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'Vulnerable yet, Viable': Social protection policies for households affected by HIV and AIDS
Policy Brief Series 02/05
August 2005
Sara Page, Lindiwe M Sibanda, Tendayi Kureya and Fred Kalibwani


Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (United Nations 1948).

Expanding the Net: Link between social protection policies and safety nets.

In Africa, ‘safety nets’ were promoted in the 1980s as a response to the presumably short-term adverse effects of economic structural adjustment programmes. Although some safety nets had a development component, they were still largely associated with the idea of a “short-term buffer”.

“Social protection” is a new term that expands from the concept of short-term safety net programmes, and emphasises a longer-term development approach, which includes social assistance and insurance. It is assistance that should be considered an individual’s right and not only a form of emergency relief.

Defining social protection
Social protection is distinguished from other development interventions in that it is not intended to promote economic growth, though it is intended to alleviate poverty. In general, economic growth is for poverty reduction; social protection is for vulnerability reduction. According to Norton, Conway and Foster, 2002, social protection refers to the public actions taken in response to levels of vulnerability, risk and deprivation which are deemed socially unacceptable within a given polity or society.

A narrow definition of social protection might restrict the definition, for policy purposes, to direct transfers of food, but a broader definition recognizes that production, employment, trade and transfers can be effectively supported under the rubric of social protection.

Goals of social protection

  1. To reduce income and consumption variations i.e. if the objective of economic growth is to raise average income; the objective of social protection is to reduce variations around average income.
  2. To buffer the consumption of chronically poor individuals who cannot benefit from interventions that raise earned income (i.e. the labor-constrained poor – people with disabilities, orphans, people living with HIV and AIDS [PLWA], and etc.
Types of social protection

  1. Production-based entitlements can be stimulated through the provision of inputs (seeds and tools) to food deficit farmers;
  2. Employment-based transfers can be created through food-for-work projects;
  3. Trade-based entitlements can be enhanced through food price interventions (consumer subsidies).
  4. Transfer-based entitlements (food aid or supplementary feeding, as well as cash transfers or vouchers that boost the purchasing power of the food insecure).


Traditional safety nets have been short-term programmes designed to re-distribute resources to poor people to reduce chronic poverty or to protect them against risks to their livelihoods. These populations have experienced risks posed by disease, loss of employment, drought, conflict, financial crises, or macroeconomic adjustment. Social protection is a more holistic approach, which involves programmes that reduce the impact of emergencies by assisting households to cope with the aftermath, but also promotes interventions designed to prevent emergencies, shocks and destitution in the first place. To achieve both the short-term and long-term goals of a broader development strategy, there is a need to develop and maintain partnerships between government, private sector and civil society (IFPRI, 2004)

‘Vulnerable and Viable’ is a phrase that emerged from research conducted by the International Federation and Red Cross Societies. Based on results of the Zimbabwean Red Cross Society’s experience with providing agricultural inputs to household affected by HIV and AIDS, it was shown that vulnerability does not preclude viability. As opposed to targeting households based on their perceived viability or capacity to produce good yields- a situation where households affected by HIV and AIDS may be seen as too vulnerable, the decision should be left with the beneficiaries todemonstrate their viability.

The traditional view of agricultural input schemes is that inputs should be given to households that have:
  • Adequate land to plant the seed
  • The labour needed to prepare, weed and harvest the field, and
  • The knowledge needed to make the crop successful.
Zimbabwe Red Cross Society decided to forego the traditional view and develop an agricultural input scheme that focuses on the beneficiary. A total of 357 beneficiaries of the ZRCS agricultural input scheme were interviewed.

The survey suggested that there is value in providing agricultural inputs to households- even those with deleted resources and a lack of experience. Key lessons learned were:
  • Providing cereal seed and enabling households to grow their own crops is highly cost effective, being on average 12 times cheaper than providing the equivalent amounts of food aid.
  • Cereals produced met the household requirements for an average of 3.5 months in rural areas and in urban areas for one month.
  • Providing vegetable seeds made a positive contribution to the diet of PLWHA and provided opportunities for income generation.
  • Households overcame labour constraints by making arrangements with neighbours or extended family, including harvest sharing.
  • Households in urban areas have sufficient access to land to make use of cereals, but that amount of land actually available is still not clear.
Source: Myllynen, K (2006). Vulnerable and Viable Provision of Agricultural Inputs to People Living with HIV and AIDS: The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society Experience. IFRC

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