11 June 2012

Rwanda: Farmers Living With HIV/Aids Embrace Farming to Improve Their Lives

SEVERAL farmers living with HIV/Aids have embraced the cultivation of Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes, a type of root crop that curbs malnutrition, disease and hunger as well as generates income in their communities.

Cacearpedo, a sweet potato variety containing vitamin A. The New Times / D. Umutesi.

Through cooperatives that comprise of youth and energetic elderly people mostly women, connected to the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA) have garnered efforts to become both economically empowered and physically healthy.

In an interview with The New Times, Patricia Kankindi, a member of T.T Mwogo, a cooperative of mostly women farmers living with HIV/Aids, said that men are recently getting involved in the cultivation of sweet potatoes after discovering its numerous benefits.

"It's common that people think that growing food crops is a role for women since they have to feed their families and children. But that mentality is changing as more men are getting involved since they discovered the profits of growing sweet potatoes," Kankindi said.

The cooperative is made of 76 members of whom 56 are women. They are all residents of Rurenge Cell, Mwogo Sector in Bugesera District.

Kankindi says she found out she was HIV positive in 2007 and at that time, most people in her village believed they would die immediately from the disease.

"The sensitisation we get from our cooperatives is what changed our lives as we found the hope that we could live longer and positively with HIV," Kankindi explains.

At 51 years, Kakinda is a mother of seven. For this reason, she says there is no time to sit at home and drown in self-pity but to hold on to their new found hope and contribute to the development of the country and their families.

Celestine Bavumiragira, a member of COPAMANYA cooperative of people positively living with HIV/Aids in Nyamata Sector, Bugesera District said that men are scared of coming out and declaring their HIV/Aids status.

"We have more women in this cooperative because men hide their HIV/Aids status. Our cooperative is made up of 42 members and 33 are women; we are trying our best to have men accept there HIV/Aids status just like most women have done. This helps us to curb its prevalence in our communities," Bavumiragira explains.

He further stated that through the cooperative they have been able to enhance their quality of life through income-generating activities.

"Before cultivating these potatoes we were growing cassava but the project didn't go well because of the harsh climate. But when we discovered this variety of potatoes, which survives harsh weather conditions, it has become a blessing to us farmers," Bavumiragira said.

Sweet potatoes have become a major staple food in Rwanda due to its ability to adapt to a wide range of farming conditions and mature faster.

One example is Cacearpedo, a variety containing high vitamin A, is drought tolerant due to its heavy vegetative cover, and matures within four to five months.

Dr Daphorose Gahakwa, Deputy Director General for Research at the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), says the OFSP variety was selected after research findings revealed its enormous benefits.

"The researchers came together with the farmers and they decided to venture into cultivating the crop in different parts of the country," says Dr Gakwaya.

These crops contain beta-carotene, carbohydrates, fiber and is a cheaper source of vitamin A for children and breast-feeding mothers.

Research illustrates that consuming about 250 grammes of potatoes can provide the recommended daily requirement for vitamin A per consumption.

Vitamin A deficiency in Africa is a leading cause of blindness and premature death among children under five and pregnant women.

Perpetue Niyireba, President of Cooperative KOTEMU, of Rulindo District says they harvest 100 kilogrammes weekly for sale.

"New projects such as making cakes, bread and biscuits from the potatoes surplus, have generated more income. We save some of the money and financially support our members," Niyireba explains.

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