The microbe and the macropolicy
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Rugalema, Gabriel. 2000. The microbe and the macropolicy. Spore 89. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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In Africa, AIDS affects everyone in the community. When I was working on HIV/AIDS in Tanzania in 1999, I found myself talking to district administrators and farmers in terms of which households are afflicted, which households are affected and which...
In Africa, AIDS affects everyone in the community. When I was working on HIV/AIDS in Tanzania in 1999, I found myself talking to district administrators and farmers in terms of which households are afflicted, which households are affected and which households are not affected. One farmer kindly told me 'Here there is no household that is not affected. Afflicted and affected. Your third category does not exist.' Some people claim that AIDS is now more an urban problem than a rural one, but the actual rate of prevalence in any area depends on the local context. In fact, in Africa and other developing countries, you cannot make the urban-rural distinction, because of the constant movement of people. Town people go home to the village at special times of the year, rural people work in towns, and nowadays there is yet more movement because of more funerals and the fact that when people are very ill, they go home. Remember, relatively few people in Africa die in towns. We all want to be buried near to our forefathers - back to the roots. Deadening impact on agriculture The impact of AIDS can be counted in terms of calories per head, and food security is going to be more precarious. Because of AIDS, farming systems suffer labour shortage and bottlenecks; these cause shortages of food both for consumption and for sale. If you don t have labour you cannot grow crops that take a long time to mature, like banana (one year) or coffee (five years). You had better grow cassava or sweet potatoes which takes six months and has quick returns. The overriding need for many families is to fill the stomach, care for relatives and take in orphans. For such families, the level of livelihood has gone down. In Rwanda, genocide and AIDS mean that there are more than 11,000 households headed by children below the age of 11. The biggest threat is that with so many non-socialised children you cannot expect that wars in Africa are going to stop. Some will drift off to be soldiers, or to the cities to be street children, but even for those who stay in rural areas, life will be precarious. They are not being prepared to be farmers. At best they will perhaps be quasi-farmers, disconnected from the land, if they have not sold it. There is no handing-down of knowledge and skills. Schools could have played a very useful role, but in north-western Tanzania, for example, school attendance levels have dropped from 100% to 30% because there is no-one to send children to school, to buy books, to pay school fees, and no-one to be the teacher. And when casual labour gives instant earnings, instead of the need to wait for income from farming, which will a young person choose? Disease and risk We have to understand the forces which are driving the epidemic, or rather pandemic now that it is global. Some people present AIDS as a disease in terms of microbes; many people blame its spread on commercial sex workers and loose sexual behaviour. It s not that simple. There are considerations of family and survival. Last year, in Mwanza, Tanzania, a farmer told me: 'My son, here AIDS is not about the virus, it is about food. This is a very dry area. Rains come three months every year. By April, the place is dry, our harvest is in the stores. By end of August, rice stores have run out and you have families without food. So if I have a teenage girl and she goes out and comes back with a kilo of rice, I will not ask.' It is also a question of risk. People living in comfort perceive risk in terms of the future, tomorrow, the year after, ten years, twenty years it s theoretical because you know that you have something to live for. But talk about AIDS to a commercial sex worker, driven to her work by desperation, and she will say that hunger tonight is a greater risk to her and her children than AIDS, perhaps, after 5 years. Less poverty, less disease As Louis Pasteur said 'The microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything'. That Africa is the poorest continent and that Africa is facing the biggest epidemic of AIDS surely tells us something about the relationship between poverty and the disease. Instead of condemning the alleged promiscuity of our youth, who say their behaviour is only a symptom of the absence of development, we need to make sure that AIDS prevention and poverty alleviation go hand in hand. So yes, more public awareness even though we know that 95% of people in Tanzania today are aware of AIDS. And, yes, let us help our agricultural extension workers to know and explain more about AIDS, as well as early planting. And, yes, give us institutions and policies which admit to the problem and plan their preparedness. To combat AIDS is not only to change behaviour but also to work on food security and issues like land. Without the security of livelihood, we are going to keep the problem.
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