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Few crises have presented such a threat to social development and economic progress as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Twenty years after the first evidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome was reported, AIDS has become the most devastating disease humankind has ever faced. HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, it is the fourth biggest killer.

HIV/AIDS is having a dramatic impact on agricultural production and rural livelihoods. All dimensions of food security – availability, stability, access to, and utilization of food – are affected, particularly where the prevalence of HIV is high. Emergency situations, especially food emergencies, exacerbate the risk of HIV transmission. Mobile populations are vulnerable to HIV risk-inducing situations and food insecurity. Women, in particular, often find themselves in situations where they are subject to greater HIV susceptibility, as a result of sexual violence, or economic hardship which forces them to trade sex for food.

Accumulated evidence has demonstrated the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, rural development, nutrition, food security and rural poverty, yet, the interaction between these competing influences remains intangible. The biomedical framework of HIV prevention and care has dominated from intellectual debate to operational activities. It is only nowadays, when HIV prevalence has reached unprecedented levels, that the discourse has widened towards considering the livelihoods of rural agricultural populations. A timely shift, considering the fragile food security situation of the majority of the estimated 42 million people living with HIV (UNAIDS 2002).

A significant proportion of the populations of the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS depend on agriculture for their subsistence and food security. The agricultural sector therefore, has an important role to play to ensure availability and access to food, as well as to reduce rural households' vulnerability to the long-term effects of the epidemic. A successful mitigation strategy must address the diverse impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic ranging from illness to food insecurity. There is a need to recognize and integrate the expertise and knowledge of the food security and agricultural sectors into the mainstream AIDS discourse and response, not only to assist in addressing the impacts of HIV/AIDS on the lives of people, but also to contribute towards the prevention of further transmission and future AIDS-related impacts.

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