Africa: Threat of a Perfect Storm — AIDS and a Fresh Food Crisis

December 20, 2010

Food security organizations are warning that prices for food have risen to a level not seen since the beginning of the 2007-08 crisis. Of the 30 countries most likely to need external food assistance, 22 are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Food Program. And the most vulnerable countries also have many people with HIV/AIDS.

“When food prices are putting nutritious food out of reach of people living with HIV and AIDS, it becomes an immediate crisis,” said Scott Drimie, a research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Advertisement”A national census report [in Malawi] clearly shows that a high percentage of farmers spend a lot of time nursing sick relatives,” said Sam Bota, country coordinator for IFPRI’s Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food Security (RENEWAL). “And after death, they lose a lot of time, sometimes as long as 20 days for the funeral, all that is a loss of productive time.”

Across sub-Saharan Africa, climate changes have made the timing and frequency of rains uncertain, pushing yields down and causing farmers to switch to less familiar crops. In Malawi and Zambia, studies have found agriculture extension services are also taking a hit and affecting food security. Malawi has a 46 percent vacancy for jobs in this sector due to AIDS-related deaths. This loss carries well over into productivity, Bota said.

“Sudden increases in food insecurity can lead to distress migration as people search for food and work,” Stuart Gillespie, director of RENEWAL, wrote in 2008. “Mobility is a marker of enhanced risk of HIV exposure, both for the person moving and for adults who may remain at home.”

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