AIDS ‘Devastating’ African Farmers and Food Supplies
HIV/AIDS is "devastating" farming and "worsening" hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, as seven million farm workers have died from AIDS-related causes since 1985 and 16 million more are expected to die within the next 20 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization report, "The State of Food and Agriculture 2001." Reuters Health reports that labor shortages due to the disease are "particularly serious" for agriculture because production is seasonal and timing is critical. The report states, "FAO expects the HIV/AIDS epidemic to exacerbate food insecurity. It is clear that the epidemic is undermining the progress made in agriculture and rural development over the last 40 years." FAO reports show a 50% decline in the output of some Zimbabwe smallholders over the past five years, mainly as a result of AIDS. FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen said that officials must raise AIDS awareness among affected populations, increase food distribution in affected regions, and perhaps "change production systems to less labor-intensive crops." According to the report, "Profitability has been undermined by increased absenteeism owing to sickness, substantially reduced productivity and higher overtime costs as other workers replace their sick colleagues." In addition, livestock is often sold to support the sick and cover funeral expenses, which "eats into a household's savings" and "means a reduced availability of organic material and hence increased pressure on soil fertility," the report said. The report is available online on the FAO Web site (Brough, Reuters Health, 9/12).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.