By JAMES LARAKI of NARI
HIV/AIDS, once considered a health issue is now a development issue affecting all sectors of society.
Its impacts are likely to affect all fronts of development, and agriculture is no exception.
Like climate change, and other crossing-cutting issues we are faced with today, its impacts are threatening our very existence, thus demanding our attention to deal with it.
Some of the likely impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture includes loss of labour, food and nutrition insecurity, loss of household income, shift in farming system, and loss of knowledge on traditional farming methods among others.
|Women making large mounds for planting food crops at the Tambul Agricultural Research Centre, Western Highlands. Such efforts require labour and are likely to be affected with the likely effects of HIV/AIDS.|
While the impact of HIV/AIDS is not yet that serious in PNG, it is clear that it would certainly have an effect in our agriculture system if its spread is not contained and allowed to spread at its current rate.
This represents a serious challenge to our agriculture system as up to 80% of our people depend on it.
Developing appropriate agricultural research agendas that could be useful towards mitigating its impact is one possibility that needs to be looked at along with other efforts that are already being pursued.
Agriculture research could offer technical interventions and policy recommendations focused on the needs of the rural farmers and the agriculture systems that are likely to be affected.
Research efforts are already being undertaken by various regional and international organisations, particularly in response to the situation in some African countries where HIV/AIDS prevalence is high.
Similar studies could be undertaken in PNG that would help us identify and explain the relationship between HIV/AIDS and agriculture, and their findings made available to stakeholders.
Currently, NARI and other research and development organisations are mainstreaming HIV/AIDS in their core activities and have developed workplace HIV/AIDS policies to provide guidance.
While these efforts are appreciated, how agriculture research and development could be off help in mitigating the negative impacts of HIV/AIDS on food security, nutrition and agriculture development in general needs to be explored.
HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to our agriculture, as it is entirely dependent on human labour. It affects the productive age group between 15-45 years and with less labour available, this poses a threat to agriculture production and food security.
This requires us to finding ways to reduce the amount of labour required, including introducing less labour-intensive crop varieties and increasing yield with less labour input.
Efforts are required to increase food and nutrition security for affected households and the community.
Most rural households in PNG depend on what they cultivate for their food and nutrition.
Thus, research efforts to promote diversified food production and nutrition at household and community levels needs to be explored.
Various studies conducted by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in African countries have found farming families affected are substituting cash crops for crops which requires less labour.
It is highly likely in PNG that the epidemic would cause a similar shift in our farming systems. This would mean that farming families may resort to growing crops that require less labour. There is a possibility that such families may do away with cash crops such as coffee and cocoa which require certain amount of labour.
Research could look at ways to avoid the likely shift in our farming systems and where possible develop simple income generating technologies.
Efforts could also be made to look at ways to document traditional farming knowledge which could be made available to the future generations as adults may not may die and too weak to transfer these to their children.
These may include hunting and fishing skills which are important source of food gathering in rural areas.
Studies on gender may be useful as women are often disadvantaged with respect to access to land, cash, and other resources even though they play a crucial role in agriculture and food production in rural PNG.
The risk of HIV infection in women cannot be separated from poverty and unequal status of women in society, therefore, women must be at the centre of HIV/AIDS response activities.
While NARI and other stakeholders in the sector have made attempts to towards HIV/AIDS responses, the way forward is for all to approach them collectively.
The impact is likely to affect all fronts, from food crops to plantations and livestock.
And the development of relevant agricultural research agendas is worth a thought.
The future impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture will depend, among other things on finding ways to reduce the amount of labour required, including introducing less labour-intensive methods of production and increasing yield with less labour input.
It is anticipated that the epidemic would intensify labour shortages, increase food insecurity, loss of household income, shift in farming systems, and loss of knowledge about traditional farming methods.
Any effort towards mitigating the impacts of HIV/AIDS by those concerned in the agriculture sector is crucial.
We need to have a very clear understanding of the relationship between HIV/AIDS and agriculture as our role is seen to be crucial in mitigating the effects of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and rural communities.
It is noted that not only agricultural research but a multi-discipline research involving health, education, public and private sectors may be the way to go on this front.