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The Impact of HIV/AIDS on rural households and land issues in Southern and Eastern Africa

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7. A Conceptual Framework: HIV/AIDS and Land


From this background paper and the range of literature reviewed, it is clear that the epidemic has serious implications for households depending on land-based livelihoods and consequently a range of land issues. These issues include different forms of land use, various types of land tenure and land reform projects that are most appropriate, the functioning of land administration systems, the land rights of women and orphans as well of the poor generally, and inheritance practices and norms.

As indicated in this background paper, the impact of HIV/AIDS on people and households is widely documented although clear empirical evidence around the impact of the epidemic on land issues remains scarce. To help conceptualise this impact the literature can best be utilised to identify the phases of HIV/AIDS: asymptomatic; early illness; chronic illness; critical illness; death and, lastly, survivors. Each phase of the disease is associated with a different impact, which has different implications for land issues. It is important to emphasise the final category on this continuum - the category of survivors. HIV/AIDS has a massive impact on those left living, as there are many more affected than infected people.

Mercedes Sayagues has usefully reiterated and summarised these phases through a general narrative outlining the impact of HIV/AIDS on the agricultural production of an African household (Mail and Guardian, 16 August 1999). This narrative recaptures much of the discussion in the previous section in a summary that begins to conceptualise the impact on land:

“A man is taken ill. While nursing him, the wife can’t weed the maize and cotton fields, mulch and pare the banana trees, dry the coffee or harvest the rice. This means less food crops and less income from cash crops. Trips to town for medical treatment, hospital fees and medicines consume savings. Traditional healers are paid in livestock. The man dies. Farm tools, sometimes cattle, are sold to pay burial expenses. Mourning practices (in Zimbabwe) forbid farming for several days. Precious time for farm chores is lost. In the next season, unable to hire casual labour, the family plants a smaller area. Without pesticides, weeds and bugs multiply. Children leave school to weed and harvest. Again yields are lower. With little home-grown food and without cash to buy fish or meat, family nutrition and health suffer. If the mother becomes ill with AIDS, the cycle of asset and labour loss is repeated. Families withdraw into subsistence farming. Overall production of cash crops drops”.

This narrative captures the stark reality of the cruel impact that HIV/AIDS has on the household producing on the margins (and above) the subsistence level. Many of these experiences indicate the powerful linkages between HIV/AIDS and land. There are therefore a number of theoretical considerations that should be recognised from this paper that need to be taken into account when evaluating the impact of HIV/AIDS on land issues in the country studies (Rugalema, 2002).

From the literature it is clear that prolonged illness and early death alter social relations. It can therefore be assumed that such relations would include institutions governing access to and inheritance of land. Prolonged morbidity and mortality would also contribute to the disposal of land to cater for the care, treatment and funeral costs. As Rugalema has indicated, this is a “double-edged sword” as on the one side access and utilisation are affected among households and individuals, and on the other hand it would affect land planning and administration at various levels. These changes, particularly as they relate to individuals and households, would have dimensions across both age and gender. Therefore, in summary, HIV-related mortality would alter the land rights or the command positions held by people of different age and gender over land. An analysis of the impact of HIV/AIDS on land is essentially an analysis of changes in social institutions in which rights to land are anchored (Rugalema, 2002). Therefore the analysis needs to take cognisance of a range of social attributes that affect the dynamics of land relations:

From this discussion it is evident that the concept of land issues is extremely broad. To further help conceptualise the impact of HIV/AIDS, these “issues” have been differentiated into three main areas for this study, namely land use, land rights and land administration. The impact on these areas is usefully conceptualised through the lens of the household particularly as HIV/AIDS is depriving families and communities of their young and most productive people:

These dimensions have been explored in each of the country studies and particularly emphasised in the synthesis report which attempts to draw the three studies into a comparative and reflective analysis that may inform land policies across the southern and east African regions.


[9] The specificities of matrilineal inheritance of land also needs to be recognised although anecdotal evidence around abuses seems to indicate a much lower occurrence.

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