Food insecurity and AIDS: A vicious circle
The links between AIDS, food insecurity and poverty are strong and deadly. The epidemic is undermining the progress made in the last 40 years of agricultural and rural development. At the same time, growing poverty and food insecurity are increasing rural people's vulnerability to AIDS.
From AIDS to food
insecurity and poverty
Those suffering need the help of their kin, so the family loses not only the labour of the sick but also of other relatives. The situation worsens if other household members get the disease. The family budget is squeezed to pay for medical bills and, ultimately, funeral costs. Soon, there may not be enough money to buy seeds and other inputs, forcing the sale of livestock and other assets. Nor is there money to hire or replace labour.
In a subsistence-level farming community, where there are few tractors and other machines, working hands are crucial. In eastern Africa, labour shortages caused by HIV/AIDS have led to a range of farm changes, including a reduction in land under cultivation, a decline in crop yields and a shift from cash crops to subsistence crops. Agricultural knowledge and skills are also being lost as the knowledgeable generation dies. Children -- girls in particular -- are frequently withdrawn from school to help the family, a trend with ominous implications for the future.
jeopardizes household food security. When a family
member dies, the food consumption of all surviving
household members often declines, resulting in
malnutrition (Zambia/FAO/A.Conti) Source:
HIV/AIDS jeopardizes household food security. When a family member dies, the food consumption of all surviving household members often declines, resulting in malnutrition (Zambia/FAO/A.Conti)
AIDS also has implications for nutrition. The onset and progression of the disease are delayed in well-nourished HIV-infected people. But access to adequate food is threatened for all family members in affected households. When a family member dies, the incidence of stunting (low height for age) increases among orphans, and the food consumption of all surviving household members often declines, resulting in malnutrition.
A study in Namibia shows widespread sale and slaughter of livestock to support the sick and to provide food for the mourners at funerals. This loss of assets jeopardizes the long-term nutrition of households as well as longer-term sustainability of development.
From food insecurity
and poverty to AIDS
Poverty also makes AIDS education difficult, given poor people's lower levels of literacy and limited access to mass media and health and education services, particularly in rural areas. In addition, people struggling with daily survival are less inclined to worry about the long-term implications of illness and therefore are less likely to take preventive measures.
Poverty also increases migrant labour, family break-up, landlessness, overcrowding and homelessness -- factors that increase the likelihood of having multiple sexual partners.
Poor women are especially vulnerable. They tend to be ill-informed on health matters and have little power over any aspect of sexual relations, meaning they are at high risk if their husbands are infected.
The Joint FAO/UNAIDS study "Sustainable Agricultural/Rural
Development and Vulnerability to the AIDSEpidemic" is
available free of charge from UNAIDS.