Agriculture warned to brace itself

The agricultural industry will have to make provision for the impact that HIV/Aids will have on the South African economy.

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The agricultural industry will have to make provision for the impact that HIV/Aids will have on the South African economy. Between four and six million people are already affected by the virus and Dr Charles Martin, senior economist at the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) at the University of Stellenbosch, estimates that over 10 million people will die due to this disease over the next few years. Agricultural companies and producers will have to take this into account if they base their ­profitability on population growth, Martin said.

Aids-related diseases are currently responsible for a higher mortality rate than cancer or heart attacks in South Africa, with between 100 000 and 200 000 people dying from Aids-related diseases on a daily basis. Most of the people affected by the disease are in the 20 to 45 year age group. This demographic group is primarily responsible for labour and can be seen as the primary generators of income.

A BER survey found that over 60% of companies’ profitability has already dropped by 5% due to absenteeism because of illness or because employees have to attend funerals, as well as reduced productivity as ill workers are not as efficient as they are when they are healthy. The disease is also resulting in ­higher labour turnovers. Companies in effect have to invest more money in the training of new staff. The disease has already taken its toll on the sheep industry and resulted in a shortage of shearers, according to Martin.

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The number of Aids orphans is expected to increase from 400 000 to over three million by 2010. “These children don’t receive much social interaction and are often raised by other children. They will become an escalating problem to the government in the long run,” Martin said.

Martin predicts that the disease will not allow South Africa to sustain a 6% ­economic growth rate. “A strong economy is dependent on well-schooled workers. South Africa already has a shortage of these workers and the disease will further reduce these workers, and make training and educating of new people to fill their places increasingly difficult due to the impact the disease already has on educational institutions,” Martin said.

The Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust (DFPT) is one of the agricultural industries taking proactive measures to reduce the impact of HIV/Aids on the industry and industry role-players. The DFPT initiated an Aids awareness campaign two years ago with the aim to make people aware of Aids. ­Anton Rabe, CEO of the DFPT, said the aim of the project is also to encourage people to know their HIV status so that they can make informed decisions to optimise their health.

So far it seems that seasonal ­workers are much more affected than ­permanent farm workers. As a result fruit ­producers in many regions are starting to find it ­difficult to source seasonal ­workers during peak ­production times, ­according to Rabe. – ­Glenneis Erasmus