Population People

Posted February 2000

HIV/AIDS in Namibia: The impact on the livestock sector 1

Population Programme Service (SDWP)
FAO Women and Population Division

By Ida-Eline Engh (Associate Professional Officer), Libor Stloukal (Population Policy Officer) and Jacques du Guerny (Service Chief and FAO Focal Point on HIV/AIDS)

Livestock products account for a considerable percentage of the agricultural gross domestic product in a number of developing countries, and livestock contributes to agricultural development in various ways. As an example, draught animal power is the most important source of power in the fields in developing countries. FAO estimates that 52 percent of the cultivated land in developing countries - excluding China - is farmed by oxen, buffalo, horses and other draught animals.2 In addition to draught power, the livestock sector serves as a food security bank, directly through milk and meat products, and indirectly as a converter of inedible foodstuff (such as cellulose) into milk and meat. Furthermore, livestock dung serves as manure, fuel, and building material. In addition, various kinds of animals may have a high socio-cultural value for traditional medicine and at death and funerals of community members.

In recent years, several FAO studies have focused on the various impacts of HIV/AIDS on sustainable agriculture and rural development.3 However, the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic for the livestock sector and the interlinkages underlying these effects remain poorly understood. Results of the Namibian study reported in this note confirm the findings of several previous FAO projects but also provide additional information on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the livestock sector. The originality of the study lies in the fact that it brings to light some of the mechanisms through which the pandemic impacts on livestock and illustrates the diversity and the magnitude of the negative effects attributable to HIV/AIDS.

There is little information on the potential impact of HIV/AIDS on the livestock sector in Namibia. Moreover, the absence of sector-specific and agriculturally relevant interventions to counteract the potential negative impacts is an issue of concern for decision-makers. Because the AIDS pandemic is regarded as an important crosscutting developmental issue, it requires a multidisciplinary approach to understand it and to intervene effectively. This note focuses on the specific impact on the livestock sector, and it suggests strategies for consideration by the sector stakeholders in order to minimize and/or mitigate the negative impacts of HIV/AIDS on livestock.

Background information on the case study

The study was based on the review of literature and field data from two communal area farming regions. Data was collected through unstructured informal interviews with representatives of Farmer Extension Development (FED) groups and members of households, which were identified to have been affected by HIV-related sickness or death. The limited budget of the study did not allow extensive fieldwork. Altogether, 24 FED groups participated in the study and a total of 22 affected households were interviewed. Although the findings are based on a small number of observations, they confirm previous findings4 and can assist in increasing the understanding of the multidimensional impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa. It is largely semi-arid, with the rainfall being not only low but also erratic with a high level of inter- and intra-seasonal variability. The acute scarcity of water means that most of the country is a marginal, high-risk cropping environment, with livestock representing the predominant source of agricultural income. The two areas selected for the Namibian case study were Oshana and Caprivi, two communal area farming regions located in the northern part of Namibia. Average rainfall in Oshana is known to range from 179 to 710 mm but may be as low as 52 mm or as high as 978 mm. Caprivi is distinctly more tropical than any of the other regions, it has the highest rainfall in the country, less evaporation and warmer winters. Even though Caprivi has the highest rainfall, it is still plagued by rain that is highly variable from year to year and from place to place, and experiences serious droughts from time to time. Then the livelihood of many farmers is placed in jeopardy.5

Oshana and Caprivi have the highest HIV infection rates in Namibia, and thus face the greatest threat from the pandemic. Although northern Namibia is culturally as well as socio-economically diverse, mixed farming based on crops and livestock is the prevailing farming system in both regions. Cattle are the dominant livestock and small stock ownership is limited. Livestock is kept for several reasons.6 It has a socio-cultural value as a sign of status, for ceremonial slaughter at weddings and funerals, and traditional healers use chicken and goats in various rituals. Livestock has several output functions; milk is a main output of cattle, but has to be purchased during the dry season; cattle are sold in informal markets and are generally very important for cash generation; goats, chicken and ducks are staple food. As input functions, manure accumulates in mobile livestock enclosures (corrals or kraals), and is also used as fertilizer; however, fresh manure is used in building. Oxen are widely used for ploughing and traction purposes. The main crops are maize, millet, sorghum, melons, groundnuts and vegetables. Ox ploughing is generally used for soil preparation, but no manure is ploughed into the soil, except sometimes for vegetable cultivation. Crop residues are normally grazed by livestock for a few days to a few weeks after harvest. Livestock linkages to crop farming are not substantial; with ox ploughing being the main input function.7

According to the analysis of the 1991 population census data undertaken by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), both Caprivi and Oshana belong to Socio-Ecological Region A, which has the highest total fertility rate (TFR) of the country, 6.5 children per woman, while Region B has a TFR of 5.3 and Region C has a TFR of 4.1. Furthermore, Region A has the highest mortality rate of children aged 0-4 years (93 per 1000 live births, compared to 86 in Region B and 50 in Region C), the lowest proportion of population who have secondary or higher education (12%, compared to 26% in Region B and 45% in Region C), and the lowest average annual income per person (N$ 1550 in 1993/1994, compared to N$ 4545 in Region B and N$ 11359 in Region C). The sex ratio of Region A was 85.4 men per 100 women in 1991, in contrast to 110.8 in Region B and 110.5 in Region C. This may indicate a considerable male out-migration from Region A to Regions B and C.

HIV/AIDS in rural communities and its impact on livestock

Rapid population growth has often been considered the greatest population problem in Africa. However, in some rural communities HIV/AIDS is now causing labour shortages for both farm and domestic work. HIV/AIDS has quantitative and qualitative impacts on labour in rural communities by i) reducing the household's workforce, as people die or spend time on mourning, attending funerals and caring for sick household members; and ii) by reducing skills and changing the gender division of labour depending on how the farm-household members are affected. These effects of HIV/AIDS on rural labour have, in turn, severe consequences for the livestock sector, directly and indirectly, as illustrated in the framework below:

The various factors are, of course, interlinked and the framework above is therefore highly simplified. Furthermore, the political, socio-economic and cultural context makes time and space-specific impacts on the linkages illustrated. For instance, the burden of medical and funeral costs may be influenced by formal or informal social security systems and alternative food and income opportunities may reduce the consequences of crop failures. It is also important to highlight that although agricultural development and house-hold food security might be reduced as a consequence of HIV/AIDS, the severity and extent of the impact may depend on the role of other factors.

Reduced capacity of livestock management and production

In addition to the quantitative reduction of the household workforce, which occurs when adults fall ill or die, the remaining household members may lack the skills or physical strength to maintain livestock management and production. Naturally, this has the strongest impact on households which are child-headed or where the majority of the members are children and older people. Furthermore, mourning and attending funerals are both time- and energy-consuming. During the mourning period work is reduced or postponed, including the production of crops and fodder.9 In Oshana and Caprivi mourning time for relatives was reported to range from four to eight days, and for immediate neighbours it is estimated that they sympathize and console the bereaved family for about half the mourning period. The rest of the community has to stop work on the funeral day. To see parents, relatives or friends suffer from HIV/AIDS-related diseases has, obviously, an enormous psychological effect, not least on children who are left with increased responsibility both for household members and production. It is also important to take into account the time perspective. HIV/AIDS has both short- and long-term effects as daily care is reduced as well as the capacity to make plans and investments regarding future agricultural and livestock production.

It is estimated that extension staff in north-central Namibia spend at least 10% of their time attending funerals. Farmers may also be spending an equal proportion of their time to attend the funerals of their relatives. To this must be added the extended mourning time in the village as well as the time for consoling and sympathizing with bereaved neighbours and attending funerals of dead community members. Therefore, the lost production time may be more than 25% of short critical production periods such as sowing and weeding. Moreover, delayed weeding demands higher labour inputs. Consequently, in situations where labour is becoming scarce due to HIV/AIDS morbidity and mortality, the reduction of potential crop yields due to poor weed management can be severe.

Apart from HIV/AIDS killing part of the active workforce involved in livestock and crop tending, it also has serious effects on the veterinary service, and thus on the country's ability to contain and eliminate livestock diseases. Where local veterinarians and experienced livestock inspectors have been claimed to AIDS, this may seriously compromise the veterinary service's ability to react to epidemic diseases. In countries such as Namibia, which are dependent on livestock exports for much of their foreign exchange, this may have serious consequences. There is reason to believe that these countries may, in the long run, risk losing markets if they are not effectively able to monitor, control and eliminate trade-threatening diseases.10

Inheritance systems11 and livestock management

The same event, in this case sickness or death as a consequence of HIV/AIDS, has a different impact on livestock depending on how socio-cultural factors mediate it. In Oshana, immediate effects on household resources, including livestock, were distinctly different for households where husbands died and those where wives died. This is probably because of the matrilineal property inheritance culture, as a result of which there may be a substantial re-distribution of family property following the death of the male spouse. Therefore, the HIV/AIDS-affected case study households are presented in three categories namely, those where husbands died, those where wives died, and those where both parents died (Tables 1-15). No such distinctions were obvious in the Caprivi data where the inheritance culture is patrilineal. The individual household case studies are indicative only and no extrapolation is attempted.

A common observation in Oshana households where the husband died of HIV/AIDS is the practice of taking livestock away from the remaining family (wife and children), although there is legislation which should prevent this. In extreme cases all cattle were taken (Tables 1-3). Besides the immediate loss of the mobile bank constituted by livestock for use in times of crop failure, household food security is also threatened due to loss of draught power which precludes timely sowing and loss of an organic fertilizer source. Consequently, the levels of grain produced by the affected households falls despite the maintenance of the cropped area.

Besides cattle, sheep and goats as well as chickens are also taken. A striking case in a relatively poor household is demonstrated in Table 4 where all small stock was taken. Where the relatives of the deceased are more considerate, they only take some of the livestock leaving the wife and children with some (Tables 5-7). While this is less disruptive, the effect on crop production is seen through reduced cropped area and grain production. The trauma associated with the death of the husband and lack of resources to hire casual labour may also be factors contributing to the reduction in the intensity of cropping activities.

A prominent feature of the affected households where the wife has died is the lack of disruption of production resources and assets (Tables 8-12). The assets are less affected than when the husband dies and the household grain production levels are usually maintained. However, in some situations there was a decline in cropping intensities, crop and weed management (Tables 10-11).

Three case studies from Oshana households where both the husband and wife died (Tables 13-15) indicate total inability of the child-headed house-holds to produce enough food for their own consumption.12 This is a result of both inadequate resources and inability to use and manage the limited available resources for optimum crop production. In addition to poor crop and weed management, the children also lack skills for livestock manage-ment resulting in the death of the few livestock inherited. Such events will intensify the food security problems of the child-headed household unless appropriate mitigating interventions are put in place. This illustrates also the limits of community and family solidarity.

In Caprivi, the inheritance system is patrilineal and children inherit the property of their father. However, the tradition of wife inheritance remains strong and this is usually associated with the traditional ceremonies (called mayolo) of identifying and giving the name of the deceased to a male relative. This man becomes the new household father and inherits the wife and part of the deceased's property. Even so, death of an adult - whether male or female - typically results in the household failing to produce enough food for its annual requirements (Tables 16-18). This is largely due to reductions in cropped areas. As a result, the sale of livestock and fish become the main income sources. Sale of livestock tends to adversely affect households' crop production capacity as draught power is lost, making timely planting difficult. Once the limited stock owned is exhausted, households face serious food security and malnutrition problems, as the farming system has little resilience.

The inheritance system in this part of Namibia is highly complex, organised along both matrilineal and patrilineal lines, with a specially convened family gathering deciding on the division of a deceased's estate, in cases where no will was left.13 The inheritance that is transmitted includes not only the deceased's possessions, but also his status, name, and family responsibilities. Because of this complexity, the cases mentioned above have to be regarded as pure illustrations of the considerable diversity of linkages and consequences of HIV/AIDS on property and livestock within different inheritance systems.

Coverage of HIV/AIDS-related costs by sale and slaughter of livestock

Direct costs associated with sickness and death (with or without HIV/AIDS) are known to range from hospital fees, traditional healers' fees, transport, special food and funeral expenses. With the increase in the number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS and related complications, these costs escalate. Findings obtained in Caprivi and Oshana indicate that a common strategy for covering direct costs associated with sickness and death is the sale of livestock followed by the sale of crops. Borrowing and savings are the least common.

According to the affected households in Oshana, sale of crops and livestock had occurred in 10 cases each, while benefits from insurance and the National Social Security Fund had been used in five cases each. Savings and pension had only helped meet direct costs in two cases each. In Caprivi all four affected households interviewed cited sale of livestock as the means of meeting direct costs of sickness and death. One household had sold both crops and livestock. One of the consequences of high sales of livestock is that production resources are taken out of the farming system. The important contribution of livestock through draught power, manure, food security bank, meat and milk products is compromised when large numbers are diverted to support increasing costs of sickness and death.

Moreover, in the case of the Oshana region, the cultural norm is to slaughter at least one ox during the funeral to feed the mourners (Tables 2, 4, 6-14). Where the number of cattle owned allows, several oxen may be slaughtered during the mourning period. In the absence of oxen, sheep may be slaughtered at the funeral while goats are not culturally acceptable. In Caprivi, providing meat at funerals is a recent development as tradition considers eating meat on such occasions as taboo. There is normally less feasting at funerals in the Caprivi region.

Widespread sale and slaughter of livestock to support the sick and to provide food for the mourners at funerals do not only jeopardize the livestock sub-sector but also the crop production sub-sector due to reduced availability of draught power and manure. Thus, when the forced expenses due to HIV/AIDS-associated sicknesses and deaths are met by the sale of livestock, this is generally setting the stage for serious future household food security and malnutrition problems. The loss of draught animal power in areas where integration of crop and livestock is prominent - as in sub-humid eco-zones in southern Africa - strongly hits the livelihood of rural communities as less draught power results in reduced cultivated areas. The sacrifice or sale of cattle might be regarded as one of the most destructive processes related to HIV/AIDS in the livestock sector.

Conclusions and recommendations for future actions

The Namibian Government's response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is multi-sectoral; however, there is a need to further integrate the holistic perspective by increasing the understanding of the complete cause-effect relationships. This will enable each community to develop appropriate activities to remove the root causes identified. As already stressed, findings obtained from the study reported in this note are not sufficiently representative to serve as a starting point for programme or policy decisions. However, they provide enough circumstantial evidence to assume that HIV/AIDS-related sickness and deaths could have a significant impact on the livestock sector in African countries. On the basis of this evidence, the following recommen-dations can tentatively be made, pending further research:

Integrated community based programmes

If the programme activities emanating from the study are to belong to the community and to be executed by the community, it is important that the community is involved in the process of developing the problem tree and finding possible solutions to problems related to livestock management, as well as other agricultural sectors. This requires participatory community workshops where all sectors are present. For example, multi-partner sexual relationships (which promote the spread of HIV/AIDS) may be related to relative poverty that is caused by poor returns from the agricultural production system and lack of off-farm and non-farming income-generating opportunities, which are also a result of various factors. The multi-partner sexual relationships may also be a result of polygamous marriages, wife inheritance cultural practices that are part of the community's traditions, and increasing migration. Through community participatory workshops the change agents from various sectors acting as facilitators should help the community develop activity programmes (development plans) which take into account cultural practices and traditions such as polygamous marriages and wife inheritance. Since problems and opportunities differ markedly from place to place, the problem tree and suggested strategies to tackle the root causes are meaningful only when they are developed at local level.

Holistic, integrated, community-based HIV/AIDS response programmes, guided by the national agricultural policy, may include improved livestock management by general skills training for young people. This may ensure that they acquire sufficient practical skills to allow them to play an active part in the community's livestock production.

Labour-saving technologies

To support the production and livelihood activities identified at local level technologies will need to be developed with client participation. This will ensure their relevance and appropriateness while adaptation is facilitated. An obvious area of technology development focus which needs resource support in the wake of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the generation and/or adaptation or perfection of labour saving techniques. This includes identification, improvement and promotion of livestock species that require little labour, e.g. scavenging chickens, pigs and bees, and efficient use of farm organic wastes, e.g. use of mobile livestock enclosures, toilets and homesteads within the arable land.

Issues and questions to be taken into consideration
while developing projects and programmes
related to HIV/AIDS and livestock

If the following conditions are fulfilled: a) HIV/AIDS prevalence is considered to be relatively high; and b) the livestock sector is considered to play an important socio-cultural and economic role; there is reason enough to further develop the issues below:

Problem assessment/Points of departure:

  • To what extent is the household/ region/ country affected by HIV/AIDS? Which parts of the rural population/ work force are most severely affected? (Rural households or administrative/ medical/ agricultural staff; subsistence or commercial agriculture; etc.)

  • To what extent and in which ways is the livestock sector important for agricultural development, food security, and trade in the country/ region?

Further issues specifically related to HIV/AIDS and livestock:

  • What are the impacts of increased human medical/ funeral costs on livestock? What happens to the livestock when the rural households struggle to meet the increased cost of HIV/AIDS? Do they sell their livestock? If yes, what kind of livestock is sold first (chicken, goats, pigs, sheep, cattle, etc.)? Is livestock slaughtered at funerals (for cultural reasons or to feed the attendants)? Furthermore, what are - or what could be - the consequences of the loss of livestock on the household/ community/ national economy?

  • How is livestock management and production affected by the reduced capacity of the rural workforce? Despite time and energy-consuming mourning and funeral attendance, are the remaining household members still capable of handling the various livestock resources (draught power, organic fertilizers, milk, meat, etc.)? Do they have sufficient skills and physical strength?

  • What are the impacts of the inheritance system on livestock? Who inherits livestock resources when the wife or the husband dies? Do they remain in the same household as the widow or widower, or are they transferred to relatives of the deceased? What do the households do to cope with the decreased (or increased) number of livestock?

  • How is livestock affected by the lack of skills in (or related to) the livestock sector? The replacement of staff (including medical workers, agronomists and veterinarians) who have died of AIDS can take a long time and become increasingly difficult as appropriate skills are scarce. In countries where Structural Adjustment Programmes have been implemented, the number of staff in these positions might already be low. This might result in the increased importance of each individual worker, which makes the loss of one person even more severe.

  • A potentially dangerous mechanism? On the one hand, HIV-infected humans often develop tuberculosis and on the other, transmission of tuberculosis between humans and cattle is possible. Such a mechanism could have serious consequences in rural populations in which both HIV and livestock are important.14

Overall issue of concern to institutions involved in agriculture and rural development:

  • How and to what extent are food security, sustainable agriculture and rural development affected by the various losses in human and animal labour related to HIV/AIDS in the livestock sector?

With the increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS, sickness and deaths related to the disease could have an impact on the regional and even national level of livestock. There is a strong need of further quantitative and qualitative studies in order to check these processes in other countries, especially in southern Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is most prominent. Countries or areas in which HIV/AIDS is prevalent and livestock is important would need to identify policy and programme responses in the field of agriculture and population.15 Both agricultural systems and morbidity and mortality effects of HIV/AIDS are dynamic. Thus, it is important to set up a continuous and comprehensive HIV/AIDS monitoring system, which would allow good and up-to-date estimates of its negative impact on agriculture, and ensure that response strategies remain relevant. Through this system the coping strategies of the affected households would also be studied and arrangements made to promote effective coping strategies.

1This note is based on a study on the impact of HIV/AIDS on farming communities in Namibia, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development, Government of Namibia, and prepared by the FAO Population Programme Service as part of the implementation of the Cooperation Framework between FAO and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The authors gratefully acknowledge comments and contributions from the following people and institutions: Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development (MAWRD): Dr. Cleopas Bamhare (Principal Veterinarian, Head of Epidemiology Section), and Bertchen Kohrs (Veterinary Technician, Epidemiology Section); FAO Namibia: Emelia Timpo (FAO Representative), E. Jack Matanyaire (Consultant), and Louis Muhigirwa (Programme Assistant); International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria: Wolfgang Lutz (Leader, Population Project), and Isolde Prommer (Research Assistant); University of Helsinki: Riikka Shemeikka (M.Sc, Department of Geography); Animal Production and Health Division (AGA), FAO Headquarters: Preben Boysen (Associate Professional Officer), Rene Branckaert (Animal Production Officer), Samuel Jutzi (Division Director), Anita von Krogh (Associate Professional Officer), Juhani Mäki-Hokkonen (Senior Officer), David Nyakahuma (Associate Professional Officer), Joachim Otte (Senior Officer), David Paskin Senior Officer), and Jan Slingenbergh (Animal Health Officer); Population Programme Service (SDWP), FAO Headquarters: Marcela Villarreal (Senior Officer, Socio-Cultural Research), and Alain Marcoux (Senior Officer, Population and Environment). Although this contribution is based on the report by FAO/MAWRD, please note that, except for the data obtained from the study, the authors take full responsibility of the content.
2Source: http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/agricult/aga/agap/factfile/draught.htm
3See HIV/AIDS and Agriculture: An FAO Perspective, background note by SDWP, forthcoming on SD-Dimensions: http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/sustdev/WPdirect/default.htm.
4E.g. M. Haslwimmer (1994): "Is HIV/AIDS a threat to livestock production? The example of Rakai, Uganda", World Animal Review, no. 80/81.
5Source: Windhoek Weather Bureau and B. Kohrs (personal communication).
6This paragraph is partly based on Review of Community Based Animal Health Care in the Northern Communal Areas of Namibia, draft report by J. C. Mariner, FAO 1999.
7Source:Socio-Veterinary Study: East Caprivi, Epidemiology/Extension Section, Directorate of Veterinary Services, Windhoek, completed in August 1995 by R. Paskin & G. Hoffmann.
8Source: IIASA Internet site: http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/POP/pde/pdeafr.htm. The SERs are the result of a workshop held at IIASA in July 1997 with representatives from Namibia and Botswana (University and Ministries, national institutions), IIASA and other institutions working on related topics in Southern Africa. The model is composed of three modules: population including HIV/AIDS prevalence, economic and hydrological indicators.
9However, there are reasons to believe that these traditions are changing. Nowadays people have to be buried quickly because of limited space in the mortuaries; mourning takes typically a day or two depending on the transport to the place of the funeral and the distance for the people participating; and traditional rituals are changing due to the large number of funerals (B. Kohrs, personal communication).
10However, it is important to bear in mind that Namibia exports livestock mainly from the southern part of the country, which counts on a very effective animal health service (J. Otte, personal communication). The impact of HIV/AIDS on the country's livestock exports may thus be less significant than what the results obtained in Caprivi and Oshana would imply.
11Inheritance systems consist of rules, either customary or legal, that govern transmission of property between generations. Inheritance rules may define the number and gender of heir(s) to whom property should pass, the ways in which property shall be divided between multiple heirs, and the degree to which heirs' claims through inheritance are binding on property holders regardless of their own will (Source: The Dictionary of Human Geography, edited by R. J. Johnston et al., Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1994). For a discussion on some of the linkages between population factors and land tenure issues, see, for example, D. Iaquinta, J. du Guerny and L. Stloukal: Linkages between rural population ageing, intergenerational transfers of land and agricultural production: are they important? http://www.fao.org/sd/WPdirect/WPan0039.htm
12Of course, the degree of ability to take care of household production and consumption also depends on the age of the child. However, the Namibian study does not include data on this.
13Source: A Socio-Veterinary Study from East Caprivi, completed in August 1995 by R. Paskin & G. Hoffmann.
14Source: D. Nyakahuma (personal communication)
15See J. du Guerny (1999): "AIDS and Agriculture: can agricultural policy make a difference?", Food, Nutrition and Agriculture, No. 25, pp. 12-19.


Back to Top FAO Homepage