SADC - Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Vulnerability Assessment Committee
3. WHAT IS THE SITUATION AT THE HOUSEHOLD LEVEL?
Cereal entitlement: At the household level, a short hand proxy for changing food aid needs over time is the
concept of cereal entitlement. This is defined as current plus expected access to cerealsвЂ”directly (through
own production, food aid, food for work or gifts) and indirectly, through purchasing power. The emergency
assessments used the concept of cereal entitlement to come up with a short-hand measure of household
food aid needs. The table showing the number of households in need of food assistance on the previous page shows when entitlement is expected to be exhausted.
Cereal availability: It should be noted that the totals in the table do NOT include those households that are food insecure due to supply side factors, that is, those households that have purchasing power, but are unable to access cereals simply because they are not available on the market. Data from the assessments indicate that a high proportion of households are experiencing difficulty in accessing cereals due to supply side issues.
Coping strategies: Without substantial imports, food shortages will intensify, prices will continue to rise and
households will be forced to intensify coping strategies. These can be categorised into income increasing
strategies, expenditure reducing strategies, food consumption reducing strategies and migration strategies.
Throughout the region, the majority of vulnerable people have already engaged in distress coping
strategiesвЂ”behaviours in response to the crisis that may meet immediate needs but can have detrimental
effects on long-term livelihoods. For example, in each country children are being removed from school due
to a shortage of cash for fees and/or the need to have the childвЂ™s labour at home. In Zimbabwe, 18% of the
households reported removing children from school within the past two months.
The most frequently cited type of coping strategy is a change in consumption patterns. Throughout the
region, roughly 80% of the households report eating smaller portions, skipping meals in the day, or even
skipping whole days without eating a substantial meal. Changes in consumption patterns, in terms of
frequency of meals, are generally followed by reduction in expenditures (for example on health care and
school fees), then sale of capital assets (such as farm equipment and livestock), and then migration
strategies. Other commonly cited coping strategies include prostitution (putting women and young girls at
high risk of HIV/AIDS), eating wild foods (while sometimes normal, some people are eating wild foods that
are poisonous when not properly prepared), rural-urban migration (typically by men, leaving women and
children at the village home) and gold panning in Zimbabwe (having detrimental effects on the environment).
The direct and indirect impacts of these and other distress coping strategies could send vulnerable
households into a downward spiral that could undermine their livelihoods for years to come.
HIV/AIDS and household food security: Although not directly measured by the emergency assessments,
the impact of HIV/AIDS on household food security was highlighted as a major problem at the community
level. In Lesotho for example, HIV/AIDS was cited as a major factor increasing vulnerability to the current
crisis in about 30% of the communities visited. The potential вЂњoverlapвЂќ between HIV/AIDS affected
households and households experiencing acute food shortage will vary by country and will be different in
rural versus urban areas. However, the numbers directly and indirectly affected by the overlap will be very
considerable indeed, especially in Zimbabwe because of the very high number of those in need of food
assistance and the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. Some idea of the likely вЂњoverlapвЂќ is illustrated by
comparing the stark figures of HIV/AIDS rates to the proportion of the rural population in need of food aid.
Known rates of sero-prevalence amongst adults range from a low of 13% in Mozambique to a high of 34% in
Zimbabwe, the average for the six countries being 24% (UNAIDS, 2002). Emergency food distributions are
necessary for an estimated 25% of the rural populations in the six countries. The assessments have
confirmed that those most affected by the current crisis are poor, have few assets, few entitlements and are
therefore highly vulnerable to livelihood failure. HIV/AIDS adds to this vulnerability.
Gender and household food security: The assessments found that female-headed households are being
affected more adversely in the current crisis than male-headed households. In each country, there were
higher proportions of female-headed households in the poor and very poor wealth categories than maleheaded
households. The average size of the cereal gap for female-headed households was larger than for
male-headed, with particularly large variations in some countries.
Urban household food security: There is a lack of knowledge on how urban households are being
affected by the current crisis. Apart from Zambia, urban food security was not covered in the emergency
assessments. The Zambia study estimated a total of 97,000 orphaned and vulnerable children in urban
areas in need of assistance. Recent studies in Zimbabwe indicate that 850,000 people in urban areas of the
country are in need of food assistance. There is now an urgent need to conduct emergency food needs
assessments in urban areas in the region, to determine the extent of the problem and the required response.