December 2003, Rome - The steady advance of HIV/AIDS
is devastating rural households in Africa, plunging families
into poverty and hunger, FAO said on World AIDS Day.
Recent research carried out by FAO in selected rural
communities in Sub-Sahara Africa heavily affected by HIV/AIDS,
shows the complex effects of the pandemic on rural communities
and their livelihoods, ranging from a deepening of household
debt levels, to forcing children out of school and changing
farming techniques and diet.
"HIV/AIDS strikes indiscriminately, but the
poorest rural communities and households are always hit
hardest," said Sissel Ekaas, Director of FAO's
Gender and Population Division.
Women losing everything
"For women who have lost a husband to the
disease, it can mean losing everything else as well - property
or assets, such as land, farm equipment or livestock,
effectively undermining their capacity to earn an income and
grow food to feed themselves, their children and the orphans
they are often caring for," she said.
During the period 1985-2000, some 7 million
agricultural workers have died from AIDS in the 25 most-affected
countries, according to UN figures and another 16 million could
die from the disease by 2020.
most-affected African countries in particular, could lose up to
26 percent of their agricultural labour force.
FAO undertook quantitative and qualitative research in
three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, covering nearly 2000
The study, funded by the
Government of Norway, highlights the need for protecting
property rights in the context of the increasing number of
female and youth-headed households.
Protecting property rights
Women who have lost a husband to AIDS face
the dual burden of funeral costs and the risk of losing their
Following the death of a spouse,
up to 44 percent of households headed by widows lost cattle,
which represent both a store of wealth and a sign of status, and
41 percent lost farm equipment to the husband's family,
according to one of the case studies.
study also identified the widening inequality caused by
HIV/AIDS, which prevents resource-poor groups from participating
in development initiatives.
It was found
that, under the national agriculture policies that promote the
commercialisation of agriculture, non-affected households are
increasing the cultivation of export-oriented crops, whereas
households affected by HIV/AIDS are not able to respond to this
initiative and reduce the area under cultivation for all crops.
The most vulnerable are female-headed households
affected by HIV/AIDS who cultivate only half as much land as
households headed by males.
women-headed households lose their land altogether, either being
forced to sell it or having it taken from them by relatives.
The study also examined the uneven
distribution of wealth between male and female headed households
with AIDS orphans. The AIDS epidemic is leaving vast numbers of
The study showed that
female and grandmother headed households are caring for a
greater number of AIDS orphans but with fewer resources.
To cope, many households sell off their
assets or withdraw their grandchildren from school as they
cannot afford to continue to pay the fees.
Additional research, funded by Development Cooperation
Ireland, found that female-headed households and grandmothers
with orphans participate little in Community Based Organisations
in general, and in the farmer cooperatives in particular, due to
insufficient time and poor targeting by service providers.
Only 6% of the female headed household with orphans
participate in farmer cooperatives compared to 31% of male
headed households with
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