Teach a person to fish—one step closer to food security
“HIV is a three headed monster,” says Cleophus Chesoli, AMAPTH Associate Program Manager for Safety Net Programs. “So you can’t just focus on the treatment. Many times it also comes with poverty and hunger.” Like so many maladies in developing countries, the focus cannot simply be on the disease. Nutrition is critical when a full stomach is required to take medications. Many AMPATH patients are lucky to come to clinic with a stomach half-full.
Cleophus repeats the old adage, “Give somebody a fish and they eat for a day, but teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.” This is one of the many lessons learned during the evolution of the AMPATH food security program. When first partnering with the World Food Program, a food distribution was set up to provide patients and their families with a six month supply of supplemental nutrition hoping to help them get back on their feet. This did help, but it also created dependency issues and was not a long-term solution. AMPATH also constructed a passion fruit orchard which patients tended and harvested. The orchard was a step closer to self-sustainability; however, the passion fruit employees were quickly stigmatized as HIV patients. In the next step in the evolution of self-sustainability, AMPATH began training patients to farm their own land—either as individuals or a community. Today, as support for food distribution is coming to an end, patients are taught farming techniques such as the best vegetables to grow in their unique climate, how to produce their own seeds and how to deal with pests and disease. Sack gardens—a simple garden made out of an empty grain sack, filled with dirt and vegetables planted in holes cut in the sides and top—are a good solution for those who live in the city or have no land. Three sack gardens will provide vegetables for a family, and five will allow enough surplus vegetables to sell or trade for dairy, grain, or meat at the local market.
This year, Dow Agro Sciences will begin a fellowship for a rotating employee to each spend 4–6 months living in Eldoret, learning about the AMPATH food security program, and accessing best practices to help patients increase productivity in farming, harvesting, or storing produce. Training people to raise their own crops has been a giant leap forward to self-empowerment and sustainability. Some farming groups have even been able to produce enough surplus to create a municipal storage—or enough produce to share with those in their community that have nothing. Not only is this a giant leap forward for patients, but it is also moving closer to the AMPATH goal of assuring that every household is food and income secure.