July 2002 -- Thousands of delegates attending the XIV
International AIDS Conference in Barcelona from 7-12 July should
wake up to new evidence that the disease threatens not just
the infected individual but farming communities, food production
and the very ability of households to feed themselves.
That is the message that FAO will deliver
at a satellite session at the conference to be given jointly
with sister food agencies the World Food Programme and the
International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World
statistical evidence issued by the Joint United Nations
Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) on sub-Saharan Africa -- the
worst-hit region -- confirms the scale of the epidemic's
impact on the countryside.
estimates that over half of the 28 million people living with
HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa live in rural areas. In order to
estimate such figures, UNAIDS epidemiologists start with data
taken from tests done on blood samples from pregnant women
attending prenatal clinics. They then extrapolate the figures to
estimate infection rates in larger areas. Recent findings point
to two of the hardest-hit countries:
- Zimbabwe, where
the 2000 prevalence survey showed that 31.4 percent of pregnant
women living in rural areas were HIV positive. Women who listed
their residence as "farm" registered a 43.7
percent prevalence rate. Such figures mean that over 1 million
people in rural areas have HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.
whose 2000 surveillance survey showed that 25 percent of the
women who listed their occupation as "subsistence
farming" were HIV positive. Overall prevalence among
pregnant women in rural areas was 32.7 percent. Such figures
mean that over 100 000 people in rural areas of this small
southern African country, out of a total population of 938 000,
have the virus.
is a real wake-up call for governments," says Marcela
Villarreal, FAO focal point on AIDS. "Policy-makers are
guided by evidence. Solid evidence is now coming in and will
make governments understand how rural areas are actually more
vulnerable to AIDS than urban areas."
Recent reports from other African countries show a
similar pattern of rampant rural infection.
In an FAO-supported study commissioned by
's Ministry of Agriculture, Animal
Industry and Fisheries, researchers surveyed 300 households in
five rural districts in late 2001. The majority of the
households (91 percent) had lost a family member in the
preceding 10 years, mostly in the 20-35 age bracket. AIDS caused
56 percent of the deaths.
Narathius Asingwire, of Makerere University in Kampala, says
that the deaths of so many farmers in the prime of life has
far-reaching implications for the country, since agriculture
accounts for 43 percent of GDP, 85 percent of export earnings
and 80 percent of employment. In addition, 85 percent of
Uganda's 22 million people live in rural areas and depend
mainly on agriculture.
Asked to comment on
the effects of HIV/AIDS in their households, two thirds of
households replied that they now grow less food, over two thirds
reported producing fewer cash crops and over half said they were
eating less. The following statistic spells trouble for the many
rural landless who depend on casual farm labour to survive:
85 percent of respondents said they were using less farm labour.
Survey respondent Paulo, 80, supports five
young grandchildren orphaned by AIDS. He has a banana
plantation, but the biggest part is overgrown with weeds due to
lack of labour. There has been a sharp reduction in food
consumption among his family members -- they now only get one
full meal a day, in the evening, eating just some porridge for
"Even now when I am still
alive, we do not have enough to eat," says Paulo, who
is ill and cannot work to augment the family income. Pointing to
the youngest grandchild, he says,"You can see that
young one is gloomy not because he is sick or has been punished,
but because he has not eaten anything since morning."
, the latest
figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
predict that the total number of lost workdays in the
agricultural sector due to HIV/AIDS will reach 329 000 person
years in 2020, if present trends continue. In 1990 the figure
was 45 000 person years.
The district of
Bondo in western Kenya has been particularly hard hit by the
virus, with about 29 percent of the population infected,
according to a 2000 survey, says Kenneth Ayuko, leader of an FAO
community support team in Kenya. In some communities, as many as
half of the adults are HIV positive.
"We have grandparents having to take care of
up to 20 or even 30 orphans, and that takes a very big toll.
Therefore, it is probably correct to say that food production
under these circumstances of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not
possible," he says. "No wonder that the bulk
of the population in Bondo is going hungry."
Poverty underlies the suffering and
devastation behind these figures, says Ms Villarreal.
"The HIV/AIDS epidemic cannot be addressed without
doing something about rural livelihoods: how people make their
living, how they get enough food, what strategies they follow in
order to survive," she says.
is currently formulating pilot projects that will test
labour-saving techniques and low-input agriculture in African
and Asian communities hard hit by the epidemic. Other priorities
for the FAO HIV/AIDS programme include building up institutions
that help rural communities, improving nutrition, addressing
gender inequalities in access to productive resources
(especially land) and helping decimated communities find a way
to pass on farming knowledge to the young.