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Agriculture and Healthcare Come Together to Fight HIV/AIDS

  • Kim Lewis

Ethiopia Africa Food Production

Ethiopia Africa Food Production

An international company that processes agricultural products and food ingredients, and who also has a presence in Africa, teamed up with NGO partners in a drive connected to World HIV/AIDS Day, which occurs every year on December first. The drive—in line with the World Aids Day strategy of getting to zero in terms of new infections, deaths from HIV/AIDS, and discrimination—was met with widespread participation.

This year, the London based global agri-business company, Olam International, mobilized its supply chain network to get vital education and healthcare support out to people across rural Africa in a unique fashion, by combining agriculture with healthcare.

Chris Brett is the senior vice-president of Olam International. He said that while the company is heading into its fifth year of addressing the AIDS epidemic as a global issue, this year the company reached a record 234,000 people in Africa who were able to benefit from the campaign.

“Olam has an outreach of 28 countries in Africa, and we work as you say with small-scale farmer supply chains. But importantly as well, with our own processing units which are based in the rural areas,” explained Brett, who said his company has that connection with local communities for food processing. Then, on a second level, there is the interest in reaching these communities regarding HIV/AIDs awareness.

“HIV/AIDS is very important at the level of our employees, and then of course at the levels of the communities, and the farmers we work [with] and support. Over the last few years, we have been developing programs which started off as basic awareness, and have been evolving from there,” stated Brett.

Because Olam is based in communities, it gives local NGO’s the opportunity to link into the Olam systems, where they can reach farmers and employees.

Brett pointed out one interesting aspect of the partnering with NGO’s is that they were able to reach many women. “We have a huge number of women that work in our processing units,” said Brett. He explained that Olam, in collaboration with NGO’s such as GIZ, a German corporation unit, and USAID, was able not only to bring AIDS awareness to employees, but also to let them know, through testing, their actual HIV status.

“So we ran a theme from our second, third year of support of HIV/AIDS, to basically get people to understand their status, which was a big barrier to cross. And this was given a lot of support through the NGO’s outreach and community workers. And we gave the opportunity for people then to be tested, and obviously as the result comes out, how we go forward with that in terms of counseling, and then the supply of retro-viral drugs and so on.”

Brett said the program is not a one-day program, but rather a long term campaign that will continue with the support of the community and local NGO’s. He said it is important for people to understand the link between agriculture and healthcare in preventing and living with HIV/AIDS.