Zambia: HIV Aids and gender impact report

Poverty continues to be an endemic problem in Zambia. According to the Living Conditions Monitoring Survey of 1998, 73 percent of the population are classified as living in poverty. Furthermore, poverty is more prevalent in rural areas (where it affects 83 percent of the population) than urban ones (56 percent). Poverty has existed for a long time in Zambia, but it is clear that diseases, including HIV/AIDS, have exacerbated it by contributing to decreased agricultural productivity and increased household food insecurity. In fact, HIV/AIDS is eroding households' ability to avail themselves of opportunities to strengthen their economies. Northern Province has a predominately rural population (85 percent) for whom chronic poverty continues to undermine all aspects of development at the community and household levels. Such poverty is deepened by the impacts of HIV/AIDS. Currently, it is estimated that 16 percent of the population of Zambia aged between 15 and 49 years is HIV-positive (CSO, 2000). The AIDS endemic had left an estimated 600 000 orphans by 2000, and it is projected that 974 000 children will be orphaned by 2014 (TNDP, 2003). HIV/AIDS affects both sexes, but is not gender neutral. Women are biologically more susceptible to contracting HIV in one sexual encounter than men are. Moreover, HIV/AIDS worsens gender-based differences in access to land and other productive resources such as labour, technology, credit and water. In Zambia, women and youth contribute 70 percent of agricultural labour, but they have little access to productive assets and are marginalized in the decision-making processes at both the household and community levels. These gender differences become more acute when productive resources are eroded, making female- and youth-headed households the most vulnerable of the rural poor. HIV/AIDS has no age boundaries, and the loss of adult labour has forced families to withdraw older children from school so that they can take care of younger siblings and/or help in food production. It is against this background that Development Cooperation Ireland (DCI), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Government of Zambia, through its Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MACO), conducted a household livelihood research in order to gain a better understanding of the dynamics affecting assets and livelihood strategies that are induced by the presence of HIV/AIDS in communities and households in Northern Province. The household livelihood research is part of the Improving Livelihoods of HIV/AIDS-Affected Households in Northern Province (ILOHAH) project and was undertaken over a total period of eight months. The research was guided by FAO headquarters and a Project Steering Committee on HIV/AIDS and Rural Livelihoods, which comprises representatives from FAO-Zambia, DCI, the Zambian Government, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Northern Province HIV/AIDS Task Force. The research was implemented in two stages. First, participatory livelihood analysis was conducted in order to develop a broad understanding of the dynamics in the assets and livelihood strategies of HIV/AIDS-affected households in Northern Province and to identify appropriate livelihood interventions. Information for the various livelihood components was collected through qualitative household, focus group and key informant interviews. After completing the qualitative livelihood analysis and identifying possible livelihood interventions, quantitative household baseline data were collected for selected parameters to support the qualitative findings and to be used for future monitoring purposes.

This report summarizes the findings of the household livelihood research and comprises two sections. Section A presents the results from the participatory livelihood analysis and includes information on the macro-factors that influence livelihoods in Northern Province (Chapter 2), asset dynamics induced by HIV/AIDS (Chapter 3), household livelihood strategies and responses to HIV/AIDS (Chapter 4), and livelihood outcomes (Chapter 5). Section B describes findings from the quantitative household baseline survey and includes sections on household demographics, adult morbidity and mortality, property grabbing, education/school drop-outs, household resource bases, livelihood strategies, land and crop husbandry, and livelihood outcomes.


1. A livelihood analysis was conducted in eight locations in Mpika, Mungwi, Isoka and Chilubi districts of Northern Province, Zambia. The aim was to gain a clear understanding of the dynamics of assets and livelihood strategies that are induced by the presence of HIV/AIDS in communities and households in Northern Province. The livelihood analysis sampled five household categories: female-headed households with orphans; male-headed households with orphans; female-headed households taking care of people living with AIDS or related chronic diseases; male-headed households taking care of people living with AIDS or related chronic diseases; and non-affected households, for comparative purposes. The livelihood analysis was followed by a baseline survey of selected parameters that can be used to quantify and support some of the qualitative findings and to provide baseline data for future monitoring purposes (Part B of this report).

Effects of HIV/AIDS on Household Assets

Human capital

2. The average age of household heads in female- and male-headed households with orphans is significantly higher than it is in other household categories, implying that these households are increasingly headed by grandparents. Moreover, female-headed households keep about three times as many orphans than male-headed households. In particular, female-headed households taking care of people living with AIDS (PLWA) bear the brunt of looking after orphans, supporting an average of about 3.6 orphans each.

3. A higher proportion of women than men heads of household are illiterate. Only about a quarter of female household heads completed primary-level education, and an even smaller proportion continued to secondary level. The disadvantages of low education levels are compounded by increased numbers of school drop-outs among the children from these households. Withdrawal of children from school is particularly high among female-headed households with PLWA. Generally, more girls than boys drop out of school.

4. The ratio of active household members (including children and the elderly) to the overall household size is significantly different among the different households, with male- and female-headed households taking care of PLWA having the lowest ratios. This means that the active members in these households have to work longer hours in order to ensure household food security.

Social capital

5. Only a few households taking care of PLWA are able to become members of cooperatives because these households lack time and face financial constraints. In Zambia, cooperatives are the vehicle through which input loans, such as those from the government-sponsored Fertilizer Support Programme, can be obtained.

6. In addition, few female-headed households with PLWA participate in community-based organizations (CBOs) because of competing labour needs and insufficient targeting on the part of service providers. The majority of the female-headed households with PLWA that do participate in CBOs are members of women's clubs and traditional birth attendant groups (41 percent). In addition, few female-headed households take up leadership positions in CBOs.

7. In all study areas, very limited community-based support was given to households affected by HIV/AIDS. Community assistance mostly consists of contributing some food and labour for funerals and visiting the chronically ill. In the absence of strong community safety nets, most of the support to HIV/AIDS-affected households comes from relatives and friends within the community.

Natural capital

8. Except for the case of resettlement schemes, land in Northern Province is communal. In both fishing and agriculture communities, female-headed households taking care of PLWA have significantly smaller portions of agricultural land.

9. Owing to the increasing difficulties that rural households face in obtaining chemical fertilizers, access to forest for slash-and-burn (chitemene) cultivation plays an important role in household food security. Access depends on the household's ability to work the land, and allocations are made by the local leadership on the basis of family size. In some areas, trees near the homesteads have been depleted, and community members have to venture further afield to find forests where they can establish fields. This has proved to be quite difficult for female-headed households, which also face difficulties in the actual slashing of tree branches.

Physical capital

10. In all study areas, ownership of tools is unequally distributed between male- and female-headed households. As a result of distress sales and property grabbing, female-headed households taking care of PLWA own fewer physical assets such as axes, shovels and radios. In addition, fewer female-headed than male-headed households own bicycles, and thus have less opportunity to transport their produce to markets. Moreover, female-headed households taking care of PLWA own fewer small ruminants than other household categories do, owing to the constant to sell stock in order to meet immediate cash needs.

11. Regarding the adoption of improved farming technologies, such as fertilizers, chemicals and improved seed, female-headed households taking care of PLWA and/or orphans use less fertilizer and fewer improved varieties and chemicals than male-headed households, because they lack financial resources to purchase them. This has an impact on crop productivity.

12. Property grabbing is common at all study sites, and is increasing as a result of high poverty levels. About 29 percent of the female-headed households interviewed had experienced property grabbing of household goods such as furniture, radios, bicycles, kitchen utensils, clothing and iron sheets. More instances of property grabbing were reported in the remote fishing communities than in the predominantly agricultural communities, mainly as a result of less awareness of the Intestate Act.

Financial capital

13. Female-headed households taking care of PLWA have few income sources and rely mainly on sales of crops and beer to obtain cash. Following the death of the husband, in these households the proportion of income earned from fishing had declined over the last five years. The income earned from poultry had also decreased slightly, mainly as a result of distress sale. This household category spends most of its financial resources on purchasing food. In fishing communities, female-headed households with PLWA spend 31 percent of their earnings on food. In addition, HIV/AIDS and related chronic illnesses had increased household expenditure on medical fees by about 5 percent during the last five years.

14. In male-headed households taking care of PLWA, most income is earned through the sale of crops, daily piecework and beer brewing. The contribution of fish sales to the annual income has decreased owing to the inability of sick men to go out on lakes or rivers and to the overall decline in fish availability in Northern Province. Following the sickness of one or more members and the associated reduction in agricultural production, these households spend more money on food and medical fees. Consequently, households are left with fewer financial resources to purchase agricultural inputs.

15. In comparison with other household categories, female-headed households taking care of orphans rely more on beer brewing as a poverty coping strategy to secure access to finances. This is particularly true of households headed by grandmothers, where the head is becoming too old to cultivate land and the children are too young to assist.

16. Male-headed households taking care of orphans have relatively more active household labour compared with other households. As a consequence, they secure most of their income from sales of crops and fish, whose contribution had increased over the last five years. In addition, these households spend more on school fees, which constitute about 8 percent of total household expenses.

17. Non-affected households are relatively more diversified in terms of income generation, and most income is obtained from crop sales and fishing. In communities that are close to the game reserves, illegal poaching is an important income source for non-affected households, and contributes about 25 percent of annual income. Although decreasing slightly, these households invest relatively more in agriculture in terms of purchasing inputs than the other household categories do. The proportion of expenditure that they spend on medical fees is about half that spent by HIV/AIDS-affected households.

Household Livelihood Strategies

18. Crop production is an important livelihood strategy for all the selected districts. Owing to a lack of inputs among farming households and the low fertility of soil in the province, farmers are reverting to chitemene cultivation methods and low-input crops such as cassava. Households with PLWA are reverting to the cultivation of traditional staple crops to a greater extent than other household categories are.

19. Chitemene is very labour-intensive in terms of both preparing new fields and of walking to distant fields. Consequently, female-headed households with PLWA and/or orphans find it very difficult to cultivate under chitemene. As a coping strategy, these households normally resort to hiring men to cut the branches from trees in exchange for chickens or beer.

20. Fishing is an important economic activity in the livelihoods of rural households in Northern Province. About 75 percent of the households interviewed in the fishing communities are actively involved in fishing, compared with only 23 percent in the agriculture communities.

21. Households taking care of PLWA and female-headed households with orphans have fewer members involved in income-generating activities, as they have less available active labour and time. As a consequence, these households have fewer alternatives to supplement the low income they earn from agriculture and fishing.

22. Of the various income-generating activities, beer brewing was found to be an important source of income and labour exchange among all household categories, especially grandmother-headed households, which face labour and time constraints.

Livelihood Outcomes

23. One indicator for measuring livelihood outcomes is household food sufficiency. None of the household categories interviewed have food to last them all year round, and have to purchase food for periods ranging from two to four and a half months. Female-headed households with PLWA are food-insufficient for an average of 3.4 months a year.

24. 84 percent of female-headed households with PLWA perceive the future as bleak. Most of these households are headed by younger widows or grandmothers looking after sick children and grandchildren. Neither have much hope for the future: in the case of grandmothers, the household head is ageing and the grandchildren are often too young to assist in the farm work; while for younger widows, the head is either sick herself or spends most of her time nursing her sick children instead of working on the farm.

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