The HIV/AIDS pandemic is taking a terrible toll on agriculture in developing countries. A new report from UNAIDS (U-N AIDS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization says hunger and poverty are being made worse by the disease.

The UN agencies say most of the African countries worst hit by HIV/AIDS rely heavily on agriculture. As a result, what started out as food shortages for many households has turned into food crises. UNAIDS spokeswoman Dominique De Santos says the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on agricultural workers.

She says, "AIDS has killed about seven million agricultural workers since 1985 in the 25 worst hit African countries. And they estimate that the epidemic could kill another 16 million by 2020 if efforts aren?t stepped up to control the epidemic."

Ms. De Santos says staffs at agriculture ministries have also been hit hard, hampering farming programs.

"In many ministries in sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is wiping out a lot of the employees that work in these ministries. For example, in Kenya, the deaths that have occurred over the past five years ? an estimated 58 percent of those staff deaths were caused by AIDS. So you can imagine the impact that?s having just on the ministry?s work and on agricultural production as a whole for a country."

UNAIDS and the FAO are calling on agriculture ministries to make available AIDS treatment and prevention programs for their employees.

The new report says the FAO is ?formulating pilot projects to test labor-saving techniques? in African and Asian communities, where many agricultural workers have died from AIDS.

These include the use of lighter ploughs and tools that can be more easily used by ?older children, women and the elderly.? Also, improved seed varieties that require less weeding and can be planted at different times of the year to give farmers more flexibility. The report also says, ?Women need equal rights to land, credit and education.?

The UN report says HIV/AIDS must be addressed as a threat to food, nutrition and livelihood security ? the same way governments and humanitarian agencies respond to such disasters as drought.