When parents die of AIDS, farming knowledge often dies too


Notes to broadcasters

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There are an astounding number of AIDS orphans in many parts of Africa. According to the latest estimates from UNAIDS, there are 12 million AIDS orphans living in sub-Saharan Africa, and the following countries have more than 100,000 AIDS orphans: Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africa has 1.7 million AIDS orphans. One out of every 12 persons of any age in Zimbabwe is an AIDS orphan, one out of every 14 in Botswana and one out of every 16 in Zambia.

We may be familiar with the loss of health and life caused by HIV and AIDS. But this script introduces another way in which HIV and AIDS impacts rural society: the loss of agricultural knowledge. If parents die of AIDS (or other causes) when their children are young, they cannot pass on their farming knowledge. Local farming knowledge includes knowledge of local crop varieties, local medicinal plants, local livestock, local soil conditions, local climate, local water conservation needs, and many other kinds of knowledge. Unless this knowledge is passed on from one generation to the other, it is easily lost. Without this local knowledge, agriculture land may be unused or exploited and degraded without sensitivity to its limitations. Crop varieties and livestock breeds bred for generations may be lost at a time when population pressures and climate change are already challenging the capacity of the land to feed rural people.

In some cases, AIDS orphans are cared for by relatives. But often, extended families and other traditional coping mechanisms are already strained to the breaking point by HIV and AIDS. Orphans may be abused in their new families, they may be sold or encouraged to enter into sex work, or they may simply have no-one to take care of them and end up taking care of each other in child-headed households.

African countries are taking action to care for these orphans. Some countries are recognizing the importance of passing along farming knowledge from one generation to another. The following script is based on activities taking place in the country of Swaziland, where local organizations, government ministries and chiefdoms are caring for some orphans and trying to ensure that farming knowledge is passed from parent to child.

You can adapt this script by interviewing people in your local and national government agencies, national and international NGOs, and religious organizations. Find out if there are strategies to support AIDS orphans in your community, and to keep local farming knowledge alive. You can also talk to farming families and farmers’ organizations. Ask farmers whether they think it’s important to pass on farming information to their children, and what are the best ways to pass on this precious knowledge.


Good morning (afternoon, evening). Today’s program is about AIDS orphans. Some orphans are taken in by relatives and do well. But others are blamed by their caretakers who assume that AIDS is a consequence of promiscuity. Orphans are also blamed for being a burden on their new family. These orphans are sometimes abused in every way – verbally, physically and sexually. Girls may be taken in by relatives in exchange for housework, but may also be forced into sex work to earn money for the family. The struggle against AIDS also brings people together to oppose discrimination and stigma. (Pause) But this program is about a different way that AIDS affects communities. It’s about losing precious knowledge. It’s about what happens when parents can’t pass along their farming knowledge to their children.

Fade in loud sounds of big city – cars honking, people haggling in the market, children asking for money from people on the street. Hold for ten seconds, then fade under narrator.

Cities are full of AIDS orphans. They might be begging on street corners or looking for small jobs in exchange for a meal. But some of them are not from the city. They’re farm children who left home because they don’t know how to farm. Their parents died of AIDS before they could teach them how.

Fade up city sounds for 5 seconds, then cross-fade under sounds of birds singing, children playing and talking, cows and goats. Fade and hold under speakers.

The children weeding this vegetable patch near a small village are also AIDS orphans. But, thanks to an arrangement in their village, they are staying where they were born. And they’re learning how to farm at the same time as they go to school.

My name is Maswati. This week I am weeding vegetables. Last week I learned how to milk goats.

(interrupting) I did too! My name is Yvonne. I love milking goats. It’s my favourite thing to do. Well, second favourite – after going to school (laughter).

(laughing at Yvonne’s enthusiasm) My name is Suranjika. I am taking care of Maswati and Yvonne and teaching them to farm. My husband and I have two children. But with HIV affecting all of us so much, we felt we had to do something to help. These two children have been through a lot. When their parents died of AIDS, the chiefdom organization named me as their caregiver. The children go to school during the day, and we teach them to farm after school. (Pause then passionately) If we don’t teach our children to farm when they are young, what will happen to them when we die?

My father died six years ago. I was three years old. The chief gave our land away because women can’t own land in our village. My mother tried to find work, but she was already sick. She died when I was four.

My mother died three years ago when I was five. My father didn’t know how to take care of the foods that my mother had grown, so I didn’t get enough to eat. Then my father got sick and died when I was six.

My name is Zaba. I am Suranjika’s husband. These two children are the lucky ones. Many orphans end up in the city and are lost to us. Some just die. In our village, we don’t have rituals or ceremonies to teach farming to our children. They learn how to farm by being in the fields with us. When a father dies, knowledge of tractors and equipment and raising livestock dies. When a mother dies, children don’t learn to grow many foods, and they don’t learn to cook or fetch water. But it is good that the chief now assigns orphaned children to a caregiving family.

In our village, there are communal fields called Indlunkhulu* fields. Food from these fields helps to feed orphaned children. We believe that it’s important to teach children about farming when they’re young. There is a local organization that has some income-generating projects that help us to support the children. They say that both boys and girls should learn how to take care of animals, and that both boys and girls should know how to grow all the crops we need. As I said, HIV is having such a big effect on our community. If one of the parents dies, the other parent has to know everything.

I want to learn carpentry, Mama. I will make you a big plough one day, Mama.

Thank you, Yvonne. Perhaps we can make it together.

Fade up sounds of birds singing, children playing and talking, cows and goats and hold for 5 seconds, then out.

As Zaba said, these children are the lucky ones. They are getting good care and they’re learning to farm. But too many orphans are still ending up on the streets of the big city.

Fade in loud sounds of big city – cars honking, people haggling in the market, children asking for money from people on the street. Hold for 10 seconds, and then fade slowly.


Contributed by: Vijay Cuddeford, managing editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network.
Reviewed by: Rebecca Hodes, D.Phil candidate in the History of Medicine, Oxford University.
Focus: HIV/AIDS in the Media.

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