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Executive summary

In 2002, through research involving 1 889 rural households in northern Namibia, southern Zambia and around Lake Victoria in Uganda, FAO’s Integrated Support to Sustainable Development and Food Security Programme (IP) explored the relationships among HIV/AIDS, gender, agricultural production, food security and rural livelihoods. These three IP partner countries differ in demographic and socio-economic characteristics, and they are at different stages in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with only Uganda demonstrating a clear decline in HIV sentinel surveillance. These differences are reflected in the levels of impact and the appropriate response strategies to the pandemic.

Three case studies demonstrate that the HIV/AIDS pandemic has serious implications for rural agricultural production and household food security, gender concerns and the policy environment. The studies emphasize that, under conditions of increasing AIDS-induced poverty, the decreased access to productive resources for rural men and women - and increasingly children - becomes particularly important.

The case from Uganda illustrates that AIDS-affected households in mixed agriculture, fisheries and pastoralist communities are becoming increasingly resource-poor and are producing less. Consequently, these households find it difficult to shift towards the goals of the Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture (PMA). Specific strategies need to be developed to enable this group of AIDS-affected poor farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists to move beyond subsistence. Activities need to be implemented that will underwrite the risk of poor farmers investing in increased productivity or that will enable them to diversify their activities away from the agricultural sector in order to increase their purchasing power to buy food.

In Namibia the survey findings show how the HIV/AIDS epidemic slowly depletes the asset base of widow-headed households owing to increasing distress sales and the dispossession of property following the death of a spouse. Even though Namibia has legislation that protects property following the death of a spouse, there is a general lack of awareness of this legislation in the communities, and the government has few resources and little capacity to enforce it.

In Zambia, the AIDS-related death of people in productive age groups has led to an increase in households fostering orphans, which places an additional burden on these households. It is clear from the IP survey data that female-headed households are caring for increasing numbers of orphans with fewer resources. Poor female- and increasingly grandmother-headed households that care for orphans have very weak safety nets and few coping capacities to re-establish self-sustaining livelihoods. The responses adopted, such as the sale of productive assets and the removal of children from school, increase household poverty in the long term and thus exacerbate the “feminization” of poverty in Zambia. Current measures to alleviate poverty do not adequately address the differential impact of poverty on men and women and make insufficient provisions for the new households emerging as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The challenge is clear. How can countries support increasing numbers of vulnerable households? What can be done to reverse the trend towards increasing destitution?

IP stakeholders identified a wide range of possible agricultural interventions as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a few of these were selected as pilot activities to be implemented under the IP. In Uganda, efforts are focused on supporting the mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS-responsive actions into the agricultural extension services. In Namibia and, to a lesser extent in Zambia, resources still need to be directed towards bringing the epidemic under control. As a consequence, the IP pilots in these countries focus on improving household food security and nutrition and on the prevention of property grabbing.

In the policy environment, one of the difficulties in addressing HIV/AIDS is that the impacts of the epidemic affect all sectors at all levels, while most policies are formulated to achieve specific objectives. A comprehensive response that effectively mitigates the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on rural livelihoods would need to be implemented through an interdisciplinary approach at the macro, meso and micro levels. At the end of this report some general suggestions are made regarding what can be done to respond to the epidemic, including mainstreaming HIV/AIDS, developing multi-sectoral responses and social protection.

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