The Importance of Security Crops

Crop productionHealth

Notes to broadcasters

HIV/AIDS is much more than a health problem. The disease weakens or kills adults in the prime of their working life and therefore has a severe negative impact on farming and food security in rural areas. Farmers need information about practical approaches to farming that will make the best use of the resources they have. Through broadcasts you can encourage farmers to plant crops and use cultivation techniques that will ensure food security in times of need.

The following story is about two sisters with different farming systems and two very different results. It highlights the importance for some farmers of growing ‘survival’ or ‘security’ crops. Survival crops are crops that provide food in times of need. A survival crop will generally have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It provides food even when it isn’t tended regularly
  • It can be stored for a long time
  • It has different parts that can be harvested and/or different uses
  • It survives when other crops fail
  • It requires relatively less labour

In this story one of the characters grows the cash crop coffee. Please substitute coffee with more common local cash crops (cotton, tea, etc.) if necessary.

We refer to HIV/AIDS as “the chronic illness”. Please use the term that is most familiar and acceptable to your audience.



It is surprising how different two sisters can be. Two people who have grown up in the same country, the same village, and the same family. Today’s program shows how the choices that a farmer makes can sometimes mean the difference between survival and despair.


The two sisters in this story are both farmers. But you’ll see that their way of farming – and the kind of crops they grow – make them quite different.

Suad was the cautious sister. She always planted some of her land with ‘security’ crops. For Suad, growing security crops was like having money in the bank. Those were the crops that would always give her family something to eat, even in times of hardship. For example, several years ago, she replaced much of her coffee plantation with cassava, yams and sweet potatoes.

Narrator (cont):
Although it was a lot of effort at first to make the planting ridges, once the yams and sweet potatoes were growing, they didn’t require much work. She also planted fruit trees and wild vegetables in her garden. She stopped buying relish from the store. Instead, she used the leaves from wild vegetables to make her own relish to serve with cassava.

Suad’s sister, Salma, also had a productive farm. But she made different choices. She also grew coffee, but little else grew in her fields. She was certain that she could make the most money with a crop of coffee. She did not see the value in growing root crops or fruit trees.

MUSICAL BREAK (5 seconds).

Both sisters worked hard and they were successful farmers. But they lived in troubled times. Many people in their country, and in their village, were dying from the chronic illness. And eventually the disease hit one of their own. Their brother died after many years of sickness. Suad and Salma went into mourning.

During the mourning period times were difficult. Both sisters spent money on funeral expenses, and purchased food for relatives. But of the two sisters, it was Salma, the sister who had only a crop of coffee, who faced more hardship. She had no other crops to fall back on. Because of funeral expenses, no money was left over to buy the fertilizer needed for her coffee. So her crop suffered. Even worse, there was no money to buy food for her family. There was only enough food for one meal a day.

But the life of Suad, the first sister, did not change much. She had plenty of food stored in the ground – yams and cassava – and because of that her family continued to eat two or three meals a day. She used the wild vegetables to make relish to serve with the cassava. She harvested root crops, fruits and leafy greens, little by little, as she needed them.


Suad planted crops that would always provide food for her family, even in a crisis. Some of her crops stayed stored in the ground until she needed them. Suad was able to feed her family healthy meals even during a time of crisis.

Narrator (cont):
Suad planted crops that:

  • Provide food, even when she doesn’t have time to tend them
  • Can be stored in the ground for a long time
  • Have many uses
  • Survive when other crops fail, and
  • Demand relatively little labour.

– END –


  • Contributed by Jennifer Pittet, Thornbury, Canada.
  • Reviewed by Gladys Mutangadura, Economic Affairs Officer, UNECA-Southern Africa Office, Zambia.

Information sources

  • Mutangadura, Gladys. A review of household and community responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. UNAIDS, June 1999.
  • Sharland, R.W. “Introducing new crops in a conflict situation: Gender roles and innovation.” Leisa Magazine. Vol 17 no 1, April 2001.

Further reading