Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Assessing the Impact of HIV/AIDS on Economic Growth and Rural Agriculture in Africa

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Assessing the Impact of HIV/AIDS on Economic Growth and Rural Agriculture in Africa

Article excerpt

HIV/AIDS is one of the most significant issues facing the world, and Sub-Saharan Africa particularly, in the 21st century. There have been differing opinions over how the epidemic is impacting the economic future of the African continent. Mixed messages on the true economic repercussions of the spread of the disease have contributed to a limited response, despite the inclusion of combating HIV/AIDS in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of the least studied but most significant areas of the epidemic's impact is rural agriculture. Though long deprioritized, rural agriculture is a source of livelihood for millions on the African continent and is now again being perceived as a crucial contributor to economic growth and development by such organizations as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Hunger, food aid and agricultural subsidies are all key elements of the current discourse on Africa in policy circles and in the media, but few studies have assessed the impact of AIDS on agriculture to push for specific interventions to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on rural agriculture.

Establishing the strong link between HIV/AIDS and rural agriculture would have a significant impact both on the level and on the effectiveness of interventions directed at improving agricultural systems. Institutions like the World Bank that focus on strengthening rural agriculture in Africa would more fully acknowledge the need to integrate HIV/AIDS and agriculture programming. While the MDGs isolate the eradication of hunger and combating infectious disease as separate objectives, making the synergies between the two more evident can only strengthen the global community's response. (1)

This paper will examine macroeconomic studies on the impact of HIV/AIDS and assess their rigor and validity before exploring micro-level household analyses to determine a more accurate measure of the effect of the epidemic on the future of African growth. While many macroeconomic studies either largely dismiss the economic impact of HIV/AIDS or overlook the agricultural sector completely, microeconomic household surveys provide a fuller and more nuanced picture of the dire situation caused by HIV/AIDS. Microeconomic studies can inform policymakers on the massive repercussions of HIV/AIDS, not just on individuals but on whole communities. They also highlight the impact of the epidemic on the rural poor--those most affected but least integrated into macroeconomic analyses. Microeconomic research can also provide ideas on how to mitigate the impact of the epidemic and strengthen the sustainability of rural livelihoods, and perhaps galvanize the world into action.


The scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is difficult to fathom. In 2003, UNAIDS estimated that globally 3 million people died of the disease, and that 40 million people were living with HIV/AIDS. Seventy percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Southern Africa is the most affected region, with an adult HIV prevalence of over 20 percent in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. (2) The epidemic is also spreading incredibly quickly; Swaziland, which today has an adult prevalence rate of 39 percent, had a rate of only 4 percent a decade ago.

Despite these facts, many Africanist scholars and politicians have largely dismissed the impact of the epidemic. Academics such as Fantu Cheru, in his recent book on the future of Africa, touch on the issue of AIDS but do not devote the same amount of attention to the epidemic as they do to labor, education and political systems. (3) More importantly, African politicians have also failed to grasp the massive impact that HIV/AIDS is having and will have on their countries. (4) In many countries and in many circles, only recently are people realizing the potentially disastrous consequences of HIV/AIDS.

It seems clear that such high levels of illness and mortality will severely hamper economic performance in the most heavily affected countries. …

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