Future of agric in HIV/AIDS era
The world is under siege from the HIV and Aids pandemic, with Africa being the most affected. Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest rates of infection at a ratio of 1 per 3 adults having HIV positive or full blown Aids. Almost every family, household has lost someone to HIV and Aids, which hit the country in the early 80s. However the scourge has had a devastating effect on farming communities for a number of reason. Having spent all my life on farms I have a clear and vivid account of the impact that the epidemic has had on the farms but to clearly understand why farm workers are among the hardest hit there is need to look at the common set up on most farms.
A typical farm in Zimbabwe has a compound where workers live, a shop for basics, common water source and one or two official bars.
There are usually a number of shebeens where workers mix and mingle after hours for a drink.
There is a hierarchy in the farm management from the supervisors and foremen to the guards and general labour.
Some developed farms would have a soccer team that hosts matches over the weekends to provide some entertainment and fun.
Besides these, there is not much available by way of entertainment. The normal day is work, drink and sleep.
Because most farm workers share their resources there is a lot of interaction between men, women, boys and girls and because of limited entertainment there is a lot of drinking of beer which leads to risky sexual behaviour.
There is a lot of sleeping around and very little health information reaching these workers because the health workers who used to visit the farms back then are no longer doing so even though their services are now needed the most.
As a result most farm households have an average of one patients suffering from an HIV and Aids related ailment.
The spread of HIV/AIDS on the farms is aided by high illiteracy levels as most farm workers cannot afford to send their children to school.
Some children raised on the farms are groomed to be good farm workers. Their lives revolve around the farm.
The norm is they start working at very tender ages of around ten and girls tend to get married at that age.
Because of the risky sexual behaviour child headed families are also common on farms which leave the children heading those families at risk.
Most tend to prostitution, which is a cheap form of entertainment. HIV/Aids is also fuelled by nepotism in the job hunting process with those not connected to the managers being asked for sexual favours in exchange for jobs or lighter tasks.
This practice is mostly perpetrated by junior managers at farms. Men with many girlfriends are highly regarded in compounds which also fuels the spread of HIV/Aids.
However the practice leads to fights in the compounds as the practice does not just end with girlfriends but fellow workers’ wives.
There is poverty on an average farm as there is rarely enough to sustain the lives of these workers. The uninformed mindset of a farm girl can easily be convinced to go into sex work for small incentives.
There has been stories of some girls gave who offered sex for chicken feet and offals. I have had a chance return to most farms where I grew up and the number of people that I had known over the years that had died due to HIV/Aids was shocking
The most affected were supervisors, tractor drivers and clerks since these were the main players in the sex circles.
Most farm workers are dying because anti-retroviral treatment is expensive. Although there are schemes run by major hospitals in support of the HIV and Aids control and prevention these are less accessible to farm workers.
There is therefore need to raise awareness about HIV/Aids on the farms. It is also incumbent on Government and farm owners to assure that assistance being given to people living with the virus also reaches farm workers.
It is imperative that the loss of lost valuable workers in the sector that included mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters with in-depth knowledge about agriculture is halted to avoid further disruptions in production.
All farmers need to think seriously about the effects that HIV/Aids have had on the sector.
The Government, farmers unions and NGOs, need to co-operate in this battle.
Farm workers are a very important asset in the agriculture industry and protecting their interests is tantamount to protecting the nation’ interests too.
We need the production and the yields. My heart bleeds for the future of agriculture in Zimbabwe, in this HIV and AIDS era.
Evans Zininga is the managing director of the Zanu PF Youth League and Lasch Enterprises P/L joint venture. The joint venture management can be contacted on 04-668773 or [email protected]. Website: www.laschjv.co.zw