FAO, UNFPA join efforts to promote sexual reproductive health in agriculture

“Family planning in any context, including agriculture, means planning for the family’s future.”

A new sexual reproductive health rights training module targeting agricultural extension workers and lead farmers has been rolled out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the government of Malawi through the Ministries of Health and Agriculture.

The module, being delivered as part of farmer field school (FFS) master trainers’ course, recognizes that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV) are among other constraints that can negatively affect agricultural productivity.

The aim of using the FFS approach is to increase capacities of the extension service providers to facilitate transformative learning for achieving sustainable production and productivity by empowering productive farmers to be able to understand challenges and approach differently by using knowledge and skills to improve the well-being of family.

Inclusion of this module in FFS training aims to contribute to empowering women and men to make important decisions that will affect the quality of life of their entire family members.

Young Hong, UNFPA representative: Plan for the future

“The specific focus this year on SRHR in FFS recognizes increasing awareness about sexual and reproductive health and rights, safe motherhood, GBV and sexually transmitted infections and prevention, which will help the farmers to make best choices for building prosperous future of family while ensuring availability of family labour for agriculture and other economic activities,” says FAO representative Zhijun Chen.

According to the Malawi Housing and Population Census (2018), nearly 85 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

UNFPA and FAO officials brainstorming

And the agricultural sector, which employs 80 percent of the population in Malawi, contributes over 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and contributes about 25 percent to foreign exchange earnings.

Unlike their parents, the current generation, especially girls, require education to be able to live and thrive in the 21st century.

It is evident that men and women with higher education tend to access jobs paying higher salaries.

The cost of living, including education and health care for children, continues to rise even in the rural areas while the size of land per person has decreased due to rapid population growth in Malawi.

Well-spaced birth allows the parents to plan and save income to invest the education of their children and prevent harmful practices such as child marriage and teen pregnancy.

In Malawi, early pregnancy remains a major challenge with 29 percent of girls aged 15-19 having begun child bearing, which is contributing 25 percent of all pregnancies annually.

Family planning can have an indirect impact by reducing unintended pregnancies among adolescents, allowing them to stay in school and complete more years of education.

“Family planning helps the parents think about the future of the family and gives them power to analyse their situation and respond to the challenges actively, by spacing children suits to their financial capacity and mental and physical health.

UNFPA and FAO officials brainstorming

“To create wealth for all Malawians, parents need to think ahead and make adequate investments into children. Family planning in any context, including agriculture, means planning for the family’s future,” says Young Hong, UNFPA representative.

It is predominantly women’s productivity that is most affected by the high population growth rate, HIV and Aids, increased numbers of maternal mortality ratio and GBV affect women’s productivity, with this group representing 70 percent of the source of labour force in agriculture.

“As extension workers it is important that we teach the farmers that family planning allows both the mother and father to have more time and energy for their farming enterprises,” says Hannah Sikwese, a government agricultural extension worker working in Emsizini extension planning area in Mzimba district.

The SRHR module is as a result of collaboration among stakeholders among whom include the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Youth, Ministry of Agriculture, the University of Malawi, UNFPA and FAO.

The completed module is being delivered to support extension workers and farmers being trained at Mzuzu, Lisasadzi, Thuchira and Namiyasi government residential training centres that are hosting participants on the FFS master trainers’ course.

The courses are being delivered as part of the European Union funded KULIMA programme and the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office funded PROSPER programme.

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