The HIV/AIDS pandemic

In the last two decades acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed more than 20 million people worldwide. By 2020, another 68 million face premature death in the 45 most affected countries. In 1990 a total of 27 million people were reported to be living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or AIDS. Of these, 7 million or 25 percent were in Africa. In two decades the number of infected people in Africa had risen to 25.3 million or 70 percent of the world's HIV/AIDS infected population. AIDS makes development recovery, let alone progress, inestimably more difficult. By robbing communities and nations of their greatest wealth - their people - AIDS weakens the human and institutional capacities that fuel sustainable development. By draining human resources, the epidemic distorts labour markets, disrupts production and consumption, and ultimately diminishes national wealth. HIV/AIDS reduces the capacity of households, communities, institutions and nations to cope with the socio-economic effects of the epidemic.

FAO has recognized that the agriculture output of household based farming - vital to food security in any developing country - cannot be sustained if AIDS continues unchecked. Reduced labour availability leads to a reduction in the land area cultivated, changes in crop patterns, poor timing of cropping operations and declines in yields. Maintenance work such as drainage and fencing is abandoned and long-term sustainability affected. Extension workers and other staff fall ill, and a consequent breakdown in agricultural support services exacerbates the problem. Reduced security of land tenure of affected households, migration patterns driven by the epidemic and reduction in the formal and informal training of children all serve to aggravate a downward spiral. The food emergencies sweeping through southern Africa highlight how vulnerable many countries are to shocks that disrupt food production and consumption. Where availability or affordable access to food is lacking, the prevalence of HIV is also alarmingly high. This unfolding tragedy underlines the need to tackle rural development, food security and agriculture policies in concert with fighting the AIDS epidemic.

Roadside public campaign poster, Malawi. (Photo: S. Kolberg)

The agricultural and natural resources sectors can be developed in such a way as to increase the resilience of rural populations and contribute significantly to HIV prevention. Besides the current health based strategies in combating HIV/AIDS, multisectoral development based strategies, in particular agriculture and natural resource responses, can play an innovative and essential role in controlling epidemics. Although the problem is most acute in southern Africa, the burgeoning influence of this pandemic will necessitate action across several regions.

Efforts to mobilize agricultural, forestry and agroforestry institutions, both public and private, are essential in the face of the present HIV/AIDS pandemic.

last updated:  Saturday, November 19, 2005