Mozambique subsistence agriculture faces long-term decline from HIV/AIDS epidemic
The problem also affects countries across southern and eastern Africa
23 August 2004, Rome - HIV/AIDS is threatening subsistence agriculture in Mozambique with long-term decline, a trend that has ominous implications for the country's food supply, FAO warned today.
A major new study of subsistence agriculture in Mozambique documents the loss of many varieties of grains, tubers, legumes and vegetables due to HIV/AIDS, flood and drought, according to FAO.
The disease is impoverishing agricultural households. The study shows that 45 percent of respondents from HIV/AIDS-affected households said they had reduced the area under cultivation and 60 percent said they had reduced the number of crops grown.
"This study documents an alarming trend affecting millions of the poorest rural households. The problem affects not only Mozambique but also countries across southern and eastern Africa, where HIV/AIDS is just as big a problem," said FAO HIV/AIDS expert Marcela Villarreal.
Loss of farming know-how
Study author Rachel Waterhouse said the results showed that HIV/AIDS is likely to have a "highly negative" impact on local knowledge around seeds because it affects the passing of farming know-how about traditional crops from generation to generation as infected adults slowly become incapacitated and stop planting many varieties of crops.
"Most of the farmers use seeds that they produce themselves to grow their own crops; the way they pass on knowledge about how to identify, improve and conserve that seed is from parent to children," she said. "So what happens if you stop producing a certain seed type is that the knowledge around it is not passed on."
It is important not to lose traditional crop varieties because they act as an insurance policy against hunger since they are adapted to local conditions and will produce a minimal harvest even during Africa's recurrent droughts. Moreover, hybrid or "improved" seeds, which do not withstand drought as well as traditional seeds, require inputs, such as fertilizer and plentiful water, that are often beyond the means of the poorest farmers.
In Mozambique, more than 1.3 million people out of a population of 18 million are thought to be living with HIV/AIDS. FAO predicts that by 2020 the country will have lost over 20 percent of its agricultural labour force to HIV/AIDS. In the nine hardest-hit African countries, all in southern and eastern Africa, FAO predicts a loss of agricultural labour because of the disease ranging from 13 percent in the United Republic of Tanzania to 26 percent in Namibia.
The Mozambique government estimates that over 600 000 children have been orphaned by the disease. In response to the orphan crisis, FAO is field-testing ways to help the children learn farming and life skills.
The study, which interviewed about 90 men and women in three communities in Chokwe District, Mozambique, in late 2003, was commissioned by the FAO LinKS project, which explores the linkages between local knowledge, gender and biodiversity, and was conducted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
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