Liberia has a population of 3.5 million people, and 1.5% of the population is HIV-positive. Anti-retroviral medication is accessible to those who need it through the Liberian government. However, people suffering from HIV must also face widespread stigma and discrimination, meaning some never report their illness and never receive treatment. For those who do get the medication they need, the discrimination they encounter makes it difficult to earn more than a subsistence living. A consequence is that they often cannot find enough nutritious food to eat.
Getting proper nutrition is very important for people with HIV, especially those who are taking anti-retroviral drugs. The drugs are very toxic and when patients don’t get enough to eat, they can become quite ill. People taking these medications require much higher levels of protein than the average person to ensure that they stay as healthy as possible. In a country such as Liberia, many people live off of subsistence farming. People may be able to grow their own vegetables and purchase relatively cheap grains such as rice in the market, but high-protein meat and fish can be costly. A new project called the Grow2Feed Liberia Fish Farm is aiming to help HIV-positive people stay healthy and find meaningful, steady work.
The Grow2Feed Farm is the first cooperative fish farm in the country that focuses on serving the HIV-positive community. The farm has 12 fish tanks that hold the capacity to stock 5,000 fish. In one year, the farm can provide up to 200,000 fish to a community of about 1,200 people, most of whom are HIV-positive. A batch of fish takes approximately 90 days to fully mature and become ready for consumption. Waste from the fish tanks is collected and used to fertilize and water nearby crops, providing a secondary source of food and income for community members.
The farm is structured using a cooperative model. The members of the cooperative are the local community members who live near the farm. They provide a personal investment by working on the farm and tending the crops. In return for their work, they receive fish that have been raised on the farm. They can use the fish either for consumption, or for selling in the market to support themselves and their families in other ways. The farm allows people with HIV to access the protein they need to stay healthy, to integrate into the local community, and become self-sufficient by trading in the market.
The Grow2Feed Liberia Fish Farm also focuses on using best practices to ensure that common problems relating to farming fish are avoided. A lot of farmed fish is inbred, but the farm sources their fish locally, ensuring that they can easily access new stock and transport it to the farm. In order to ensure that high levels of toxins are avoided, they do not source from lakes that are closed off, where the fish can absorb toxins that accumulate in the water. Additionally, the farm ensures that the water in their tanks is consistently monitored and tested.
Members of the farm say that the project has been beneficial to them, and experts say that fish farming has huge potential in many African countries. The Grow2Feed Farm has garnered the interest of the Liberian government and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and there are hopes for replicating the model throughout the region.
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