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Malawi: World AIDS Day strengthens small scale-farmers (by Mark Ndipita for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi)

This year’s World AIDS Day commemoration gives hope and encouragement to Village Headman, Chief Chima Chiwayuka. He says, “My village has farmers who sometimes feel rejected because they are suffering from AIDS. This year’s commemoration rekindles their hope and strengthens them because they are reminded that they are not alone.” Chief Chiwayuka of Chiwayuka village lives 35 kilometres northwest of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.

The chief believes that farmers who know their HIV and AIDS status can contribute a lot to household food, nutrition and income security. HIV testing and counselling is available in over 700 sites in Malawi.

To mark this year’s World AIDS Day commemoration, Chief Chiwayuka encourages farmers in his village to go for HIV testing and counseling. He explains, “This year’s World AIDS Day is a day of reckoning and stocktaking on HIV and AIDS issues. Farmers who know their HIV status can plan better in their farming activities.”

Around one million people in Malawi live with HIV, in a population of 14 million. AIDS is the leading cause of death amongst adults in the country. The Malawian government has launched a comprehensive response to the AIDS epidemic in recent years. Access to treatment and prevention initiatives has greatly increased.

Dr. Mary Shawa is the Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the office of the President and Cabinet. She announced that the commemoration will be marked in a different way this year.  District assemblies, institutions and communities, including farmers, will hold community dialogue sessions on human rights, HIV and AIDS. Dr. Shawa says the activities for this year’s commemoration are in line with this year’s theme of Universal Access and Human Rights.

Willie Dick is a small-scale farmer from Jimu village in Nsanje district. He says this year’s commemoration is a source of energy and inspiration to farmers. He believes that farmers will have an opportunity to highlight issues that affect them during the dialogue sessions.

Mr. Dick would like the government to encourage more farmers to participate in World AIDS Day activities. He says, “Farmers have also been affected by HIV and AIDS. This can affect production levels if they are not given more attention.”

Mrs. Lissy Chigalu is a farmer who attended the dialogue session at Paramount Chief Chikowi’s headquarters in Zomba District. Mrs. Chigalu explains that the dialogue session was an eye-opener for most farmers. She says, “Not many discussions in rural communities focus on how HIV-positive people can earn their living and survive through farming. Today I have learned that farmers should not only rely on government-subsidized farm inputs, but should look at other avenues such as manure-making.”

Mrs. Chigalu has been living with HIV since 1997 when she was tested together with her husband at Thondwe voluntary counseling and testing centre. She hails from Dawati village in Zomba District. She says that she would love for dialogue sessions on HIV and AIDS to be held frequently in villages. They would assist farmers to learn many things and share experiences.

Maxmosa Chigamba is a farmer from Chinsungwi village in Nsanje. He compares World AIDS Day to other agriculture-related commemoration days such as World Food Day and the National Agriculture Fair. He says, “I feel government and other stakeholders in the agriculture sector do not involve farmers a lot on World AIDS Day compared to other commemorations. This is an important day to us farmers because we are also affected by HIV and AIDS in one way or the other.”