30 June 2003, Geneva/Rome
-- Agricultural institutions urgently need to respond to the
HIV/AIDS epidemic, which continues to ravage many rural areas in
developing countries, jeopardizing the human right to food of
millions of people, according to FAO and the Joint United
Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf and UNAIDS
Executive Director Dr Peter Piot presented a new joint
FAO/UNAIDS report in Geneva today, which calls upon agricultural
institutions to scale up their efforts to fight the growing
HIV/AIDS epidemic. The report was presented on the occasion of
the UN Economic and Social Council's (ECOSOC) 2003 session,
being held in Geneva until 25 July.
to 30 million of the 42 million people living with HIV/AIDS are
in sub-Saharan Africa, over half of them in rural areas.
In 2002, around 5 million more people were
infected with HIV/AIDS, most of them living in low-income,
food-deficit countries. The epidemic claimed more than 3 million
lives last year, most of them young breadwinners, the UN
According to FAO, AIDS has
killed around 7 million agricultural workers since 1985 in the
25 worst-hit African countries. The epidemic could kill 16
million more by 2020. Food consumption has been found to drop by
40% in households affected by HIV/AIDS.
"The majority of African countries worst-hit
by HIV/AIDS are also those heavily reliant on
agriculture", said Dr Piot. "For many rural
households in these countries, AIDS has turned what used to be a
food shortage into a food crisis."
"Hunger and poverty, aggravated by HIV/AIDS,
create a vicious spiral," Dr Diouf said.
"Where farmers and their families fall sick, they
cultivate less land and shift to less labour-intensive and less
nutritious crops, agricultural productivity decreases and hunger
and malnutrition are on the rise. Many children are losing their
parents before learning how to farm, to prepare food and to fend
for themselves. Severe malnutrition among orphans is already
reported in the worst-affected areas."
The role of Ministries of
report, entitled "Addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on
ministries of agriculture: focus on eastern and southern
Africa", highlights the impact of HIV/AIDS on
Ministries and emphasizes the important role they must play to
address the existing food security challenges.
The report presents data demonstrating how Ministries
of Agriculture have become victim to HIV/AIDS. In Kenya's
Ministry of Agriculture, for example, in the last five years, an
estimated 58% of all staff deaths were caused by AIDS, while
some 16% of staff in Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture and
Irrigation are living with the disease.
The illness and death of people working for Ministries
and rural institutions are undermining the capacity of
governments to respond adequately to the epidemic, the report
said. The impact of HIV/AIDS is often underestimated, making it
increasingly more difficult for Ministries of Agriculture to
deliver services and to cope with the crisis. Raising awareness
about HIV/AIDS among ministerial staff should therefore become a
main priority, the report recommended.
addition, Ministries of Agriculture and rural institutions
should urgently address the implications of HIV/AIDS on
agriculture in their core policies and programmes. The needs of
a growing number of elderly, women and children in rural areas
assuming tasks previously performed by young adults will have to
be taken into account. "A shift is needed from a
production- to a client-based approach," the study
Budgets need to reflect the
costs of AIDS
organizations also recommended that the budgets of Ministries of
Agriculture should reflect the direct and indirect costs of
HIV/AIDS and the need for response measures. "Unless
HIV/AIDS features in Ministries of Agriculture budgets, it is
unlikely that measures to address the HIV epidemic willbe
introduced in core agricultural policies and
activities," the study said.
UNAIDS's response to the food crisis focuses on
strengthening families and communities to cope with the impact
of HIV/AIDS, and supporting longer-term national AIDS programmes
to provide AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
"Supporting women is also key given that they account
for around 50% of the agricultural workforce in Southern
Africa," said Dr Piot. "When a woman dies,
household food security plummets, because she is central to
feeding the family. Women must have access to health care and
education, credit schemes, and equality in employment and
inheritance rights," he said.
is currently formulating pilot projects that will test
labour-saving techniques and low-input agriculture in African
and Asian communities where a large portion of agricultural
workers have died due to AIDS.
"Lighter ploughs and tools that can be used
by older children, women and the elderly and improved seed
varieties that require less labour for weeding need to be
developed," Dr Diouf said. "Seeds that can be
planted at different times of the year will give farmers more
flexibility in periods of acute labour shortage. Techniques, or
varieties, that cut down the time needed to weed, can reduce
women's labour. Women also need equal rights to land,
credit and education."
developing and strengthening policies and programmes to support
rural communities by reducing their vulnerability to the impact
of HIV/AIDS. It focuses on food security, nutrition,
strengthening social and economic safety nets, capacity
building, addressing the needs of rural orphans and vulnerable
children and enhancing gender equality. Most recently, FAO has
assisted more than 250 000 families in southern Africa hit by
drought and HIV/AIDS.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105
Communications and Public Information, UNAIDS