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Issue paper

Mitigating the Impact of HIV/AIDS on Food Security and Rural Poverty

The AIDS epidemic is challenging all aspects of the development agenda. Many of the premises on which development interventions are based are no longer relevant. The disease has decimated sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural labour force and will continue to do so for generations, depleting the region of its food producers and farmers.

Not only is the epidemic causing severe reversals in development gains, but it is making ‘typical’ development interventions impractical. Communities’ livelihoods are being permanently eroded and assets depleted with the reoccurring periods of sickness and death that the epidemic brings. Labour, a much valued human asset and the foundation of development interventions, is becoming scarce and this lack of labour strains traditional coping mechanisms and increases vulnerability. At the same time rural institutions and service providers are struggling to support communities with an ever decreasing capacity, given that they too suffer morbidity and mortality due to the epidemic. AIDS is fuelling soaring rural poverty rates and is becoming the crux of the spiral of poverty.


The need for a multisectoral approach to HIV/AIDS is now widely recognized. There is an awareness that the health sector cannot, on its own, provide the array of solutions needed, especially when HIV prevalence exceeds one percent. However, experience from a number of countries demonstrate that multisectoral strategies continue to be strong in health approaches and weak in others. In addition, responses have been concentrated in urban areas, while the epidemic is rapidly moving to the rural areas. In spite of its incapacitating effects on agricultural production and rural livelihoods, and of the fact that up to 80 percent of the people in the most affected countries depend on agriculture for their subsistence, the agricultural sector has not been as forthcoming and as innovative in its response, as the situation requires. Effective solutions for rural areas need to take into consideration the agricultural sector and its capacity both to reduce people's vulnerability to acquire the disease and to live with it.

The rapid spread of the AIDS epidemic requires new and innovative responses. It requires systemic and coordinated interventions and makes imperative, more than ever, the need to collaborate. In 2001 the United Nations General Assembly held a special session on HIV/AIDS, the declaration from this meeting recognized the urgency of a response to the epidemic and specifically called for united global action to combat a global crisis. Following this special session and with the aim of developing effective strategies to prevent and to mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic on rural poverty, rural livelihoods and food security, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), together with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) held a workshop in December 2001 with the participation of a wide array of stakeholders. This report brings together participants’ contributions, their discussions and conclusions, and builds upon the work that FAO has been undertaking since the meeting took place. We hope this report will contribute to shape new and much needed interventions to effectively mitigate the impact of the epidemic and to help contain its spread.