Posts Tagged ‘HIV/AIDS’


Bringing Public Health to the World’s Poorest: An Interview with Joan Van Wassenhove

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By Laura Reynolds

Name: Joan VanWassenhove

Affiliation: Partners in Health

Partners in Health delivers health care, education, and employment to impoverished communities. (Photo credit:

Bio: Joan VanWassenhove is the Assistant Coordinator for Nutrition in Haiti at Partners in Health (PIH), a health care organization that fights poverty by providing education, medical care, and employment in disadvantaged communities worldwide. VanWassenhove holds a dual Masters in International Affairs and Public Health at Columbia University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

What inspired you to become involved in global health and development?

In 2007 I was doing graduate work at Columbia University, studying international affairs and public health,and I interned at Partners in Health during that summer. I never really saw myself working in the medical field because I had no plans to go to medical school, but while I was interning I saw how broad PIH’s approach to health care and poverty alleviation was, and I wanted to stay involved.



USAID to Use Permaculture to Assist Orphaned and Vulnerable Children

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By Stephanie Buglione

Nearly one quarter of children in the developing world are underweight, and one third are experiencing stunted growth, according to a UNICEF report. In addition, many of these children have a family member, or are themselves, afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Jacob, a student in Malawi, explaining permaculture to other boys. (Photo credit:

According to the Joint U.N Programme on HIV/AIDS, worldwide, 16.6 million children aged 0 to 17 have lost parents due to HIV. Families afflicted with HIV have less help harvesting and planting crops or selling them at the market. Additionally, when a parent dies prematurely, their children are denied their generational agricultural knowledge and skills. But this missing information, and other lessons on ethics, patience, and responsibility, can be taught in schools through the use of permaculture.

A new USAID project, Permaculture Design for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, is focused on providing long-term food security solutions to orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) that are coping with the challenges of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Permaculture is their means to achieving this food security.

Kristof Nordin is one of the co-authors of this initiative. He and his wife, Stacia, a registered dietician and previous School Health and Nutrition Advisor for the Malawi Ministry of Education, live in a home outside of Lilongwe, Malawi. On their land, they have been demonstrating permaculture practices for several years to help educate the community about indigenous vegetables and to reduce the cultural fixation on monocropping.



International Reporting Project Fellows Discuss Reporting on Global Health

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By Matt Styslinger

The International Reporting Project (IRP)—based in Washington, D.C. at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)—gives U.S. journalists opportunities to cover critical international issues. IRP Fellowships allow recipients to cover original stories with a five-week field reporting trip overseas and are coupled with 4-weeks of training at SAIS. On April 28th, four fellows returning from their field investigations on global health issues gave a presentation—called Reporting on Global Health: a conversation with the International Reporting Project fellows—of their experiences and insights in Washington, D.C.


IRP says global health issues that plague developing countries rarely make mainstream media headlines (Photo credit: David Rochkind, IRP)

“Being able to portray the human element beyond the statistics will be key in telling this story,” said returning fellow Ann Kim, who has been in Botswana. Kim went to Botswana to report on male circumcision, but found the story intertwined with issues related to HIV/ AIDS, cervical cancer, and poverty. “There is a lot to unpack to make the story,” she said.

The struggle of isolating a story from the complex circumstances in which the fellows found themselves was a recurring theme of their presentations. “People really questioned me because I was talking about the economy and natural resource extraction,” said Annie Murphy, who went to Mozambique to cover health sovereignty. Murphy said that 50 percent of Mozambique’s national budget and 70 percent of its health budget comes from foreign aid. This lack of economic sovereignty, she said, greatly affected the country’s ability to take charge of the health of its own people. (more…)


Snapshots from the Field

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Each week the Nourishing the Planet team picks out some of our favorite photos  from the environmentally sustainable agriculture projects we’re visiting in sub-Saharan Africa.

photo credit: Julie Carney, Gardens for Health International

This week’s photo was submitted to our first photo contest by Julie Carney of Gardens for Health International displaying a cooking demonstration in Rwanda. This organization works with HIV positive individuals to improve their nutrition and health through low-cost sustainable agriculture practices.

Want to see more colorful memories from our ongoing travels? Check out the rest of our photos on our Flickr photostream.

Do you have photos of innovations on the ground in Africa? Share them with us for our second photo contest and the opportunity to be included on the Nourishing the Planet blog.  Send your submissions to


New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

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This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development‘s (ECASARD) work in Ghana.

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village’s chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described “young leader (he’s 50 years old) with a love for the environment.” He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. “We’re always thinking about how to process the crops we’re growing,” he says. According to him, farmers don’t have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but “processing gives them more leverage.”

Chief Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described “young leader with a love for the environment.” (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

One of the groups’ biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil—and having the opportunity to make additional income— themselves.

But by “coming together,” says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or “service centers,” which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren’t enough to “fill the need” they’re working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They’ve started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called “green gold of Ghana,” moringa. When they’re processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder “generates a lot of trash,” says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The palm oil processing centers allow farmers to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, “making it taste more like bushmeat,” and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They’ve also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their “drift” to the cities. He’s created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in  the community that uses dancing and music “to bait the youth,” says the  Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don’t forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD’s work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can’t be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women’s Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women’s Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.


Innovation of the Week: Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve Communities

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Anikole cattle is disappearing from Central and Eastern Africa (Photo Credit: ILRI)

For pastoralist communities like the well-known Maasai in Kenya, livestock keeping is more than just an important source of food and income; it’s a way of life that has been a part of their culture and traditions for hundreds of years.

But, in the face of drought, loss of traditional grazing grounds, and pressure from governments and agribusiness to cross-breed native cattle breeds with exotic breeds, pastoralists are struggling to feed their families and hold on to their culture.

The key, however, to maintaining the pastoralist way of life, at least in Kenya, may also be the key to preserving the country’s livestock genetic biodiversity, as well as improving local food security.“Governments need to recognize,” says Jacob Wanyama, coordinator with the African LIFE Network in Kenya— an organization that works to improve the rights of pastoralist communities in Eastern Africa, “that pastoralists are the best keepers of genetic diversity.” (See also: The Keepers of Genetic Diversity)

Anikole cattle, for example, a breed indigenous to Eastern Africa, are not only “beautiful to look at,” says Wanyama, but they’re one of the “highest quality” breeds of cattle because they can survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—something that’s more important than the size and milk production of the cattle, especially as climate change takes a bigger hold on Africa. And indigenous breeds don’t require expensive feed and inputs, such as antibiotics to keep them healthy.

More than just a consistent and reliable source of food, Anikole cattle also help preserve the pastoralist culture and way of life. Though most pastoralists recognize that  many of their children might choose to go into the cities instead of continuing the nomadic herding lifestyle of pastoralists, the preservation of Anikole cattle and other indigenous breeds will allow those that choose to stay to feed and support their families and community for years to come. (See also: Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World)

And, similarly, in Mozambique, the International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are promoting livestock as more than just a means to improve food security.

The two organizations are partnering to work with farmers—most of them women—to raise chickens on their farms. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer. (See also: Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa)

In Rwanda, Heifer International is helping farmers use livestock to rebuild their homes and improve their income after the devastating genocide that occurred 15 years ago.  Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, introducing a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide.

And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.” Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows—including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture—which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

And these animals don’t only provide milk—which can be an important source of protein for the hungry—and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program. And they give families a sense of security as they, and the entire country, continue to recover and rebuild. (See also: Healing With Livestock in Rwanda)

To read more about how smallscale livestock can improve food security and preserve and rebuild communities, see: Teacher Turned Farmer. . .Turned Teacher, Got Biogas?, Conserving Endangered Animal Genetic Resources in Kenya.


Giving Farm Workers a Voice

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Danielle Nierenberg (left) with Getrude Hambira, General Secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe in Harare. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

Gertrude Hambira doesn’t look like someone who gets arrested regularly. Nor do the other women and men in suits who work with her at the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), formed in the mid-1980s to protect farm laborers. But arrest, harassment and even torture have been regular occupational hazards for Gertrude—the General Secretary of GAPWUZ—and her staff for many years.

Unfortunately, things have not gotten much better since the 2008 elections when President Mugabe refused to cede power to the democratically elected Morgan Tsvangirai, a former union leader himself. The resulting power-sharing agreement has left the two sides battling for control as the nation plummets deeper into unemployment and poverty. At least 90 percent of the populati0n is not part of formal workforce.

Meanwhile, land reform policies have left many farm workers (about 1.5 million) without a source of income as farms are divided up—with many tracts given to Mugabe supporters.  While Zimbabwe’s land reform was initially intended to decrease the number of white-owned farms in the country and provide land to the landless, it’s done little to help the poor in rural areas. “Land was taken from the rich and given to the rich,” says General Secretary Hambira. The rich farmers are, however, not utilizing the land, she notes, leading to lower agricultural productivity, higher prices for food, and widespread hunger.

Hambira says that as rural areas become a target for government reforms, “farm workers have become voiceless.” But giving them back their voice is what GAPWUZ is trying to do by helping reduce child labor, by educating members about their rights in the fields and on the farm, by educating workers about HIV/AIDS , and by helping women workers gain a voice in decision-making. And, unfortunately, that’s why General Secretary and her staff often get arrested.  Shortly after I met with her, the GAPWUZ office was raided by government police and she was forced to go in hiding to South Africa for several weeks.

But GAPWUZ isn’t just working to protect the rights of farm workers in Zimbabwe, says Hambira.  By “looking at the plight of farm workers,” the union is helping to build productivity on the farm and to build a strong agricultural sector—one that will be needed more than ever as Zimbabwe struggles to rebuild and restore democracy.


Prescribing Improved Nutrition to Combat HIV/AIDS in Africa

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Everywhere I travel in Africa, there’s increasing acknowledgment about the importance of nutrition when it comes to treating HIV/AIDS.  Many retroviral and HIV/AIDS drugs don’t work if patients aren’t getting enough vitamins and nutrients in their diets or accumulating enough body fat.

According to Dr. Rosa Costa, regional coordinator of a project on the control of Newcastle disease in Mozambique, many farmers are often too sick to grow crops, but “chickens are easy.”

The International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics are working with farmers—most of them women—to raise chickens on their farms. Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income.

Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer.


Fishing For Recognition and Support

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Danielle with Kamuturaki Seremos, Executive Director, Uganda Fisheries and Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA) (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Danielle with Kamuturaki Seremos, Executive Director, Uganda Fisheries and Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA) (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Seremos Kamuturaki, Executive Director of the Uganda Fisheries & Fish Conservation Association (UFFCA), says he runs a “monopoly.” There’s no other advocacy group, he says, giving a voice to the fishers and fishing communities surrounding Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa), Lake Albert, or Lake Edward.

Like the pastoralist communities we’ve been writing about, policy makers have had a tendency to ignore the plight of fishing communities. One reason for this, says Mr. Kamuturaki, is because “government agencies are afraid to go into the water,” both literally and figuratively. For people that didn’t grow up in fishing villages, like Mr. Kamuturaki, there’s a fear of the water, he says, that prevents them from understanding the challenges fishermen and fisherwomen face. That’s why he’s been working since the 1990s to help gain rights for fishing communities, while also developing fisheries policies that increase income and protect fish populations.

Although fishers have an abundance of resources, they still tend to be among the poorest in Uganda. Government run fisheries management policies were supposed to help give them a voice in decision-making, but corruption has stifled these efforts, leading to food insecurity and overfishing from the lakes.

And the lack of representation for women members of the fishing communities leaves many of them and their children without a source of income and food. Because of the growth in fish exports in Uganda, women are now competing against multi-national companies for fish for their families.

In some cases, says Mr. Kamuturaki, women are forced to “befriend” male fishers and exchange “sex for fish” in order to get food. Not surprisingly, this has helped encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS in fishing communities, where the virus is spreading rapidly.

But UFFCA is working on a pilot project with four women’s groups to help them become less dependent on both men and fish. Although they’re helping women buy boats and nets for fishing, UFFCA is also helping them diversify their incomes, by encouraging small-scale poultry and other livestock production. These projects, says Mr. Kamuturaki, take very little funding, but can have huge benefits and he’s hoping to get more funding to scale them up.

He hopes to “show the world that fishing communities need support” and that they are important for both increasing food security and protecting an important natural resource.