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1.1 Background

The HIV epidemic has been elevated from the status of a health crisis to that of a development concern that affects all sectors (inclusive of agriculture and rural development) and segments of society (urban and rural, rich and poor, and men, women and children of all ages). The magnitude and severity of the impact of the epidemic, according to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has made HIV/AIDS not just a social and economic problem but a security issue as well. In January 2000, the UN Security Council went as far as to convene an open debate on the impact of AIDS on peace and security in Africa - the first time that the Security Council has addressed a health crisis as a threat to peace and security.

Given that agriculture is the largest sector in most sub-Saharan African economies, accounting for a significant portion of production and employing a majority of workers, the impact of HIV/AIDS on this sector is of paramount importance to policy-makers. According to recent data from FAO (see Figure 1), AIDS has claimed the lives of about 7 million agricultural workers to date and could kill an additional 16 million (up to 26% of the agricultural labour force) in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

In macro-economic terms, the majority of countries most affected by HIV[1] are also those most heavily reliant on agriculture, and particularly on agricultural exports for foreign exchange needed to pay for raw materials and essential imports for development. For instance, in Malawi, where 87% of the population earns a living from agriculture and about 80% of the country's food comes from subsistence farming, with most smallholder farmers cultivating less than one hectare,[2] adult HIV prevalence is 16%. In Kenya, where between 70-80% of the population earns a living from agriculture and 60% of the food comes from subsistence farming,[3] adult HIV prevalence is more than 11%.

HIV is becoming an issue of increasing relevance to MoAs which are confronted with formidable challenges in coping with epidemic impact. This is because HIV/AIDS is changing the environment in which MoAs operate by exacerbating existing constraints to agricultural and rural development and by triggering or intensifying structural changes in the sector.

Box 1: Ministries of Agriculture in Africa

Ministries of Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa are among the largest ministries in their countries. Their mandate is to increase food production and ensure food security at household and national levels. At present, many MoAs are in a transition phase from being implementors to being facilitators of development programmes. This has implications for staffing, skill requirements, structure, and relationships to other institutions. MoA clients include smallholder men and women farmers, agricultural workers, commercial agricultural farmers and consumers of agricultural products. MoAs operate at national, district and sub-county level and have a large network of field staff, including agricultural extension staff.

In spite of these adverse impacts, there is relatively little "hard" data on the effects of HIV/AIDS on MoAs and their work and scarce documentation on how MoAs are coping with these effects. Given their key role in shaping agricultural policies and programmes and in reaching rural populations (see Box 1), this paper argues that MoAs can be instrumental in mitigating the adverse effects of the HIV epidemic on livelihood, food and nutritional security and on the agricultural sector more generally (see also Box 2).

1.2 Purpose, scope and methodology

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relevance of HIV/AIDS to Ministries of Agriculture and their work in order to identify key issues and appropriate responses that may assist MoAs to:

The paper focuses on selected aspects of the impact of HIV/AIDS on MoAs and analyses some examples of response measures adopted to date. It also proposes responses that are likely to enhance the capacity of MoAs to cope with the effects of the epidemic. Given that the impact of HIV/AIDS has been felt most acutely at the farm household level, the paper focuses on smallholder agriculture. Emphasis is placed on those countries in Eastern and Southern Africa which have been hardest hit by the HIV epidemic. In this context, not all of the issues dealt with below are applicable to Ministries of Agriculture in other parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, the main thrust of the issues reviewed and a number of examples of response measures cited herein are likely to be of relevance, to varying degrees, to most MoAs in developing countries affected by the HIV epidemic.

Box 2: Is AIDS the Business of MoAs?

"Should HIV/AIDS be part of the business of the MoAs?" read a question asked of agricultural extension workers in Malawi. About 97% of participants in a focus group discussion replied that AIDS should be part of the Ministry's business.

Source: Hegle J. Factoring HIV/AIDS Prevention & Mitigation Activities into the Programming of SG 2000 in Malawi, Global 2000, The Carter Centre, 1999.

Part of the input to this paper was generated by a questionnaire on the impact of HIV/AIDS on MoAs and their work sent to 10 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa through FAO representations in these countries. Eight of these countries were selected on the basis of their high adult HIV prevalence rates, ranging from 13% to 26%. Two other countries (Uganda and Tanzania) with HIV prevalence rates below 10% were also included in view of: a) the adverse impact of the epidemic on their agricultural sectors over the last 15 years; and b) the experience these countries have gained in addressing the effects of the HIV epidemic. The overall objective of the questionnaire was to identify key problem areas that MoAs face as a result of rising young adult morbidity and mortality, and to understand better how MoAs have responded to date. The MoAs of five countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) replied to the questionnaire.

It should be emphasized that most examples of response measures to the impact of AIDS reviewed in this paper are neither AIDS-specific nor "new" as such. In other words, they are not remedial measures to HIV/AIDS per se, but responses used to address existing development problems. As such, they may not be applicable in each and every context.

A number of important issues raised by HIV/AIDS for MoAs are not dealt with herein, including policy issues related to commercial agriculture, rural-urban linkages, migration, etc. Further, the paper does not provide a blueprint of MoA response to the impact of HIV/AIDS: each response needs to meet the specific agro-ecological, political, socio-economic and socio-cultural conditions of a particular country (or even district) and the particular stage and pattern of the HIV epidemic in that country. In other words, each MoA needs to prioritize the most pressing concerns raised by the HIV epidemic for its work.

[1] Excluding South Africa and Botswana.
[2] Bota S., Malindi G. and Nyekanyeka M. Factoring AIDS into the agricultural sector in Malawi. A report based on a survey conducted in some agricultural institutions in Lilongwe, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, 1998.
[3] GTZ. Factoring HIV/AIDS into the agricultural sector in Kenya, 1999.

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