New report on AIDS and agriculture in West Africa

A recent report on AIDS and its impact on agricultural communities in West Africa, prepared by FAO's Farm Management and Production Economics Service, gives important new information about the disease's spread in rural areas. HIV/AIDS is beginning to have a crippling effect on subsistence farmers and their families, for whom survival depends on a delicate balance between the number of hands available to work the fields and the number of mouths to feed.

The report presents details of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire and its effects on rural households. Short case studies are also given.

Experts now estimate that AIDS is spreading twice as fast as they previously thought. They calculate that 20.8 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive, two-thirds of the total global figure. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that of the 5.8 million men, women and children newly infected with the AIDS virus in 1997, 4 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new FAO Report "Impact du VIH/SIDA sur les systèmes d'exploitations agricoles en Afrique de l'Ouest ("The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Agricultural Production Systems in West Africa") highlights the devastating interplay of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Poverty increases the risk of people contracting the virus, and it magnifies the impact of the disease on the victim's family.

The link between mobility and the virus is also stressed. The profiles of AIDS victims in Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire give mobility as one of the defining characteristics. Of the 88 deceased AIDS victims studied in Burkina Faso, only one had never left his village for an extended period of time.

While the search for work continues to propel people towards the cities - which are centres of HIV infection - AIDS is increasingly the force that drives the sick and dying back home. The return of a sick relative places often unbearable burdens on farming families. The patient needs feeding, nursing and accompanying for costly treatment. A sick man may bring one or more wives with him, who may also be infected, and children. Lack of institutional support means that the burden of the disease falls almost entirely on the family. Tools and livestock are sold to meet medical and funeral expenses. Vital work in the fields is left undone and production and income fall. The extra income that the victim previously contributed to the household also ceases.

The report calls for action at regional, national and local levels to help some of the world's poorest communities face the threat of AIDS. Jacques du Guerny, Chief of the FAO Population Programme Service (SDWP) and FAO Focal Point for AIDS, stressed the "potential indirect but very important role that agricultural policies and programmes, by alleviating rural poverty, empowering rural women, encouraging changes in migratory movements, etc, can play in mitigating the effects of HIV/AIDS in rural communities" (Full text of interview with Jacques du Guerny).

19 December 1997

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©FAO, 1997