Zimbabwe: Defeating HIV and AIDS stigma and living well through improved farming (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| November 28, 2011

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Many people who discover that they are HIV positive lose all hope in life. But James Ndlovu is living his life according to the saying “do not be negative about being HIV positive.” Mr. Ndlovu is a small scale farmer from Insiza district in the Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe. He and his wife Sifiso were diagnosed five years ago. Since then, the couple has been dedicated to improving their lives by improving their farm. At the same time, they have enlightened their community with their farming skills and attitude.

Mr. Ndlovu admits that it was hard and painful to accept his status when he tested positive. Some of his friends labelled him a walking accident. But counselling by home-based care givers changed his attitude. He says, “Yes I’m living with the HIV virus and I think that painful fact has consolidated my attitude towards [a] better life through hard work.”

That hard work has taken place on the family farm. Caregivers advised Mr. Ndlovu and his wife  to improve their diet, so they began growing vegetables and fruits.  Mr. Ndlovu has also been working closely with extension workers and veterinary officers to improve his farming methods. He learned how to use fertilizers and cattle manure to increase soil fertility and improve yields. He also learned how to use herbicides and insecticides.

He adds, “What I have also learned is that in order for one to be a successful farmer, capital is needed for machinery such as planters and cultivators.” Mr. Ndlovu has been able to use this equipment. He says, “Despite the fact that I’m working on a small piece of land, my output per hectare has continued to increase.”

He also uses modern methods to keep his animals healthy. He says, “I’m now my own veterinary officer. I recently bought a full kit for animal diseases control, which has all the doses and vaccines.”

Mr. Ndlovu set a goal to harvest a minimum of four tonnes of maize each year, and he has achieved this goal! A larger harvest has meant more income for the family. Money from selling produce allowed Mr. Ndlovu to acquire seven heifers and a cart in 2009, alone. He has never failed to pay school fees for his two children who are currently attending secondary school.

The couple is now living a healthy life, with good annual harvests in both their maize field and fruit and vegetable garden. Mr. Ndlovu emphasizes that they derive their strength from taking their antiretroviral drugs in a regular and timely manner. They cement this by eating nutritious food rich in vitamins.

Alfina Sibanda is an extension worker in Insiza district. She confirms that Mr. Ndlovu is a dedicated communal farmer who has bravely fought the stigma associated with people living with HIV and AIDS. She says: “He has created a name for himself through his extraordinary farming skills. He is doing what we are recommending and that is working well for him.” She says that extension workers use occasions such as World AIDS Day to advise farmers to go for testing early, and to get appropriate medical care.

Ndlovu’s wife, Sifiso, notes that treatment, a good diet, and a positive attitude are key weapons to fight the virus. Through successfully improving their farming methods and increasing yields, the couple has earned respect from the community. This has overcome a lot of the stigma around HIV. Indeed, Mr. Ndlovu has won the hearts of many fellow farmers who have re-christened him “Ndlovu the farmer of farmers.”