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This paper examines the relevance of HIV/AIDS for Ministries of Agriculture (MoAs) and their work in sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa. The focus of analysis is smallholder agriculture as this has been affected most severely by the HIV epidemic.

Given that the mandate of most MoAs is to enhance agricultural production and promote food security, the adverse impacts of HIV/AIDS are of pivotal importance to their work. HIV/AIDS may not appear to have a significant impact on agricultural production and productivity at national level. However, its impact on a growing number of vulnerable smallholder farmers can be severe as these may suffer the combined loss of household labour, income, assets, knowledge and skills, with resulting threats to their livelihood as well as their food and nutrition security. In some cases, HIV/AIDS can even contribute to food scarcity in areas hitherto known for food availability and surplus.

The systemic impact of HIV/AIDS and the magnitude of its scale are changing the environment in which MoAs operate, triggering or intensifying a number of structural changes in the smallholder sector in particular, including: long-term changes in farming systems (as household cultivation shifts from cash crops to subsistence crops and from labour-intensive to labour-extensive crops); and changes in the age structure and quality of the agricultural labour force as more elderly people and children assume a greater role in farming.

Four areas of HIV/AIDS impact are analysed in detail:

The paper reviews selected examples of MoA responses and proposes additional ways of creating capacity within Ministries of Agriculture to ensure the sustainability of on-going programmes and to help address the challenges posed by the HIV epidemic.

MoA staff vulnerability to HIV infection and AIDS impact

HIV/AIDS directly affects MoA staff and their families through morbidity and mortality. Yet, even in countries with high adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, staff knowledge and awareness of the epidemic may be inadequate and perceived self-risk of HIV infection may be low. Further, stigmatisation and discrimination in the workplace are likely to be present in varying degrees unless pro-active workplace programmes are in place.

Certain categories of MoA staff may be particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. These may include employees who need to travel extensively in order to carry out their duties, such as agricultural extension workers, high-level professionals and management staff who frequently attend seminars, conferences and in-service training as well as support staff, such as drivers. These employees often have to spend extended periods away from their homes and families and may adopt lifestyles that make them vulnerable to HIV infection. Another group of employees that may be vulnerable, as pointed out by one MoA in Southern Africa, are poorly paid employees (especially women), who may try to exchange sex for money or favours.

Disruption of MoA operations and erosion of capacity

For MoAs, as for other Ministries and rural institutions, erosion of capacity translates into a diminished capability to deliver services, to cope with crises (inclusive of HIV/AIDS), and to function as organizations. It is often underestimated that the impact of the HIV epidemic makes it increasingly more difficult for MoAs to address their mandate, let alone the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS.

More specifically, the HIV epidemic disrupts MoA operations by severing key linkages in the service delivery chain between MoAs and their clients, through, for instance, its impact on the agricultural extension service. This disruption in services occurs when MoA clients affected by the epidemic need extension support most. HIV/AIDS also impacts on MoAs at the organizational level by claiming the lives of highly qualified staff who are difficult to replace, thus creating vacuums in the structural organization of the Ministry.

Factors which determine the impact of HIV/AIDS on MoA operations and capacity include:

a) reduced staff productivity (through loss in human resources, absenteeism due to morbidity and funeral attendance, morbidity-related on-the-job fatigue and staff demoralisation);

b) an increase in ministerial expenditures (due to costs related to HIV/AIDS absenteeism, medical and burial costs, recruitment and replacement costs, etc.);

c) an increase in staff turnover;

d) an increase in the workload of MoA staff;

e) the loss of knowledge, skills and expertise among MoA staff.

MoA responses to the disruption of its operations and to the erosion in capacity have included human capacity development and HIV/AIDS mainstreaming efforts. Human capacity development has consisted primarily of sensitisation and training exercises. Raising awareness of MoA staff, an exercise which has been undertaken in a number of countries, tends to be a one-off event rather than an on-going process. As such, it ends up being a goal in itself rather than a means to an end. Once awareness-raising sessions are completed, there are usually no follow-up activities to build upon the skills and information imparted, such as concrete initiatives to integrate HIV/AIDS into divisional/departmental or district-level workplans and into MoA budgets. Capacity development needs to include follow-up training on the technical aspects of the impact of AIDS as well as training to strengthen the analytical capability of agricultural planners to factor the socio-economic impacts of the epidemic in their policies, strategies and programmes.

Mainstreaming HIV/AIDS in the work of MoAs has usually been carried out through AIDS focal points. These tend to be situated within "soft" units, such as the Family Life Education unit in the case of Uganda's MAAIF, rather than within "hard" units (livestock, crop production, fisheries, agricultural extension, etc.). This identification of HIV/AIDS focal points with "soft" units can make mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS in the core areas of MoA work more difficult. In fact, in the case of Uganda, the HIV/AIDS mainstreaming exercise in the MAAIF was perceived to be an added-on "project" rather than a process of integration of HIV/AIDS concerns in on-going MoA programmes.

The paper argues that it is imperative that MoA budgets be adjusted to reflect the direct and indirect costs of HIV/AIDS, and that response measures to the impact of HIV/AIDS be in place. Uganda's MAAIF is the first MoA to introduce HIV/AIDS into its 2001 budget. This indicates a major shift in approach as the epidemic becomes a factor to be reckoned with at the budgetary level. For, unless HIV/AIDS features in MoA budgets, it is unlikely that measures to address it will be introduced in MoA divisional and district-level workplans and thus in core agricultural policies and programmes.

Increased vulnerability of MoA clients to food and livelihood insecurity

The socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS on rural households and smallholder agriculture, the vulnerability of smallholder farmers to the epidemic's effects, and the coping mechanisms of households and communities have been explored in some depth over the last decade and are thus not reviewed in detail in this paper. Suffice it to say that HIV/AIDS adversely affects the productive capacity of farm households, thus influencing availability, access and utilization of food. HIV/AIDS impacts may include:

i) adverse effects on land/labour productivity and on agricultural production

Household labour quality and quantity may be reduced, first in terms of productivity, when HIV-infected persons fall sick, and later when the supply of household labour declines because of patient care and death. The impact of HIV/AIDS morbidity and mortality not only affects labour inputs to farm production, but, more significantly, it disrupts the household production-domestic labour interface by diverting women's labour from regular caring activities to caring for persons living with HIV/AIDS. This may adversely affect the health and nutritional status of household members.

ii) decline in on- and off-farm disposable household income

HIV/AIDS greatly increases household expenditures and affects on- and off-farm income, and especially the availability of disposable cash, which largely determines the amount and quality of food that can be purchased.

iii) erosion of farm household resources and asset base

Many households are forced to dispose of their savings and to sell their food crops, livestock or even their land in order to cover medical care and funeral expenses. This has far-reaching consequences for food security and health.

iv) erosion of the knowledge base and skills needed for agricultural production

The death of one or both parents to HIV/AIDS may deprive a family of the necessary knowledge, experience and skills (both financial and managerial) to run the farm household. Similarly, when one parent dies, the surviving parent may not have the skills required to grow certain crops.

These effects may result in a substantial increase in the workload of women and a reduction in the caring capacity of households. In turn, these may impact on the nutritional status and composition of the household food basket (home-grown as well as purchased food) and contribute to a rise in child malnutrition.

Response measures that may enable rural communities to cope more efficiently with the impact of HIV/AIDS on food and nutrition security include:

Need to review certain MoA policies, strategies and programmes

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in Zambia:

Any development programme that does not deliberately address HIV/AIDS is bound to fail as the benefits that may be perceived in the programme could potentially be overwhelmed by the negative impact of HIV/AIDS.

By extension, the pertinence of certain MoA policies and strategies may be called into question given the conditions created by the HIV epidemic.

For example, HIV/AIDS puts into sharp focus the limitations of production-oriented approaches to agricultural and rural development upon which MoA mandates are often premised. In particular, as acknowledged by the MAAIF in Uganda, the status and living conditions of rural producers are mostly absent from national agricultural policies and programmes. The MAAIF in Uganda recognizes that in view of the severity of the impact of HIV/AIDS, agricultural policies and programmes should address the human factor of production, i.e. the quality of life of the producers, inclusive of the impact upon them of HIV/AIDS.

Furthermore, the assumption that farm household labour is an abundant, near inexhaustible resource has to be revisited. A number of farming systems being promoted across sub-Saharan Africa are based on this premise, but given the scale of HIV/AIDS, plentiful labour can no longer be taken for granted. This has important implications not only for agricultural production and productivity but also for food and nutrition security. In addition, what is commonly perceived as "unskilled labour" could be hard to replace given its accumulated location- and task-specific skills.

Moreover, due to the impact of HIV/AIDS, current farm household typologies upon which agricultural policies and programmes are based may no longer be valid. The parameters of vulnerability of rural households, farming systems and livelihoods are changing as a result of HIV/AIDS-induced young adult morbidity and mortality and shifts in household demographic structure. Moreover, given the changes in composition of MoA clienteles (with increasing numbers of elderly, youth and women-headed households), existing extension strategies may not correspond to current needs.

In the 1990s, MoAs and donors responded to the impact of HIV/AIDS by initiating multi-sectoral responses. To date, these have been largely health-dominated. This is partly due to the fact that HIV/AIDS is still primarily situated within a health-dominated paradigm and is perceived to be far removed from the core work of MoAs. Adopting a multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS does not merely entail the introduction of HIV prevention information, education and communication (IEC) activities. Nor does it mean adding HIV/AIDS-specific initiatives or, more generally, public health initiatives to existing agricultural programmes. Rather, it requires factoring the developmental implications of HIV/AIDS into core agricultural policies, strategies and programmes. To this effect, a shift is needed toward a developmental paradigm of response to the HIV epidemic that complements health-, gender- and livelihood-based initiatives with core agricultural activities.

Creating capacity for an MoA response to HIV/AIDS

The recommendations presented below can only be translated into action once overall capacity erosion within MoAs is assessed and addressed. Given that day-to-day survival is the over-riding concern for most people in sub-Saharan Africa, long-term policies on HIV/AIDS are often of little relevance to MoA staff and clients alike. Therefore, it is not only capacity erosion resulting from HIV/AIDS that needs to be addressed, but overall capacity erosion in MoAs.

Creating capacity for an MoA response to HIV/AIDS requires a two-pronged approach: a) addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS within MoAs; and b) adjusting agricultural policies, programmes and operations to the adverse conditions created by the epidemic.

a) Addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS within MoAs

One or more of the following initiatives can help address the impact of the epidemic within MoAs, depending on the scale of the epidemic, the types of programmes already in place that may address HIV/AIDS, and capacity within the ministry:

i) Assess the impact of HIV/AIDS on MoA staff, operations, policies and programmes, and in particular:

ii) Establish AIDS in the workplace programmes

AIDS in the workplace programmes can assist MoAs to systematically address the vulnerability of their employees to HIV infection and AIDS impact. In particular, such programmes should:

iii) Review and adjust MoA human resource policies and procedures to reflect changes in the institutional and rural environments brought about by HIV/AIDS. Human resource areas that need to be prioritized include:

iv) Increase flexibility in operational modalities to accommodate cancellations and postponement of field activities, etc.

v) Adjust MoA budgets. Unless HIV/AIDS is introduced in MoA budgets, it is unlikely that a concerted effort can be made to address the direct and indirect costs of the epidemic on MoA staff and the need for response measures to the epidemic.

vi) Build ownership and follow-up into HIV/AIDS MoA initiatives. Ownership of AIDS impact assessments, of capacity development initiatives and of other response measures is essential but often lacking. For instance, MoAs are usually not actively involved in the design and conduct of research on the impact of AIDS on agriculture and rural communities. Their lack of active participation has meant that the findings of the studies conducted, regardless of their quality, are either not shared with MoAs or not utilized by them. This explains in part why agricultural policies and programmes often do not take HIV/AIDS into account.

Follow-up to AIDS impact studies and to pilot initiatives is another critical area of concern. In spite of a number of quality studies on the impact of HIV on agricultural production systems, rural livelihoods and household/community coping mechanisms, concrete initiatives to mitigate AIDS impact in these areas remain scarce. Yet, if a multi-sectoral approach to AIDS is to succeed, follow-up activities should be given at least as much emphasis (in terms of resources and technical input) as the research or pilot activity itself. In other words, there is a need for more emphasis on programming so that HIV/AIDS impact assessments become part of regular MoA programmes.

b) Adjusting MoA policies, programmes and operations

HIV/AIDS-induced young adult morbidity and mortality are changing key assumptions upon which agricultural policies, strategies and programmes are formulated. In particular, labour constraints, high dependency ratios within smallholder farm households, and the growing number of households headed by the elderly, youth and women are factors that need to be considered when reviewing agricultural policies.

The following recommendations may help MoAs adjust agricultural policies, programmes and services to the conditions created by HIV/AIDS:

i) Adopt an HIV/AIDS mandate. Adjustments of agricultural policies, strategies and programmes are likely to be conditional to the adoption of an HIV/AIDS mandate endorsed at the highest political level that specifies which effects of HIV/AIDS fall within the mandate of the MoA and how the epidemic affects these.

ii) Address rural producer needs and circumstances. In the pursuit of increased food production, producers and the conditions in which they live and work can be overlooked. Given that HIV/AIDS not only affects agricultural production but also household food and nutrition security and livelihood systems, it is not enough to know which farming systems are vulnerable to labour loss. It is also important to identify those households and producers that are most vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity, to prioritize their needs and to explore through which structures the goods and services they require for survival can be delivered.

Changes in the composition and structure of MoA clienteles brought about by HIV/AIDS (namely, the growing number of elderly, women and children assuming tasks previously performed by young adult men) will need to be taken into account in MoA policies and programmes. In order to address the felt needs, interests and constraints of rural producers, a shift is needed from a production- to a client-based approach. The objective should be to bolster the resilience of farm households by helping them to cope with shocks and crises, including HIV/AIDS, and by enhancing household food, nutrition and livelihood security.

iii) Address HIV/AIDS as a threat to food, nutrition and livelihood security. HIV/AIDS is a contributing factor to food, nutrition and livelihood insecurity and should be regarded in the same way as other shocks that befall rural households, such as drought. However, what is of critical importance to MoAs is the fact that, unlike other shocks, HIV/AIDS can be one from which vulnerable households may never recover. The adverse effects of AIDS on the farm household production-domestic labour interface in particular need to be understood in the context of food, nutrition and livelihood insecurity.

iv) Factor labour constraints in the formulation of smallholder agricultural policies and programmes. Smallholder agricultural policies may need to take into account the growing labour constraints associated with HIV/AIDS and the ensuing potential disruption to the rural economy and social structure. In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural policies tend to be premised on intensive food production strategies on the basis of virtually unlimited labour availability. Such assumptions may need to be revisited in view of the scale of the HIV epidemic.

v) Factor household coping mechanisms to HIV/AIDS in the formulation of smallholder agricultural policy and research programmes. Policy recommendations about the relative merits of particular crops in a given farming system should take into account the impact of HIV/AIDS on household labour and income. Research should correspond more closely to the needs of farm households with high dependency ratios and of households headed by the elderly or the young. Equally importantly, there is a need to ensure that crops being promoted are not only less labour intensive but, equally importantly, of high nutritional value.

vi) Promote low-risk, low-input strategies and measures for female-headed households, and for households headed by the elderly, youths or orphans. These may include the reclamation of traditional food crops and open-pollinated maize varieties with a lower input requirement, and improved storage qualities, and inter-cropping of cereals and cucurbits to fix nitrogen and smother weeds, etc.

vii) Protect land ownership rights, particularly among women and children. Issues related to land ownership are of critical importance to households affected by HIV/AIDS. Given that without land these families may be unable to sustain themselves, priority should be given to protecting these rights.

viii) Mainstream HIV/AIDS in MoA policies, programmes and operations. Experience with mainstreaming HIV/AIDS to date reveals that: a) projects should be supported for longer than one year and should preferably be located within "hard" MoA units (such as crop production, agricultural extension, livestock, etc.) rather than "soft" units; b) MoAs should have adequate resources for follow-up activities; and c) stakeholder ownership is critical to the success of mainstreaming efforts.

The following measures may assist MoAs in mainstreaming HIV/AIDS:

Glossary of terms and acronyms


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; the last and most severe stage of the clinical spectrum of HIV-related diseases


Agricultural Sector Investment Programme


Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

Dependency ratio:

Population aged less than 15 and over 65 (dependent population), divided by the population aged 15 to 64 (productive population)


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


Field Extension Workers


Human Immunodeficiency Virus; a retrovirus that damages the human immune system thus permitting opportunistic infections to cause eventually fatal diseases. The causal agent for AIDS

HIV prevalence:

Total number of persons with HIV infection alive at any given moment in time


Information, education and communication programmes


International Fund for Agricultural Development


An epidemiological term which refers to the number of new cases of a disease occurring in a population during a given period of time, usually a year


International Service for National Agricultural Research Kwacha


Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (Uganda)


Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Zambia)


Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (Tanzania)


Ministries of Agriculture


Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development (Namibia)


National Agricultural Research System


Non-governmental organizations


Persons living with AIDS


Public Service Commission (Uganda)


Southern Africa Development Community

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