Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

The impact of HIV and AIDS on agriculture and food security in Swaziland
Prepared for FANRPAN by: Dr MB Masuku
Department of Agricultural Economics and Management, University of Swaziland

Executive summary

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood of the majority of people in Swaziland. About 70% of the population live in rural areas and derive their livelihoods from agriculture. HIV and AIDS pose a developmental problem and challenge the ideals of a long-term strategy for poverty reduction and food security in the country. These challenges include the depletion of human capital, diversion of resources from agriculture, loss of farm and non-farm income together with other forms of psychosocial impacts that affect agricultural productivity. The combined effects of these factors are lack of food and deterioration of access to food.

This study was conducted to examine the impact of HIV and AIDS on Agriculture and Food linkages between HIV and AIDS, agriculture and food insecurity in response to a combination of the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in Swaziland with the rising levels of poverty and food insecurity. The overall objective of the study was to determine the impact of HIV and AIDS on agriculture and food security. Specifically, the study aimed to determine the impact of HIV and AIDS on; labour availability, agricultural production and productivity, asset ownership, food security, and to identify coping strategies that are used by affected households to sustain their livelihoods.

This study covered the rural populations of all the four regions in the country, Manzini, Hhohho, Lubombo and Shiselweni. Upon realising that HIV and AIDS still carry a widespread stigma, it was deemed appropriate to use symptoms of HIV and AIDS related infections as proxy indicators of affected households. The study employed a purposive sampling method mainly because of the advantages it has when you want to get certain desirable characteristics of the population other than getting a representative sample. The sample size was 847 households.

Whilst it remains extremely difficult to ascertain the exact impact of HIV and AIDS without relying on time series data, the study provided strong evidence of a devastating effect on agriculture and food security in Swaziland. A substantial number of the respondents (41 %) in the study reported having had at least a family member with signs of HIV and AIDS related illnesses, and the majority (77%) of them indicated that they had lost a family member as a result of HIV and AIDS related illnesses. The study indicated that 65% of the households in the sample had a sick member or had lost a member within the 18 to 59 age range in the household as a result of HIV and AIDS related illnesses.

Like in most developing countries, the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Swaziland mirrors the conditions of gender inequality and poverty. As shown by the study, women in Swaziland are more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS compared to men. About 67 percent of the households in this study had lost female members. This could be attributed to among other things, the practice of polygamy. Also, when the man falls sick it is the responsibility of the wife to provide the necessary care and take on additional duties to support the family. This has made women more vulnerable to the disease.

The mortality indicators of HIV and AIDS indicate that about 66 percent of the households with dead members in the four regions are women. The morbidity proxy indicate that in about 67 percent of households the members suffering from HIV and AIDS related sicknesses were women, thus confirming that women are more affected than men in Swaziland.

It can be ascertained that, whilst a number of the members of the affected households were living on farms, only a few of these households had reported a decline in land utilisation. The study showed that in the Lubombo region 63 percent of the households had members that were sick or had died of HIV/AIDS related sicknesses and although these were household members living on farms, only 25 percent of them experienced a fall in land utilisation. In the other regions the study indicates that about 7 percent of the affected households had experienced a decline in land utilisation. However, by utilising further information it has been observed that households that had sick or dead members as a result of HIV/AIDS related diseases and were living on farms reported a change in their land utilisation the most.

Using the Household Assets Vulnerability Assessment (HAVA), previously Househould Vulnerability Index (HVI), the study has shown that a considerable proportion of the households (77.9%) were in the coping households (CHH) vulnerability level, and this implies that they were in a vulnerable situation but can still cope with the situation. However, a substantial proportion (22%) could be classified as being acute level households (ALH). These households had been hit so hard that they urgently needed assistance to the extent of requiring an acute health care unit in hospital. With some rapid-response type of assistance these families could be resuscitated

The study concluded that the most affected component of agriculture was livestock, where, as a result of the pandemic, households had resorted to the sale of their livestock as a means of sustenance and to pay for medical and funeral bills. Crop production had diminished as a result of the fall in land utilisation, unaffordable inputs, household labour diverted to caring for the sick, and skilled people dying or falling sick, leaving behind people with limited skills on how to manage crop production.

The high prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the country undermines government's effort to alleviate poverty, which in turn, makes people and households even more vulnerable to the pandemic. The death of a household member results in losses of finances that households used to get from wages and remittances from those members of the household who were in gainful employment before the household was hit by HIV and AIDS. In order to get the required financial resources, households resort to selling of their physical assets such as household assets and livestock. Most of this money is spent in paying medical bills and caring for the ill members and also to cater for post death expenses, e.g. funeral and cleansing. Financially challenged household members also ask relatives and friends to assist, as the social capital from the nuclear family fails to cope. The natural capital is also under attack as households fail to utilize all their arable land and reduce acreage under cultivation.

In response to the pandemic and its consequences there is urgent need for government and non-governmental organizations to combine their efforts to come up with a comprehensive set of policy measures. These policy measures should include direct policy, such as health policy targeted on improving the health of those already affected, whilst providing preventive health services to those not affected. Whilst Swaziland has adopted the Primary Health Care (PHC) strategy to provide preventive and promotional health services particularly in rural areas, fewer resources are channelled towards the provision of antiretroviral drugs and food, which will help to prolong the life and enhance productivity of the affected. It is also crucial to ease women's disproportionate care burden in HIV and AIDS affected households by supporting the home-based care centres, thus allowing them more time to concentrate on income-generating projects.

As part of the policy measures there should be policy interventions that would assist the affected households to maintain their agricultural production and food security, such as agricultural policy, food-aid policy and rural development policy. These policy interventions should be aimed at mitigating the negative effects of HIV and AIDS on agricultural output. For example, in cases where labour resources are affected as a result of the pandemic, training by agricultural extension staff on the introduction of less labour-intensive crops such as growing cassava instead of maize, because it has the same nutritive value, should be encouraged. There is also a need to promote small livestock like poultry and goats as enterprises that affected households could engage in for their livelihoods.

Government should also, through its community-based programmes, revive and support labour-saving cultural practices such as communal labour to assist labour-constrained households by introducing incentive systems at the community level. Small loan facilities should be readily available to the affected households to help them purchase agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers or even start some agrarian based businesses to sustain themselves which can be monitored by agricultural extension officers. To bridge the farming knowledge gap between the affected household members and the survivors, mainly women and children, there is need for both formal and informal training to assist them cope with the situation.

To complement the above policies there is need to develop policy interventions derived from food security and rural development programmes. In pursuing these policies, government in collaboration with NGOs should intensify its programme of distributing food aid by ensuring that HIV and AIDS households receive their quota. The study has clearly indicated that land rights are biased against women who after the death of their husbands are not allowed to own or acquire land for agricultural production. It is therefore important for policy makers and development practitioners to support the land rights of the vulnerable people and further assist them to maintain usage of the land. Also in line with empowering women, cultural practices that expose women and make them vulnerable to contracting HIV and AIDS need to be considered, especially that of having women passed down to a brother in law without her consent when the husband passes away. The mourning period for women also needs to be reviewed to allow them to engage in productive work after the death of the husband.

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