One of many statistics quoted in the run up to World Aids Day this 1st December will be FAO research in Uganda that shows 76% of agricultural households registered negative economic growth due to the direct or indirect impact of HIV/AIDS. When you consider that in certain parts of southern and eastern Africa a tenth to a quarter of adults are HIV-positive, it’s clear to see the potential impact not only on individual health but on families’ livelihoods, broader agricultural development and the country’s emerging economy.
HIV, however, is not the only disease holding back nations. Other diseases such as malaria, for example, can have just as great an impact – a study in Côte d’Ivoire found that during a single cabbage production cycle, farmers infected with malaria had 47% lower yields and 53% lower revenues. Further studies highlight the link between malnutrition and earning potential. For example, according to a 2014 DFID report, coffee farmers in Ethiopia who suffered from Onchocerciasis, a tropical disease caused by a parasite, lost two days, work per month, while in Sierra Leone the correlation of farmers’ calorie intake and productivity was significant. According to WHO estimates, the return on $1 investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is over $4 just in reduced health care costs. Some estimates find a benefit for society of $1000 – giving WASH projects the highest ROI among social activities such as electrification, school infrastructure, and premiums for farmers.
These statistics show that investment in the health and wellbeing of workers is vital not only for the obvious social benefits and poverty reduction, but also for productivity that impacts businesses’ bottom lines. To achieve real impact though, we need to take a holistic approach to tackling malnutrition, HIV and other preventable diseases.
So on this World Aids Day we are taking the opportunity to launch the Olam Healthy Living Campaign in Africa. We have challenged our colleagues across Africa to identify the biggest threats and opportunities for keeping their employees, farmers and community members healthy to receive match funding from Olam CR&S function to help roll out initiatives. In the past few months, we have received many proposals from Olam’s teams across the continent outlining initiatives to drive education, availability and access to better nutrition and disease prevention. Nineteen successful initiatives across Olam’s cotton, rice, palm oil, timber, cocoa, coffee and packaged foods businesses are expected to reach an estimated 250,000 people over the course of next year across eight countries including Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Effective health strategies address knowledge, availability, and access.
(1) People require basic knowledge about disease prevention, hygiene, and nutrition;
(2) Water, sanitation, hygiene and food infrastructure must be available in sufficient quantity and quality; and
(3) People must have access to infrastructure and care, meaning that it is affordable and reliably available close to home or work.
Led by the Business Units or in collaboration with other partners most of the proposals included an HIV component in tandem with nutrition or disease prevention programmes, including increasing access to sanitation and safe drinking water, improving nutritional quality of food at employees’ canteens, providing health insurance for workers and farmers and pre- and post-natal education for women in local communities.
Olam Ghana’s Healthy Living project, for example, aims to address not only HIV/AIDs and malaria, but also other infectious diseases and ‘silent killers’ such as High blood pressure, high blood sugar and hepatitis that are on the rise among communities. The Healthy Living Campaign will focus on free screenings and treatment, but also counselling on lifestyle changes as a preventative method to address root causes of illness and disease, reaching approximately 200,000 people in the Sefwi Wiawso and Gaoso Municipalities.
Zambia is among the most severely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, and the team managing Olam’s 4400 hectare coffee plantation in the country’s Northern Province is determined to not only provide a healthy and safe workplace for employees, but also to support wellbeing in the community more broadly. This includes working with 200 pregnant women, around 1000 workers, 20 communities and 500 school pupils to improve HIV prevention awareness, access to care and reduce stigma and discrimination around the disease and its causes. This programme will run alongside cooking demonstrations and nutrition education to encourage healthy diets and reduce infant mortality as well as promoting female empowerment through prizes for female-run community businesses.
For a long time now we have supported long-term healthcare programmes and campaigns encompassing comprehensive HIV interventions and malaria awareness and prevention for employees, farmers and community members. However, we are now building on those programmes by joining the dots between health, nutrition and productivity which in turn will help to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of Zero Hunger (Goal 2) and Good Health and Wellbeing (Goal 3).