By JAMES LARAKI
OVER the last few weeks leading to December 1, many organisations were engaged in various activities to commemorate the World AIDS Day.
World AIDS Day, observed December 1 every year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the pandemic.
|Staff of the Department of Agriculture and Livestock with banners and awareness materials before joining the march to commemorate World Aids Day on December 1.-Picture by SOLDIER BURUKA
It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS and show support for people who are either infected or affected.
HIV/AIDS has become a cross-cutting issue affecting all frontiers of development along with other issues like climate change.
The epidemic has and will continue to affect all sectors of development and communities, thus requires us to respond to it.
When the HIV/AIDS pandemic touches the lives of those infected and affected, it impacts on financial, social and to a lesser extent on natural and physical resources.
The pandemic is a global crisis which demands urgent attention, commitment and sustainable actions by all stakeholders; civil society, private sector, government agencies, non-government organisations, women and youth groups, churches, and individuals.
For the agriculture sector, the rapid rise of HIV/AIDS in both urban and rural areas poses direct impact on food insecurity in households and communities.
Therefore, the sector must take on the challenges of addressing this pandemic because majority of our population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, thus it is important that collective efforts are needed to address the likely impacts of the pandemic to the sector.
While the impact of HIV/AIDS is not yet seriously felt in PNG, it is clear that the pandemic would certainly have an effect on our agriculture system if it is allowed to spread at its current trend.
In some countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, the agricultural sector it is already having noticeable impact on households’ ability to produce their own food.
Food insecurity, labour shortage, loss of household income, shift in the type farming practices and loss of knowledge on traditional method of farming are some of the effects that HIV/AIDS could have on agriculture development.
Labour shortage is likely to have serious implications as our agriculture is based on human labour, thus majority of our people feed on what they produce.
It will mean there will not be enough labour to work, directly affecting food production as well as limiting income to households.
It is also likely that human resources development will be affected where organizations may lose people with specific skills, reliable and hard working.
Some efforts are being made in the sector to respond to the impacts of HIV/AIDS.
NARI is aware of these issues and has initiated necessary steps to address the problem effectively by mainstreaming HIV/AIDS.
Not only is the Institute concerned with minimising risks and disruption and distress at its workplaces but also with orienting its research and development activities to minimise and/or alleviate the effects of the epidemic on farming systems and agricultural communities.
To strengthen its commitment, the institute developed and launched its HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy in 2007, which emphasises NARI’s concern on the rapid spread of the epidemic, especially in the rural areas where NARI’s work is focussed.
NARI workplace policy is intended to provide guidelines for the Institute practices with respect to its mandate and stakeholders, and the mainstreaming of strategies to deal with the implications of the epidemic in its core research and development activities.
The Department of Agriculture and Livestock has finalised a HIV/AIDS workplace policy which is expected to be officially launched.
This policy document is intended to ensure that there is a consistent and equitable approach to the prevention of HIV/AIDS among farmers and their families, and to the management of the consequences of HIV/AIDS including the care and support of staff members living with HIV/AIDS.
The department has also initiated awareness activities to educate extension officers, farmers and the agriculture workforce.
Didiman and didimeris throughout the country are being reminded of their roles in HIV/AIDS response activities of the sector.
They are encouraged to work closely with other government agencies, the private sector, NGOs and others to inform and educate farmers and their families about the likely impacts of the epidemic in their households and communities.
While these efforts are appreciated, there is an urgent need for key stakeholders in the agriculture sector to collectively understand and prepare for the likely impact of HIV and AIDS on our food and agricultural systems.
We need to develop strategies to address the likely impact that HIV/ AIDS would have on our agricultural system, particularly in relation to food, nutrition, and labour requirements.
It is no easy task, particularly during a time where we have to deal with other issues like climate and volatile food prices which also demand urgent attention.
It is, therefore, important for us to explore which agricultural systems are being or will be affected in what ways and what aspects of each agricultural system are most vulnerable.
This will help us to formulate strategies for the way forward for agricultural development.
It is essential for agriculture sector to develop strategies to address issues concerning what is happening, what is likely to happen, what can be done, what are the likely responses, and gender issues.