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Impact of HIV & AIDS on agriculture and food security: The case of Limpopo Province in South Africa
Prepared for FANRPAN by: Petronella Chaminuka, Francis Anim, Legessa Kassa Debusho, Simphiwe Nqangweni
Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Limpopo and Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development, University of Pretoria

Executive summary

Background and objectives

South Africa is amongst the countries hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNAIDS 2002, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate amongst adults in South Africa was 20.1% and up to five million adults and children were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS at that time. The smallholder agriculture sector, relying mainly on labour because of the low levels of mechanisation, has not been spared by the pandemic.

Agriculture and related forward and backward industries contribute about 13% to the country's GDP and provide a source of livelihoods for about 40% of the country's population. An estimated three million smallholder farmers reside in communal areas of the former homelands, and practice subsistence agriculture. Agriculture has much to contribute in government efforts to bridge the economic divide between the first and the second economy, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic has potential to erode any such efforts.

There is a dearth on information on the impacts of HIV/AIDS on smallholder agriculture in South Africa. Most notable contributions are descriptive in nature and reliant on cross sectional analysis, with no specific focus on smallholder agriculture. There is a need for further information that quantifies the impacts of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and food security, and enables comparison with other states in the SADC region to facilitate collective action at regional level. In response to this need the Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in collaboration with the SADC Health Sector Coordinating Unit commissioned a regional study to assess the impacts of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and food security. South Africa is one of the seven countries where a study was initiated.

The main objective of the study was to investigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production and food security and to examine the changes in decision making as a result of HIV/AIDS and/or related illnesses within households and to identify the coping strategies adopted by affected households. Specifically the study investigated the impacts of the pandemic on (i) household demographic structure, (ii) labour supply, (iii) agriculture production, (iv) household livelihood and capital assets and (v) household food security. The study also investigated the mitigation and coping strategies adopted by smallholder agriculture households faced by the pandemic.

Study design

This study was conducted in the Capricorn district of the Limpopo province. The site was selected purposively due to the fact that it has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in the province, and amongst the poorest areas in the district. Moreover, majority of households are involved in subsistence agriculture. Households from seven villages were stratified into 'affected' and 'non-affected'. An 'affected' household was defined as a household in which at least one family member was chronically ill due to HIV/AIDS and related illnesses at the time of the survey, and at least one family member had been lost due to HIV/AIDS or related illnesses in the last three years. A 'non-affected' household was defined as a household in which no member has died of, or is living with HIV/AIDS related diseases. A total of 218 households were randomly selected with 100 household falling in the affected category and 118 households in the non-affected category. Data was collected using structured questionnaires from the selected households, followed by focus group discussions and community seminars in three of the villages.

Research Findings

The study shows that a greater proportion of affected households (53%) are headed by females compared to 46% for non-affected households. The study found out that there are differences in terms of the mean age of the household, with affected households being headed by on average more elderly household heads than non-affected households. Female headed households are common, and less than half of the households are headed by both parents who are resident at the household. Female headed households have higher dependency ratios than male headed households. Households headed by elderly people (i.e. head above 60 years of age) have relatively higher dependency burdens than households headed by persons under 60 years. Furthermore, most of the affected households have heads educated up to primary level, whilst the non-affected households have more heads educated up to matric and diploma levels. Regarding labour supply, it was found that where there were long illnesses without a death, child illnesses affected cultivation activities more than adult illnesses and adult deaths. There is significant evidence that the HIV/AIDS pandemic affects household dependency ratios, changes household demographic structures and reduces labour supply to various household activities.

The mean value of purchased input used by death- and illness-affected households were significantly different from the non-affected group, but not from each other. Compared with non-affected households, death-affected and the illness-affected ones spent less on purchased agricultural inputs. There were no differences in ownership of household assets between the affected and the non-affected households. Almost 50% of households in the sample owned a television set and an even higher proportion owned a radio. The results also indicate that there is no difference in terms of livestock ownership between the two groups of households. The most commonly owned agricultural implement is a wheelbarrow whilst just about a tenth of both the affected and non affected households own ox an drawn plough.

The study did not establish any changes in land ownership as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some households stopped using some of its pieces of land after the death of a household member. The mean size of land holding for affected households was estimated to be 2.17 hectares, and 2.37 hectares for non-affected households. Almost a third (32.6%) of the affected households, and a fifth (20%) of the non-affected households reported non utilization of all land allocated for crop production. The cultivated land area decreased when an adult died or experienced a long illness, and when a child was ill. The reduction in acreage under crop production is likely to impact on total agricultural production for these households, and for the affected households is likely to affect the food security status of households. Reasons for failure to use all of the allocated land included lack of money for inputs, lack of time since most of the time was taken up looking after sick persons.

Some households had shifted from sorghum to maize production although sorghum is considered a quality grain in the area. The study failed to prove that the changes in crop mix were due to the impacts of illness or death in the household. Most of the families in the surveyed area (35.3%) received their inputs from relatives, either resident locally or elsewhere. About 34.2% of the households reported that they purchased inputs from local shops which are within a radius of about 8km, whilst some few households indicated that they got their inputs from NGOs or government agents and about 16.6% of households reported that they used recycled seed.

Households which were affected by death or illness of a household member were asked to rank the effects of illness on agriculture and general welfare of the households. The most common impacts of illness included the loss of time that would otherwise be used for agriculture, off farm activities, and household chores. Households affected by illness face a problem of labour supply for agriculture and make up for this by hiring extra labour. Most of this labour is paid in kind.

Sales of household property, farm assets or livestock did not appear to be prevalent, although they had been experienced by some households. About 88% of the households that experienced death, had slaughtered an ox. Only 1.4% of households reported loss of assets as a result of death. For most households in the area that had experienced death, livestock was left for the deceased's family, whilst clothes and utensils were in some instances shared amongst all present.

Food security is a function of household's production levels as well as the ability of the household to earn income and allocate that income towards purchase of food for all members. There was minimal participation in both crop and livestock outputs markets for both affected and non-affected households, indicating that households are at best only producing enough for home consumption with no surplus for sale. Households affected by the HIV/AIDS and related chronic illnesses experienced a decline in their food and education expenditures. Effects of HIV/AIDS on food security were found to be much higher for households that have experienced death than those that experience illness only. The government grants are significantly contributing to households' food security status, even in the face of illness.

Household vulnerability indices were computed to determine the extent to which HIV/AIDS and other related factors impact on a household's vulnerability to food insecurity. The results indicate that about (70%) of the households fall under the acute level households which are households that have been hit so hard that they badly need assistance to the degree of an acute health care unit in hospital. With some rapid-response type of assistance these households may be resuscitated. About 29% of the households fell under the coping households' category, which means the households are vulnerable to food insecurity but they still cope on their own. A small percentage of the households ( (about 1%) fall under emergency level households which are the equivalent of an intensive care situation - almost a point of no return - but could be resuscitated only with the best possible expertise.

Mitigation Strategies

Households and communities affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic often devise means of coping with the pandemic itself and the associated problems. Hiring of extra labour to assist in agriculture is one of the coping strategies for affected households. This however puts further pressure on the household's income, if the hired labour is paid in cash. Children have also been increasingly called upon to assist with household chores and agricultural activities in affected households.

The study found that remittances from non-resident household members and relatives often contribute towards total household income and food security. The increasing rate of unemployment in the country may however render this strategy unsustainable in the long run. Food parcels distributed by the Social Welfare Department have been helping a lot of affected households to cope with illness and death. Similarly the pension grants, the orphan/foster care grants and the child grant are often the only sources of income for both affected and non-affected households in the area.

Community initiatives such as locally based home care groups have also been assisting affected households with information, helping in care giving and counselling. The is however need for government to support such initiatives as their activities are often constrained by lack of operational funds as well as paltry allowances for volunteers.

Policy Recommendations

Food security policies and programmes need to harness the strengths of national, community, and household food security initiatives to confront and challenge the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural food insecurity. Further, harnessing the political will to provide security for smallholder agriculture from internal/external threats and from market forces is required. More needs to be done to enable better participation of vulnerable households in input and output markets. Knowledge management and transference between family members, particularly women and children to enable the transformation to wealthier landholders who can protect productivity and provide food security while ensuring sustainability in the longer-term. The observation that households exhibit different levels of vulnerability to food insecurity in the face of the HIV/AIDS and other related factors shows that there is a need for differentiated policy responses that target households with different needs. Further we recommend changing the strategic aim of agricultural and rural support services in the nodal areas to include achieving food security and poverty alleviation. This can include public works employment schemes as well as support to community based income generating project initiatives.

Research and information dissemination on HIV/AIDS emphasizing, the particular needs of HIV/AIDS positive persons in nutrition, and various ways in which households can mitigate and cope with death and illness, whilst maintaining agricultural productivity. There is need for investment in micro-finance schemes, infrastructure and knowledge (technical and indigenous). Community home based support groups have a role to play in the HIV/AIDS pandemic and are better suited to help households mitigate the pandemic. Lastly we recommend that similar studies be commissioned with wider coverage and enable longitudinal analysis by tracking the households in the baseline survey.

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