In response to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zambia combined with rising levels of poverty and food insecurity, the Integrated Support to Sustainable Development and Food Security (IP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) commissioned a baseline study to examine the interlinkages between poverty, food security, agricultural production and HIV/AIDS, taking into account their wider ramifications on such issues as gender.
The overall objective of the study was to determine the impacts of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production and food and nutrition security among the rural households and communities of southern Zambia. Specifically, the study aimed to determine the impacts of HIV/AIDS on: household structures; educational status; health and health care; labour availability and gender roles; agricultural production and productivity; income-generating capacity; asset ownership; and food and nutrition security. It covered the rural populations of Choma, Monze and Sinazongwe districts in the country's Southern Province. These districts were selected on the basis of their high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, their dependence on agriculture, and their geographical location. The sample was made up of 770 households, divided into male-headed (68 percent) and female-headed (32 percent) ones.
After finding that widespread stigma made study respondents unwilling to report cases of illness and death attributed to HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, the study team selected proxy indicators to classify households. Households containing orphans and foster children were classified as "burdened" and compared with "unburdened" households, which were those without orphans. About 26 percent of male-headed and 40 percent of female-headed households were burdened (31 percent of the whole sample). The effects of HIV/AIDS on rural livelihoods measured through these indicators were captured through the sustainable livelihood approach (SLA) framework.
At the household level, the main effects on human capital were increased cases of illness and death, increased numbers of orphans and foster children, reduced school attendance, changes in the size and composition of households, loss of farm and off-farm labour, the resultant intrahousehold reallocation of labour, and a general change in access to human resources. Nearly half (47.5 percent) of the orphans and foster children were being supported by burdened female-headed households, which accounted for only 12 percent of the total study sample. This indicates the severe burden on female-headed households. Burdened households had an average of about 1.7 more members than unburdened ones. And able-bodied men, women and children all increased their working hours.
Households' financial capital was affected by changes in income from all sources, changes in the availability and use of credit, financial ties to markets, and sales of livestock and other assets to meet medical and funeral costs. Burdened households had lower per capita incomes, and more than half of all households reported reduced income from crop sales. There was also a general decline in credit sources as only a few NGOs were providing farm inputs on credit. About 60 percent of respondents indicated that soil fertility had declined, while greater exploitation of fuelwood for sale and wild foods for home consumption was resulting in increased deforestation and the reduced availability of wild foods. In addition, the study found that burdened female-headed households were less able to cope with drought, as evidenced by decreases in areas cultivated, for all crops and per economically active person.
The stability and relationships within extended families were also negatively affected and, although formal and informal community organizations provided mitigation strategies for burdened households, increased food insecurity may be driving many families to stop supporting orphans and foster children.
The main effects at the community level were through the declining health of community members, changes to the demographic composition and structure of the community, and reduced educational attainment, labour force, and the quantity and quality of service providers. There were more cases of chronic diseases that are directly or indirectly linked to HIV/AIDS, and three of these were the main causes of death at the community level. More women were being left widowed, and adult malnutrition was rife, particularly in female-headed households. Almost half the population was under 15 years of age, while only 30 percent was in the productive 15 to 49 years age group.Decreased income and savings levels across the community caused reduced expenditure on community businesses. Formal credit and savings schemes also declined following the collapse of state-sponsored agricultural lending institutions. Community-level infrastructure such as roads, schools and sanitation facilities deteriorated as a result of the labour shortage. More land was left fallow owing to a lack of resources to farm it, while very little was done to conserve land and water resources. Charcoal burning increased as a way for vulnerable households to supplement their incomes. In some cases, community members leased farmland in order to exploit its natural resources. On a more positive note, labour shortages contributed to the increased adoption of conservation farming.
Extended family ties remained strong, so most orphans and foster children were supported by relatives, and child-headed households were rare. Friends and extended family helped households affected with chronic illness and/or death. However, these traditional support systems were coming under growing pressure and their future was uncertain. The demand for organized women's and youth development groups grew, although increased inequality in access to NGO development services such as credit provision was reported. Discussions revealed that communities were receiving fewer visits from agriculture extension personnel and credit agencies.
The study also looked at the coping strategies households adopted in the face of the pandemic. These included increased involvement of children in agricultural activities; labour exchange with neighbours and relatives; shifts to less labour-demanding mono-cropping; reduced cropped areas; labour hiring for payment in-kind; longer working days; and the use of minimum tillage techniques. Attempts to make up for lost income included distress sales of household assets and livestock, increased dependency on natural resources for food and income, and the establishment of clubs for group income generation. Mitigation strategies can be built on these coping strategies, and some of the best of these are described.