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HIV/AIDS depletes rural labour force in many African countries, UN food agency warns

HIV/AIDS depletes rural labour force in many African countries, UN food agency warns

Deaths caused by HIV/AIDS in the 10 most affected African countries are projected to reduce the labour force by as much as 26 per cent by 2020, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report, prepared for the Committee on World Food Security which will meet in Rome later this month, estimates that since 1985 some 7 million agricultural workers have died from AIDS related diseases in 27 severely affected African countries. An estimated 16 million more deaths are reported likely in the next two decades.

"Throughout history, few crises have presented such a threat to human health and social and economic progress as does the HIV/AIDS epidemic." the report says.

The virus is having a major impact on nutrition, food security, agricultural production and rural societies in many countries, according to the report. Since the disease commonly strikes the most economically productive members of society, HIV/AIDS is a problem of critical importance for agricultural, economic and social development.

"HIV/AIDS can have devastating effects on household food security and nutrition," according to the report. FAO warns that a downward spiral of the family's welfare begins when the first adult in a household falls ill and that the "loss of able-bodied adults affects the entire society's ability to maintain and reproduce itself."

To combat the continued spread of the disease and reduce its impact, the FAO report recommends "strong advocacy strategies to raise awareness of governments, policy makers, ministries, opinion leaders and the general public about the impact of HIV/AIDS." It also calls for support to ensure that destitute children and other AIDS-affected household members can meet their daily food requirements and other basic needs.

Among other recommendations, FAO advocates the review of laws and practices concerning access to land and resources to ensure that the livelihoods of widows, orphans and other poor HIV/AIDS-affected households are protected. It also suggests that donor countries assist in HIV/AIDS prevention and reduce its negative impact on food security by providing advice and resources to countries heavily affected by the virus. Such assistance, the report says, might include food aid to provide supplementary feeding to households and orphanages.