Press releases
 Back to archive

Press Release 01/42


New York, 25 June - The AIDS epidemic is rapidly spreading to rural areas in developing countries and is contributing to an increase in the number of people who go to bed hungry every night, the Director-General of the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Dr. Jacques Diouf, said in a message delivered to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on HIV/AIDS.

"HIV/AIDS is a major development problem, it is jeopardizing the basic human right to food for millions of people in the developing world," Dr. Diouf said. "HIV/AIDS poses a serious threat to the food security of the millions who are infected and their families, both in terms of their capacity to produce and to purchase their food."

HIV/AIDS diminishes people's ability to produce food because it takes its death toll mostly among productive adults, Dr. Diouf said. FAO estimates that HIV/AIDS has already killed around 7 million agricultural workers since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa and that 16 million more may die before 2020. Some countries could lose up to one quarter of their agricultural labour force by that year.

HIV/AIDS also affects food security by impoverishing affected families and hence reducing their ability to buy food, Dr. Diouf said. A study in one African country showed that the cost of caring for a patient and meeting the subsequent funeral expenses, exceeded the average annual farm income. As a result, poor rural households sell their productive assets, including their livestock, to care for the sick or pay the funeral expenses.

"Traditional safety nets, which contribute to food security in times of need, are breaking down in the worst affected communities, where families and neighbours become too overburdened to help each other with food, loans, a hand in the fields or care of orphans," Dr. Diouf said.

"Furthermore, HIV/AIDS is affecting food security at the national level, by reducing countries' ability to import food when needed. It has been estimated that it is currently reducing annual GDP growth per capita by 0.8% in Africa. Many of the worst affected countries are low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDC), and many are also highly indebted poor countries (HIPC). Their difficulties to import food are thus being exacerbated," the FAO Director-General added.

Rural communities bear a higher share of the cost of the pandemic, as many urban dwellers and migrant labourers naturally return to their home villages when they become sick, Dr. Diouf said. "At the same time as remittances from these former migrant members of the household dry up, expenditures to meet medical bills and funeral expenses rise. As the number of productive family members declines, the number of dependants grows."

"Poverty, widespread in rural areas, leads to poor nutrition and poor health, which make people more vulnerable to HIV infection," Dr. Diouf said. "Poor nutrition can also shorten the incubation period of the virus, causing symptoms to appear sooner. This situation is especially severe for the rural poor, who have the least access to medical care."

Armed conflict, typically fought in rural areas, also increases vulnerability to HIV/AIDS because of sexual violence, displacement of people and destitution.

Gender inequality is one of the driving forces behind the spread of HIV, Dr. Diouf said. "Access to resources including land, credit, knowledge, training and technology, is strongly determined along gender lines, with men frequently having more access to all of these than women. With the death of her husband, a wife may be left without the access she had gained through him or his clan, and her livelihood, and that of her children, is immediately threatened. Gender imbalances are worsening through this process."

"By 1999 there were 13.2 million AIDS orphans, 95 % of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The resulting dramatic increase in child-headed households also contributes to food insecurity," Dr. Diouf said. "Many children are losing their parents before learning basic agricultural skills and nutrition or health knowledge." A study in Kenya showed that only 7 percent of agricultural households headed by orphans had adequate knowledge for the most basic agricultural tasks. Not surprisingly, severe food insecurity among orphans is already reported in the worst affected areas.

"Unless national governments, international bodies and organizations of civil society step up their efforts, the vicious circle of poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS will not be broken. Indeed, it will intensify," Dr. Diouf said.

Dr. Diouf said that he hopes that the "World Food Summit: five years later", to be held in Rome 5-9 November 2001, will contribute to breaking this vicious circle. The purpose of the Summit is to raise both the political will and the financial resources to fight hunger.


For further information, please call Erwin Northoff, Media Relations Officer +39 06 5705 3105); e-mail:, or Michael Hage, cel phone: +1 703.8626075; e-mail: or consult the FAO home page the article under FAO Focus: Aids - a threat to rural Africa and Taking stock 20 years after the discovery of AIDS

Audio clips:

1) It is a fact, today: the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not a pure Health matter. It affects society at large in all its vital sectors; it affects the lives of the most vulnerable urban and rural committees. The FAO warns that the epidemic is becoming a major threat to agricultural production in developing countries. The impact of the disease in rural areas, where the food is produced, must be addressed. This is also the opinion of national experts.

Mrs. Dinah K. Kasangaki is one of the Agricultural Officers in the Ugandan Ministry of Animal Industry and Fisheries, in Entebbe, who is convinced that HIV/AIDS must be considered in the Ministry's Programme.

Duration: 3min22sec

In Realaudio (Instant play, 418 Kb)

In mp3 (Broadcast quality, 1540Kb to be downloaded)

2)The need for action is clear. One of the powerful forces in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the countryside are Civil Society Organisations.

Christine Namusisi Obuya is a Social Agent, member of well-known national NGO, the “National Change Agent Association” (UCAA). UCAA was created in 1992. Its purpose is to ensure that trained Change Agents are effectively facilitating self-reliant participatory development processes in their rural communities. Interview with Liliane Kambirigi (FAO).

Duration: 5min40sec

In Realaudio (Instant play, 700 Kb)

In mp3 (Broadcast quality, Kb to be downloaded)

Instructions for listening to audio files:

- To play the RealAudio files requires the RealPlayer software, see (RealPlayer is free)

- To play the mp3 files requires any mp3 player software: Winamp, Windows Media player, Quicktime 4.0;RealplayerG2, etc...

All free on the Web:;;

If you can't download, please call the radio unit for a feed: tel: 039-06-5705 6863 / 3749

 FAO Home page
 Search our site

©FAO, 2001