AIDS Killing Millions Of
Africa's Farm Workers
By David Brough

ROME (Reuters) - HIV/AIDS is devastating farming and worsening hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, the United Nations world food body said on Tuesday.
In Africa's 25 most affected countries, 7 million farm workers had died from AIDS since 1985 and 16 million more might die within the next 20 years, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report called ``The State of Food and Agriculture 2001.''
``FAO expects the HIV/AIDS epidemic to exacerbate food insecurity,'' the report said.
``It is clear that the epidemic is undermining the progress made in agriculture and rural development over the last 40 years.''
Africa, with about 10% of the world's population, accounts for 9 out of each 10 new cases of HIV infection.
Eighty-three percent of all AIDS deaths are in Africa.
HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. FAO's Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen said authorities needed to raise awareness of AIDS among affected populations, encourage prevention strategies and boost food aid distribution in badly hit areas.
``There may be a need to change production systems to less labour-intensive crops,'' de Haen told a news briefing. FAO said recent UN studies showed output by smallholders in parts of Zimbabwe might have fallen by 50% over the past 5 years, mainly as a result of AIDS.
Labour shortages are particularly serious for agriculture since production is seasonal and timing is crucial. A shortfall in household labour means more land becomes fallow and the household's output declines.
HIV/AIDS was also having a big impact on agricultural estates, FAO said. ``Evidence from one sugar estate in Kenya suggests that the epidemic adds substantially to costs,'' the report said.
``Profitability has been undermined by increased absenteeism owing to sickness, substantially reduced productivity and higher overtime costs as other workers replace their sick colleagues.''
Over an 8-year period in the 1990s, spending on funerals and health costs at the estate rose fivefold and tenfold, respectively. The company, which was not identified, had estimated that about three quarters of all illness among employees was related to HIV infection.
The impact on the livestock sector was also severe. Evidence from Namibia and Uganda indicated that livestock was often sold to support the sick and to cover funeral expenses.
``Selling livestock eats into a household's savings, making them more vulnerable to new shocks,'' the report said.
``The drop in livestock numbers means a reduced availability of organic material and hence increased pressure on soil fertility.''
Recent evidence from Tanzania suggested that food spending by poor households can drop by nearly a third after the death of a young adult.


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