15 May 2003, Rome -- Despite abundant natural resources,
sub-Saharan Africa is not an easy place to be a farmer. Droughts,
floods and other disasters regularly wreak their havoc, while chronic
poverty, social problems, ineffective policies and civil strife
can also contribute to food shortages and widespread malnutrition.
But in the last decade, HIV/AIDS has posed an additional challenge
to this part of the world, where up to 80 percent of the population
depends on small-scale agriculture for their food and livelihood.
As the disease continues to kill millions, leaving countless others
too sick, too young or too poor to farm and feed themselves, southern
Africa is experiencing a new and different kind of crisisone
which is, in turn, creating more opportunities for the virus to
spread. This is the message of a new half-hour documentary, Sowing
Seeds of Hunger, which was produced by FAO in conjunction with
the Television Trust for the Environment (TVE), a London-based independent
film company, and airs on BBC World this week.
The film illustrates how the crisis directly affects millions of
people living with the diseasemany of whom are agricultural
workers, like Barnabus and Mary Chabala. Since HIV/AIDS typically
strikes during the most productive yearsages 15 to 49many
fields across southern Africa now lay fallow. As a result, families
like the Chabalas are not only losing food and cash crops, but also
valuable resources, such as livestock and tools. We had to
sell everything we own to buy food and pay for our medical expenses,
Unfortunately, health services in this part of the world are not
meeting the needs of those affected by the epidemic. In such a situation,
good nutrition is key. When people are malnourished, they
do not have the strength to withstand infection and AIDS develops
that much quicker, says Karel Callens, an FAO nutrition officer
working in the region who provided technical support for the documentary.
Food may not cure HIV/AIDS, but it can help people live longer,
more productive lives.
Food can be prevention
When a person dies from AIDS, hardships often intensify for the
family members they leave behind, particularly women and children.
In some communities, for instance, a woman may lose her access to
land and other assets when her husband passes away. Since food production
is frequently a female responsibility, such inheritance practices
can affect the entire household. Family members may move away in
search of food or work, increasing their chances of contracting
HIVand bringing it back home. For others, commercial sex may
be the only option for survival.
In the film, 19-year-old Mercy stands along a busy highway corridor,
trying to help support her two younger brothers through prostitution.
On a good night, she says, she will have sex with 10 or more menand
for the right price, she will do so without a condom. What
I need is the money, says Mercy, defiantly.
HIV/AIDS awareness is growing across southern Africa, but as Mercys
comments illustrate, safe sex is no match for an empty stomach.
People who have adequate access to food are not put in the
extreme situation in which they have to sell their bodies in order
to eat, says Marcela Villarreal, the Chief of FAOs Population
and Development Service and the Organizations focal point
for HIV/AIDS issues. Food security itself can be a means of
This puts agriculture in a unique position to help mitigate some
of the effects of the AIDS epidemic. Policies that ensure women
equal access to land, finance and education are an important step.
But FAO is also helping to bring more-immediate measures to the
region, like labour-saving practices, such as cultivating crops
that require less tilling, and conservation farming, a low-cost
method that protects against land degradation by using less water
and fertilizer. [Click
here to learn more about FAO activities in the field.]
What about the future?
The film features some of the community-based initiatives that have
arisen out of the crisisorganizations like Kubatsirana, a
volunteer support group working in Mozambique to help deliver home-based
care, food and HIV awareness to the people most in need.
But the startling number of children left orphaned by the AIDS epidemic11
million currently living in sub-Saharan Africa aloneshows
that much more work needs to be done. What do you do when
youve never had nurturing, love or affection growing up as
a child because your parents died when you were very young?
asks Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Fifteen or 20 years down the road, God alone knows the destabilizing
effects of these kids.
For this reason, many believe the real crisis in southern Africa
is yet to come, as these orphans struggle to grow into adults. Fourteen-year-old
Sole is one of the luckier ones: Since both his parents died from
AIDS three years ago, he has lived with his three younger siblings
in a one-room shed, and receives some food assistance from Kubatsirana.
But like so many other orphans, Soles parents died before
they could pass on generations of knowledge about farming, crop
varieties and tools to their young children. Without such skills,
Sole and his two brothers and sister are unable to produce their
own foodor the income to buy it from othersand the prospects
for their future become even dimmer.
Wake-up call for the world
Africa may bear the brunt of the current HIV/AIDS crisisthe
continent is home to more than 75 percent of the estimated 42 million
people living with the diseasebut trends elsewhere are equally
alarming: India, for instance, is expected to have as many as 25
million HIV-positive people by the end of the decade, while the
growth of infection rates is skyrocketing in other parts of Asia,
the Caribbean and eastern Europe.
We hope this film will serve as a wake-up call to the world,
says William D. Clay, Chief of FAOs Nutrition Programmes Service.
While there needs to be accelerated action to combat the crisis
in southern Africa, other countries also need to take aggressive
steps now before infection rates reach epidemic proportions. No
part of the world is immune from the disease, and FAO urges everyonehealth,
agriculture and social sectorsto work together to alleviate
the impact of HIV/AIDS and stem its transmission.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105