Zambia: Co-operative farmers help meet dietary needs of people living with HIV (by Brian Moonga for Farm Radio Weekly in Zambia)

| December 6, 2010

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One and a half million Zambians live with HIV. In a population of 12 million, this is one in eight people. The government’s ambitious antiretroviral program aims to ensure that everyone who needs the life- prolonging medication will receive it. But food insecurity and malnutrition will remain challenges for many affected families, especially in rural areas.

A rural farming group in Mumbwa District has hatched their own food security initiative. It aims to meet the dietary needs of HIV-positive people in the small district 50 kilometres west of the capital Lusaka.

Kwasha Farming Co-operative Initiative was founded two years ago. It is a community self-help project. Most of its members are HIV-positive. The co-operative runs a successful small-scale farm, where members grow various kinds of agricultural produce. The group owns half a hectare of land. Members grow vitamin A-rich vegetables such as carrots and green vegetables as well as fruit.

Some produce is sold, and some is used to meet the nutritional needs of co-operative members living with HIV. In addition, the co-operative grows enough so they can give vegetables away freely to people in the wider community who are HIV-positive. This supports people who either cannot afford to buy vegetables, or cannot get to market.

Darius Munkombwe is chairperson of the fifteen member co-operative. He says, “We currently grow specific fruits rich in rare vitamins. We have a few mango trees … this is a key source of vitamin A, we are told by nutritional experts.”

Some members living with HIV are actively involved in farming activities, such as weeding and watering vegetables and applying fertilizer. According to Mr. Munkombwe, each member is allowed to take home five eggs, a bunch of vegetables and other food harvested from the farm.

The local community supports the co-operative. Community members donate farming inputs like fertilizer, tools and even labour. Kwasha Co-operative is attempting to obtain a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. They have also approached local agricultural authorities. The group believes that such assistance will help them significantly increase their farming output.

Mr. Munkombwe says, “We need more support to enable us to feed everyone in this community who is on AIDS medication. But for us to do that, money and technical skills need to be injected into our initiative.”

The co-operative owns some livestock. The odour  from the piggery is evidence of the group’s active involvement in small-scale livestock rearing. Mr. Munkombwe explains, “We have two hundred birds, layers which produce about one hundred eggs per day. We also have ten adult pigs and once we acquire more land, we hope to introduce dairy cows.” He hopes the cows will provide enough fresh and sour milk for group members who are HIV-positive.

Mr. Munkombwe hopes that although most of the produce is given away, his organization is living up to its objective of supporting the nutritional needs of HIV-positive people in the whole community. He is confident that within the next three years, they will generate surplus produce. This will be sold for cash to help the group build a stronger financial base. They can then diversify their farming activities.

Mr. Munkombwe and his team will commemorate World AIDS Day by giving food packages to its members. They will also take part in the annual march. He hopes that the event will provide a platform to solicit support for the co-operative.