1 December 2003, Maputo, Mozambique – Policy-makers from nine African countries devastated by the AIDS epidemic have agreed on a process to ensure that future agricultural policy doesn’t fail because the effects of the disease were not taken into account.

The agreement took place at an FAO workshop here a week before World AIDS Day, 1 December, and as new figures from UNAIDS predict that between 2000 and 2020, 55 million Africans will die earlier than they would have in the absence of the disease.

The loss of rural people in the prime of life to the epidemic is devastating African agriculture, both large- and small-scale. Not only is there a shortage of able-bodied labourers to work the fields, but knowledge about farming methods is dying out with the farmers. A study of communal agriculture in Zimbabwe found that maize production fell by 61 percent in households that suffered an AIDS-related death.

Twenty-five agricultural policy-makers attended the FAO workshop from Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, countries with some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world.

Participants developed a seven-step process to systematically incorporate HIV/AIDS issues into agricultural policy, addressing such topics as situation analysis, policy mapping, negotiating with partners such as ministries of finance, and monitoring and evaluation.

“Workshop participants worked on concrete agricultural policy examples to identify where there might be a problem and the ways of addressing it,” says Marcela Villarreal, AIDS focal point at FAO and one of the workshop organizers.

“We were able to increase awareness of the importance of undertaking a systematic revision of agricultural policy in the context of HIV/AIDS and to discuss an effective tool to implement such a revision,” says Prabhu Pingali, Director of the Agriculture and Economic Development Analysis Division, another of the organizers.

The workshop heard one example of an agricultural policy derailed by the disease. In Malawi, in an effort to increase smallholder crop production, the Government distributed starter packs of seed and fertilizer to the most vulnerable, enough for plots of one-tenth of a hectare. When it investigated the programme’s impact, it found that AIDS widows who received the packs were so desperate that they had sold the fertilizer and eaten the seeds.

Latest hunger report findings
According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003, recently released by FAO, by 2020, the HIV/AIDS epidemic will have claimed one-fifth or more of the agricultural labour force in most southern African countries.

To effectively combat hunger in regions ravaged by HIV/AIDS, interventions must address the particular needs of AIDS-affected households and incorporate measures both to prevent and to mitigate its spread.

Studies show that in severely affected areas, more than half of all households are headed by three groups: women (30 percent, mostly widows), grandparents (nearly 20 percent) and orphaned children (almost 5 percent). Lacking the labour, resources and know-how to grow staple and commercial crops, many households have shifted to cultivating survival foods. Others have abandoned their fields entirely.

Peter Lowrey
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 52762