Cover page Plant Diversity, Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and the HIV/AIDS Crisis ISBN/DATE



Authors: Josep A. Garí

A joint publication of UNDP and FAO



A large proportion of the estimated 1,500 million small fanners in the South face food insecurity, live in marginal environments and are highly vulnerable to the impact of HIV/ AIDS. The responses of the agricultural sector are often conceived of outside the community context and neglect the local resource base, both natural and cultural. However, increased attention should be given to the potential of local plant diversity (agro-biodiversity) for marginalized rural communities to combat malnutrition, agricultural constraints and the HIV/AIDS crisis as well as to enhance sustainable livelihoods.
This paper outlines an agro-biodiversity strategy with the following components: traditional, neglected and under-utilized crops; agricultural diversification; home gardens; wild food plants; medicinal plants; and community seed systems. The mobilization and improvement of these resources would be instrumental in expanding the options and means of small fanners to enhance their agricultural and livelihood systems. Plant resources are locally available, affordable, easy to deploy, versatile and remarkably connected to the ecological and cultural realities of small farmers. They are essential to devise agro-ecological practices that can improve natural resource management, household nutrition and the engagement of fanners in agricultural innovation. This approach is also responsive to the most pressing needs of HIV/AIDS affected and other vulnerable households, in particular those with a shortage of productive resources (such as labor, cash, seed or fertile land).
The proposed agro-biodiversity strategy is particularly relevant in the context of the agricultural sector's response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. In rural communities, the improved use of plant resources can contribute to the prevention of HIV (through reducing the livelihood vulnerabilities that often spread HIV/AIDS), the care of people living with HIV/AIDS (through improved nutrition and the use of medicinal plants) and the mitigation of the impact of HIV/AIDS on development (through supporting agricultural practices that help rural people to cope with the impacts of the pandemic on labor, household economies and the social fabric). The proposed agro-biodiversity strategy is also useful to enhance the capacities of impoverished rural communities to confront and address their complex food, environmental and development crisis.
One of the principal strengths of the proposed agro-biodiversity strategy is that it does not rely on anything new and is readily implementable. Its raw materials are the established knowledge and resources of those it is intended to serve. The aim is to propose a reorientation of rural development strategies towards optimizing the use of locally available skills and resources. This can have a significant impact on the food security, health and livelihoods of rural communities and can assist in mitigating the impacts of crises such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This approach would boost agricultural development in ways that are ecologically and socially sound and, at the same time, more practical and promising in terms of their chances for success.

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June 2004