow2Feed Liberia Fish Farm. The farm has 12 tanks, each of which raises 5,000 fish per cycle when fully stocked. The farm can produce up to 200,000 fish per year. After harvest, the water and waste from the tanks is used to irrigate crops, which also provide food and income for the workers.

Mr. King and his family are part of a community of 1,200 people who benefit from the scheme. Most of the people in the community live with HIV. Mr. Sheehy says, “Members of the community live near the farm, and have agreed to be part of the co-operative. Many work on the farm, or tend the crops, and what they get in return is fish.”

Community members can eat the fish themselves, or sell fish to buy staple goods. The fish farm allows people in the community to reintegrate into society through weekly bartering and trading with other townsfolk in the markets.

Fish farming experts say the practice has huge potential in Africa. Much of the fish on the African market is imported frozen from China, and some is low quality.

The project has attracted the interest of the Liberian government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which has worked with Grow2Feed to provide training.

Mr. Sheehy says, “We operate 100 per cent non-profit, and we will never lose our social justice aspect.”