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, seven 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 entitled 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 percent of the world's population, accounts for nine out of each 10 new cases of HIV infection. Eighty three percent of all AIDS deaths are in Africa.
The FAO said recent UN studies showed output by smallholders in parts of Zimbabwe might have fallen by 50 percent over the past five years, mainly as a result of AIDS.
Labour shortages were particularly serious for agriculture since production was seasonal and timing was crucial.
A shortfall in household labour meant more land became fallow and the household's output declined.
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 eight-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 illnesses among employees were 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 could drop by nearly a third after the death of a young adult.
Source: Business Report, 12 September 2001