July 2003, Rome -- While 80 percent of the people in
the countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS depend on agriculture for
their livelihoods, the response to the epidemic has come largely
from the health sector. But the agricultural sector has an
important role to play in reducing people's vulnerability
to the disease and its consequences.
help agricultural policy-makers formulate their own response to
the epidemic, FAO has launched a new Web site on HIV/AIDS and
"There is a lot of
information available on HIV/AIDS, but not so much on its
relationship to agriculture, rural development and food
security," says Marcela Villarreal, Chief of FAO's
Population and Development Service and the Organization's
focal point for HIV/AIDS issues. "We hope this site
will contribute to enlarging people's conception of
HIV/AIDS and its impact on other development aspects."
The impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic
on poor rural populations are many and intertwined. Entrenched
poverty leads to poor nutrition and poor health, making people
more vulnerable to infection. Decreased agricultural
productivity means less food on the table. And as adults fall
ill, health care costs make it harder for families afflicted by
the disease to purchase the food they can no longer produce.
But the effects are felt beyond the
household level. Loss of agricultural workers affects national
food production. In countries where agriculture forms a large
part of the gross domestic product, this loss of labour could
have a devastating impact on national economies.
And labour is not all that is lost to the disease.
When parents die before being able to pass on generations of
knowledge about farming and local crop varieties to their
children, the prospects for future generations become even
In many countries, AIDS is
erasing decades of progress in improving mortality figures and
extending life expectancies. The average life expectancy in
sub-Saharan Africa is now 47 years, when it would have been 62
The disease also affects
women disproportionately. In some areas, women's infection
rates are three to five times higher than men's, due to
biological factors that make women more vulnerable to the
disease and gender inequalities that limit their power to
protect themselves. The disease also adds to rural women's
workload as they become the primary caregivers to sick family
problems, proposing solutions
The new site
outlines the epidemic's wide-ranging impacts, providing key
facts and links to additional resources. It also provides
concrete activities that staff in ministries of agriculture and
rural development can use in formulating their own programmes to
alleviate problems caused by HIV/AIDS.
"Funds are available from the World Bank and
the Global Fund, but agricultural staff often don't know
what kind of activities they can propose," says Ms
Villarreal. "The responses section of the site is
crucial because it has concrete strategies and activities that
they can incorporate into their day-to-day work."
Users will find strategies for introducing
labour-saving technologies, preserving knowledge transmission,
improving nutrition, promoting gender equality, strengthening
rural institutions and enhancing social safety nets. They can
also find information on creating monitoring systems to evaluate
the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS programmes and on preparing
emergency responses to food crises associated with the epidemic.
The approach is wide-ranging, with emphasis
on addressing the impacts of HIV/AIDS in all sectors of
A centralized source
The site brings together for
the first time all of FAO's HIV/AIDS-related knowledge and
activities, making it a comprehensive resource for researchers,
policy-makers, NGOs, and people living with HIV/AIDS, whether
they be interested in nutrition, agriculture, forestry,
fisheries, gender or other issues.
"People with different interests can link into the
information relevant to their work," says Ms
Villarreal. "FAO produced its first publication on
HIV/AIDS and the agricultural sector in 1988. So the
Organization has 15 years' experience on the subject. And
now the wealth of that experience can be found in one
Links to the HIV/AIDS
sites of UN agencies and other organizations are also provided,
and users can access a host of FAO and non-FAO publications,
listed by subject and date for ease of reference.
The site highlights the latest news and developments
in the field and will be updated regularly. Future plans
include the creation of an online forum, where NGOs, researchers
and others can share information.
site is currently available only in English. Arabic, Chinese,
French and Spanish versions will be online shortly.
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