Lori Hunter describes impact of HIV/AIDS on South Africa’s environment

Population scientist Lori Hunter talks about some of the broad impacts of the HIV epidemic in South Africa, including a possibly unsustainable reliance on local resources.

Lori Hunter is a sociologist and population scientist at the University of Colorado. She said one in five adults is HIV-positive in the rural areas of South Africa, where she studies. She’s researching the environmental impact of a family losing an adult member to AIDS.

Lori Hunter: We were wondering if they’re more likely to make more dietary use of local resources.

In households where a bread-winner has died from AIDS, Hunter found the family often has to rely more on the land, and less on goods from the market.

Lori Hunter: One woman said to me, ‘locusts are now our beef’ – which is a very clear substitution.

South African villagers already eat spinach, herbs, and insects collected locally. They also make and sell items like wooden utensils, from materials found in nature. So, Hunter is worried that when a bread-winner dies of AIDS, increased reliance on the surrounding environment is unsustainable.

Lori Hunter: As those kinds of resources dwindle, opportunities for the generation of those livelihood strategies also dwindle.

Greater dependence on natural resources could also contribute to food insecurity throughout South Africa – another reason, Hunter suggested, to think broadly about the impact of AIDS.

Our thanks to:
Lori Hunter is an associate professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. A key part of Dr. Hunter’s current research agenda explores natural resources and rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. She has focused on natural resources as coping strategies for HIV/AIDS-impacted households; the role of wild foods in food security; and migration as related to climate variability.

Lindsay Patterson