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New thinking needed on impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture
March 15, 2005
JOHANNESBURG - The
impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture in Southern Africa is now well recognised.
But a new report
is calling for a rethink of current views on the effects of the epidemic
and more concrete and specific regional responses.
Despite current thinking on
the effects of the epidemic on farming, which has mainly been based on
qualitative methods, the study found that most quantitative household-level
studies gave "a less catastrophic assessment of the impacts of rising
AIDS-related mortality on the agricultural sector".
According to the report, to
be presented next month at an international conference on 'HIV/AIDS and
Food and Nutrition Security' in South Africa, it has been generally accepted
that the loss of productive family members would have an adverse impact
on household agricultural production.
However, prime age mortality
affected households differently, as some were able to adjust to the shift
in availability of resources through sharecropping arrangements, substituting
hired labour for family, and reducing the amount of land cultivated.
The recent shift by countries
in the region from cultivating maize to roots and tubers has led to growing
speculation that HIV/AIDS was responsible for these changes. Although
it was possible that AIDS had contributed to the move, the report noted
that major changes in agricultural policy were largely behind it.
"Maize marketing policies in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were
either eliminated or scaled back significantly, starting in the early
1990s, as part of economy-wide structural adjustment programmes. These
policy changes clearly reduced the financial profitability of growing
maize ... and has shifted cropping incentives toward other food crops,
especially those relatively unresponsive to fertilizer application, such
as cassava," it noted.
As a result, "the evidence
is mixed as to how AIDS is affecting agricultural systems and cropping
patterns," the report added.
Nevertheless, the researchers
identified three emerging trends that could help governments come up with
responses based on localised farming systems, the suitability of alternative
crops, and household characteristics.
"As the supply of skilled
and semi-skilled labour becomes relatively constrained as the disease
progresses, the costs of skilled labour in the (mostly non-agricultural)
formal sector is likely to rise", causing a decline in the competitiveness
of knowledge-intensive activities both in agriculture and non-agriculture.
The authors called for steps to accelerate skills training in the sector.
Secondly, mortality among rural
households could cause a reversed migration of unskilled labour from urban
to rural areas, to make up for the loss of agricultural labour caused
by AIDS. This would enable rural households and communities to preserve
existing farming systems, or slow the transition to less labour-intensive
Agricultural systems were likely
to become less capital-intensive in hard-hit areas, exacerbating income
inequalities as poor households sold off assets and land to those who
could afford to buy, the paper pointed out.
Agricultural policy could contribute
to slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS through poverty reduction; living standards
could be raised through productivity-enhancing investments in agricultural
technology, improved crop marketing systems, basic education, infrastructure
and governance, to help communities withstand the social and economic
stresses caused by the disease, the report concluded.
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