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A window on Gwanda:
HIV/AIDS in one rural community

The global perspective on HIV/AIDS looks at people affected by the millions, obscuring the individuals who make up these numbers. How, exactly, does the disease affect the everyday lives of the women, men and children who populate the thousands of small rural villages it is decimating? The following profile shows how HIV/AIDS has affected the agricultural village of Gwanda, Uganda.

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In the mid-1980s, Gwanda was a relatively wealthy community. But today -- largely due to HIV/AIDS -- 45 percent of its people are poor.

Gwanda is located near Lake Victoria in Rakai District, where the staple crops are banana, cassava and sweet potato. Farmers also grow beans and groundnuts, which are used to make sauces or stews. Until the early 1970s, coffee was an important cash crop, but it has been neglected due to a decline in prices. Most residents keep small livestock, including poultry, goats and pigs, and some people fish.

HIV/AIDS and labour
Many households in the community have lost workers to AIDS. Productivity falls when a person becomes ill and dies, and it is also hit hard when family members must spend time caring for the sick, going to funerals and mourning the dead. The mourning can last as long as 40 days -- precious time that is taken from agricultural activities. This diminishes the family's food consumption, nutrition and well-being.

The impact is even greater given that infection rates are higher among women, who normally carry the bulk of the farm workload in addition to their domestic activities.

In Gwanda, farming is labour-intensive, with low levels of mechanization and little use of agricultural inputs. As a result, the community has been hit hard by the exodus of young people who choose to work in other sectors where the pay is better and the work not as hard. As a result, when farmers die in Gwanda, there is no one to replace them.

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A widow's day
Sarah lost her husband to AIDS when she was 44. Most of her day is spent caring for her children, farming her 3.5-acre plot and breeding pigs for sale. She also makes mats, baskets and tablecloths, which she sells to earn extra income, although finding a market is often difficult.

From the time her husband became ill, her income was diverted to paying for his care. Her mother was also sick, and most of her waking hours were spent taking care of both of them, leaving little time to manage the farm.

The month-long mourning period following her husband's death interrupted her farm work. As other family members and friends die in Gwanda, she spends time attending their funerals and preparing food for their relatives. As a result, much of her plot is now under weeds and she derives little income from what she manages to grow.

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HIV/AIDS and land use
Less land is being farmed in Gwanda because:

  • sickness and death in households means fewer people are available to work in the fields;
  • gender-based land inheritance and land tenure systems, which exclude women from having direct control over land, leaving many widows and orphans with no land to farm;
  • poverty results in food insecurity and malnutrition, affecting people's ability to do the hard physical work of growing food, and in turn reduces cash incomes needed to purchase inputs such as seed and fertilizer;
  • people sell land to meet the cost of medical and funeral expenses.

In general, farmers have shifted away from labour-intensive cash crops, like bananas and coffee, to subsistence crops that demand less work, such as cassava and sweet potatoes. As a result, incomes have fallen.

HIV/AIDS and pests and plant diseases
Gwanda has experienced an increase in pests and plant diseases. Banana weevils used to be controlled either by traditional means, which are labour-intensive, or with the use of chemicals. With illness and death cutting down the number of workers and the cash available for pest prevention, banana weevil infestations are increasing.

The already reduced coffee production has further decreased because of infestations of large stinging ants, symptomatic of poor agricultural practices. The lack of labour has caused the plots to deteriorate so badly that it is no longer economic for any but the wealthiest or most labour-endowed households to continue in coffee production.

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Uganda: The milk from the cow is sold to help the woman care for the 17 orphaned children of her only son, who died six years ago from AIDS (17379/FAO/K.Dunn)

HIV/AIDS and livestock production
Cattle husbandry has declined in Gwanda. Cattle are frequently sold to pay medical bills and funeral expenses, and even when they are not, the remaining family members often lack the skills and knowledge to care for livestock. And decreases in labour availability mean lower levels of livestock husbandry, which is a threat to long-term food security.

Luckily there appears to be a trend towards keeping smaller livestock, mostly pigs and chickens, which require less work. Also, farmers in Gwanda, especially young men, have also shown a keen interest in taking up beekeeping to earn income, as honey fetches a good price.

AIDS and food security
Gwanda has also seen a measurable decrease in its food security. Nutrition levels are falling in many households. An evaluation of community wealth estimated that about 45 percent of people in Gwanda are poor according to the community's standards. Yet, only 15 years ago Gwanda considered itself wealthy.

The richer the household, the longer it can maintain adequate food supplies. Lower levels of nutrition make people more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Poor health makes a person more vulnerable to HIV infection and shortens the incubation period of the virus. On the other hand, the onset and progression of the disease are delayed in well-nourished HIV-infected people.

The effects of HIV/AIDS on farming systems in eastern Africa
The effects of HIV/AIDS on farming systems in western Africa (only in French)