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Farms disappearing in AIDS-ravaged Africa

HIV/AIDS has decimated Africa’s farming communities so badly that the amount of cultivated land in some countries has declined by nearly 70 percent, researchers said
Niger Suffers Famine
A woman removes the husk from grains of millet in the village of Sadongori Kolita on Aug. 9 near Maradi, Nigeria. The amount of cultivated land in some African countries has declined by nearly 70 percent because of AIDS, researchers say.Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images File
/ Source: Reuters

HIV/AIDS has decimated Africa’s farming communities so badly that the amount of cultivated land in some countries has declined by nearly 70 percent, researchers said on Thursday.

About 80 percent of Africans derive their living from agriculture but the illness, which has infected more than 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, has left fewer and fewer people able to till the soil.

“African agriculture depends on labor. You can’t produce crops if there is nobody to work on the farms,” said Annmarie Kormawa, of the System-Wide Initiative for HIV/AIDS and Agriculture (SWIHA).

The Benin-based initiative, which has gathered information on the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa by interviewing farmers, researchers, administrators and health workers, said the pandemic has forced farmers to switch to less labor intensive crops.

Some rural farmers have had to cut their work load or abandon farming completely.

In areas of Kenya there has been a 68 percent reduction in cultivated land and a decline in cash crops such as coffee, tea and sugar, according to SWIHA.

Some parts of Rwanda have experienced drops in the farm labor force of 60-80 percent because of sickness and deaths from the illness, while in Malawi 70 percent of households suffered labor shortages following the death of a male.

In Burkina Faso 20 percent of rural families cut agricultural work or gave up farming because of HIV/AIDS.

Sub-Saharan Africa hardest-hit
Kormawa told the British Association of science meeting being held in the Irish capital Dublin that the pandemic also causes delays in planting and weeding, declines in livestock, falling food quality and quantity, and smaller farms.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world worst affected by HIV/AIDS. Sixty-four percent of all HIV positive people worldwide and 76 percent of all women with the virus are in sub-Saharan Africa.

SWIHA is looking at ways to combat the problem, including planting a new strain of rice tailored to the needs of poor African farmers. The strain is drought resistant, needs less water to grow and is capable of increasing yields by 50 percent.

“For the past 20 years since HIV/AIDS was discovered the disease has had a great impact on the African farming community,” said Kormawa.

“Agricultural research cannot cure the HIV/AIDS epidemic but it can lessen its impact on survivors,” said Kormawa.