The HIV/AIDS pandemic has claimed the lives of over 20 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where the majority of the people live in rural areas and more than 80% are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. . Also, most rural areas in SSA are typified by their poor access to health and education services, and limited use of agricultural inputs. HIV/AIDS represents a severe burden on SSA countries and it is compounding poverty in the continent. While by the end of 2004 over 2.3 million Africans had died of the disease, 25.4 million people were living with the HIV virus. Among those living with the virus, more than half (13.3 million) were women (UNAIDS, 2004). The socio-economic consequences of the disease are felt in health, agriculture, education, industry, and the macro-economy. Because agriculture is at the heart of AfricaвЂ™s development on account of the need for food, raw materials, export earnings, employment and household as well as national income, HIV/AIDS poses a huge setback for SSAвЂ™s agricultural sector.
Agricultural labor had declined partly due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Most governments in the region have responded to the pandemic by improving access to anti-retroviral (ARV). But the success of these initiatives rests on the availability of food and the nutritional status of their beneficiaries. Research had proved that good nutrition backed with ARV; help prolong life of people living with AIDS, thus, food availability and nutrition are relevant to treatment. Therefore agricultural sector has a fundamental role to play in reducing peopleвЂ™s vulnerability to the disease and its consequences and in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS on livelihood of people living in rural areas. For example, agricultural research institutions can provide labor saving technologies that can reduce or mitigate the effects of labor shortages that is brought about by HIV/AIDS, income generating activities for vulnerable families from unavoidable sale of asset, and some products which can help to maintain and improve the nutritional status of infected people and hence delay the progression from HIV to AIDS.
This review, based on presentations made at the recent SWIHA Workshop on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture in Cotonou, Benin (18-20/7/05) outlines the strategies, challenges and opportunities for agricultural research institutes in Africa in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and mitigating the effects of the disease on rural communities. It also highlights some of the research activities being carried out by CGIAR centers based in SSA and reports on the formation of a new network вЂњAfrica Network on HIV/AIDS and Agriculture (ANEHA)вЂќ.
Paper presented at the BA Festival of Africa Rainbow