Improving food security
"We used to hear complaints from many people on ART who said the treatment was weakening them and that it was killing them by the day; this was mainly because they didn't have... sufficient food to eat," said Walleligne Alemaw, PCI Ethiopia country director.
Food insecurity is a major problem in Ethiopia; an estimated 4.2 million Ethiopians are threatened with starvation as the Horn of Africa experiences what has been described as its worst drought in 60 years. Lack of food is a widely acknowledged barrier to successful ARV therapy, and can increase the side-effects, including headaches, stomach pain, dizziness, shivers, loss of energy and fainting.
Funded by the US Agency for International Development, Breedlove receives 75MT of the lentil blend and the "Harvest Pro" vegetable blend annually; since it started in 2007, the project has supported 5,275 women and children.
"It has been three years since I [started] on the project; I am taking my drugs and get counselling and other support... I have been doing fine. I am well," said Munit.
Breedlove also offers urban gardening and poultry farming training.
"The nutrition the project provides is a very modest support and the food is a supplementary diet, so the beneficiaries need other food; these components help them secure that," said Wasihun. "It is also an exit strategy for the project's eventual completion."
Participants carry out either direct soil gardening or container gardening and are offered seeds, including kale, Swiss chard, lettuce, cabbage, tomato, green pepper, carrot, and beet. They also receive farming tools. For poultry farming, each participant receives two roosters, six laying hens, 50kg of chicken feed and a cage.
While many participants have reported improved access to fresh, nutritious food for their families and income from excess food and eggs, the project has not been without its problems.
"Only a few of us followed through after the training to benefit from urban gardening and poultry; only a few of us - maybe one in 10 - have our own house that has a backyard or space to do that," said one beneficiary, who preferred anonymity. "I was on the programme but road expansion led to my house demolition and the house I got in exchange doesn't have space. Most of the beneficiaries live in a rented small house that doesn't have such a space and your landlord also may not be willing. In most cases I have seen it is difficult to benefit from the programme after the training.
|Through urban farming, the women have improved their families' diets|
"The overall idea is wonderful; I, for example, make around 400 Birr [US$23.30] in a month washing clothes," she added. "Now, I have to take care of my child and it is increasingly very difficult and tiresome to do what I used to do so income generating or a food source is very nice to have but I don't think urban gardening is working for most of us."
While reiterating the importance of an exit strategy for the project, PCI officials admit it would be ideal outside Addis Ababa where there is more space for such initiatives.
They said alternatives were being discussed but they needed funding partners. Planned trainings include: how to identify and establish business opportunities, basic financial and budget skills to calculate expenses/profits, creating and managing a budget and facilitating links to local markets to sell products. It also plans to link women to networks of other female entrepreneurs.
Some of the other challenges include the long distances for the women to travel; overburdened staff, leading to insufficient communication about the proper use of the soup; inadequate promotion of the urban gardening component and insufficient rations, as most women share with their families rather than consuming it themselves.
Stigma also remains high, with many participants attending hospitals far away from home for fear of being spotted by neighbours, and others hiding the Breedlove visits from their husbands.