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The miombo woodlands, recognized for their floristic richness and widespread occurrence of the genera Brachystegia, Julbernadia, Isoberlinia, form the dominant natural woodland type in southern Africa. The miombo woodland ecoregion extends across the African sub-humid tropical zone from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the north, through Zambia, Malawi and eastern Angola, to Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the south (Figure 1.1). It is estimated that over 75 million people live within the ecoregion and that the woodlands directly support the livelihoods of over 40 million people in this region. A further 15 million people living in towns and cities throughout the miombo ecoregion also depend on a variety of products from miombo woodlands (Bradley and McNamara 1993; Dewees 1994).

Figure 1.1 Distribution of miombo woodlands

Extracted from: Miombo forum

Source: Desanker, Frost, Justice and Scholes (1997). IGBP Report 41. Courtesy of Chris Buss (1998). Certification of products from miombo: development of social criteria and indicators. MSc Environmental Forestry. University College of North Wales, Bangor

For most rural communities, the woodlands are important assets providing both subsistence and market-oriented livelihood strategies. Woodland products include wood products (fuelwood and charcoal, timber, building poles, craftwood, carvings and furniture); edible plant products and mushrooms; fibre and related products (woven mats and baskets); medicinal plants; insect products (honey and beeswax, edible insects); and animals (live birds and animals, bushmeat) (Brigham, Chihongo et al. 1996). The harvesting and processing of these products can generate substantial amounts of income. For example, in southeastern Zimbabwe, Campbell et al. calculated that the average in-kind subsistence value of own collected woodland goods1 was 3,557Z$ per household per year – a value nearly equal to 30 per cent of average gross cash income per household per year. In Beira (Mozambique), Serra and Zolho (2003) found that there are more than 1000 small charcoal suppliers who transport 2-4 bags of charcoal per day. This means an average income of about USD70-140 per month for those families involved in the transporting business.

HIV/AIDS is deeply entrenched in the countries making up the miombo ecoregion (Table 1.1). While prevalence rates are substantially higher in urban than in rural areas, HIV/AIDS has become a rural problem. For example, in four out of eight rural antenatal clinics in Malawi (1998), HIV prevalence rates for women under the age of 20 ranged from 14.5 to 20.9 per cent while the average HIV prevalence rate from all 19 urban and non-urban sites was 14 per cent (UNAIDS/WHO 2003b). Though prevalence rates appear to have levelled off in recent years in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, the region’s epidemic is not declining. Contrarily, this levelling-off actually means that the number of people dying annually from AIDS and HIV is now equalling the number of individuals newly infected (UNAIDS/WHO 2003). For the countries within the ecoregion, the worst impact is yet to come with adult mortality rates expected to continue to rise and remain elevated for decades to come.

Estimated adult HIV prevalence in countries of miombo ecoregion (2001)















Table 1.1 Source: UNAIDS/WHO Global HIV/AIDS Online Database

Recognizing the integral role of miombo woodlands in rural livelihoods, and the magnitude of the epidemic in the ecoregion, officers from FAO’s Forest Policy and Institutions Service (FONP) and Population and Development Service (SDWP) participated in a joint mission to Malawi in December 2002. During this mission, it was observed that rural HIV/AIDS affected households appeared to be relying increasingly on miombo woodland resources as their capacity to farm declined. Households unable to crop appeared to rely more on gathering from the woodlands both for their daily subsistence needs and for income. In addition, in many villages visited, households had limited access to pharmaceutical drugs and relied extensively on the plants and trees occurring naturally on their farmlands and in the woodlands for the treatment of opportunistic infections. These initial observations suggested that woodlands were an essential safety net for HIV/AIDS-affected households.

To thoroughly explore the relationships between HIV/AIDS and forest resources, and in particular the role that forest resources play in the responses and coping strategies of households and communities affected by HIV/AIDS, FAO commissioned a two-country survey in 2003. Exploratory case study research was conducted using qualitative and quantitative data collected from key informants, focus groups, households and traditional healers. Data collection was carried out over the course of four weeks in November and December in Malawi and Mozambique. The analysis confirmed earlier observations that miombo woodlands are an important component of rural responses to HIV/AIDS and that:

The ultimate goal of this effort was to identify strategic themes within the forestry sector that may be implemented (in coordination with other sectors) to reduce the impacts of HIV/AIDS on rural households and communities. While clear patterns were identified regarding the effects of HIV/AIDS on woodland strategies, it also became clear that household/community-level impacts and subsequent coping strategies were shaped by a complex dynamic of endogenous and exogenous factors including (but not limited to) HIV/AIDS staging within the household, cultural/social norms, gender of the affected members and care-givers, household composition, wealth, labour requirements (of woodland activities), phase of the epidemic in a community, availability of social safety-nets, and access to markets. Thus, while the study confirmed that the integration of forestry components is particularly relevant to cross-sectoral HIV/AIDS programming, many interventions will need to be designed locally with the participation of communities, people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, and representatives of other sectors (primarily health).

In anticipation of the need to implement planning processes locally, the research tools were developed accordingly. To ensure that strategy outputs would be representative of the needs of local constituents and the methodology replicated efficiently in the field, effort was made to incorporate rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques. Additionally, a framework was developed to guide this process of evaluating the forest-based needs of affected households and to facilitate the integration of forestry interventions within the broader multi-sectoral HIV/AIDS response/programming.

As the development of appropriate forestry sector responses to HIV/AIDS will require new processes and institutional capacities to implement these processes FAO held a consultative seminar on 1 April 2004 in Harare, Zimbabwe. The objectives of the seminar were:

To bring together key actors in the forest and wildlife sectors in southern Africa to discuss forestry and HIV/AIDS, in the context of emerging policies supporting multi-sectoral programming.

To provide an overview of FAO’s normative and field activities in HIV/AIDS, agriculture, rural development and forestry.

To present the methodology and key findings of FAO HIV/AIDS and miombo woodlands study for review and discussion

To facilitate discussion on the needs of the forest sector to be able to address the pandemic within the sector and its own institutions more effectively, and in the potential role of the sector in contributing to multi-sectoral HIV/AIDS programming

To facilitate forest department staff from countries in the region to meet, discuss and liaise with research, education, extension and NGO professionals engaged in HIV/AIDS and forest programming issues in the region.

The presentations and brief summary of discussion presented here build on the experiences of those in areas of advanced phases of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; and facilitate the generation of programme ideas that tackle the complexity of HIV/AIDS and allow local institutions to be co-initiators of these responses. The report of the study HIV/AIDS and the Miombo Woodlands of Malawi and Mozambique includes broader discussion of the framework, methodologies, results and strategy recommendations. At the recommendation of seminar participants, an online discussion forum and accompanying listserv have been created to maintain dialogue. These efforts are initial steps towards the development the forestry sector’s approach to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis in the developing world.

This seminar was funded by the Forestry Policy and Institutions Service (FONP), Forestry Department, FAO, and hosted by the FAO Sub-Regional Office for Southern and East Africa (SAFR). Participant attendance was also supported by SADC and FINNIDA.

For additional information on HIV/AIDS programmes at FAO, please consult the following:

FAO Forestry and HIV/AIDS website:

FAO HIV/AIDS and food security website:

1 Fuelwood, construction materials, wild foods and leaf litter.

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