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Food Security and HIV/AIDS

Published on
December 16, 2010

There is growing recognition of the effect food policy can have on HIV/AIDS, and vice versa. The Regional Network on HIV/AIDS, Rural Livelihoods and Food Security (RENEWAL) was launched in 2001 as a joint project between the International Service for National Agricultural Research and the International Food Policy Research Institute, with the support of IDRC and other donors. It currently operates in Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Acting as a “network-of-networks,” RENEWAL enables African researchers to work together to increase understanding of the connection between HIV/AIDS and food and nutrition security. (

RENEWAL aims to increase the “HIV-responsiveness” of agriculture and food and nutrition policies and programs, as well as to identify ways to both prevent HIV infection and reduce the impact of AIDS. In Malawi, for example, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases increased during the “hungry season.” As people faced a decreasing food supply, some may have little choice but to resort to high-risk sexual behaviour, including transactional sex, to support themselves and their families.

Renaud De Plaen of IDRC’s Ecohealth program says that research results from Malawi illustrate the need to examine HIV/AIDS not just from a health perspective, but from a food and nutrition standpoint as well. “More and more people in Southern Africa are being exposed to HIV/AIDS. The more they’re affected, the harder it becomes for them to produce enough food, and the more vulnerable they become,” says De Plaen. “As the most vulnerable are often the most at risk, it becomes a vicious spiral.”

The results of studies conducted in South Africa, Zambia, and Malawi are being used to inform the health, education, and agricultural sectors, among others. Evidence-based results will be used to inform policy in multiple sectors.

“Four years after the initial phase, there is a general recognition among the scientific community that food production and HIV/AIDS cannot be looked at separately,” says De Plaen. “It’s very clear that the only way to handle the HIV/AIDS crisis is through better collaboration between the health, food production, agricultural, and education sectors.” The network is now shifting its focus toward policy-relevant research, capacity strengthening, and communications. A further study will examine the links between food security, migration, and HIV/AIDS in both urban and rural contexts.