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Country analysis > Lesotho Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Feedback report on the study of HIV/AIDS and its impacts on land tenure and livelihoods in Lesotho

5. Community reactions on issues


    Problems related to food shortages were reported and according to the communities, HIV/AIDS affected households were more vulnerable since young people, who are the most valuable labour input in the process of production, were apparently dying in large numbers and leaving agricultural activities in the hands of the elderly who cannot fully participate in production. Participants also confirmed, as was reported in the previous study, that, the infected individuals often cannot engage in farming activities due to illness. Most Caretakers, on the other hand, were reported to be tied up, looking after them, and therefore were, in most cases, not available for agricultural activities. This has ultimately resulted in limited labour required for the production of food and hence starvation and food insecurities.

    Similarly, participants reported that, the sale of livestock, which is otherwise used draught power seemed to be on the increase not only to cover medical expenses but even by other community members who needed money to purchase food from commercial outlets.


    Farm operations that are as labour demanding as ploughing, weeding and harvesting were reported, to be highly affected. by delays. Harvesting, for example, is often done so slowly and late by people affected by HIV/AIDS that even the community’s livestock start vandalising them. It is a practice in Lesotho to graze through the fields during farming off-season.

    Herding of animals is another demanding task that needs to be performed strategically especially in winter to ensure that livestock remain well fed even when there is very little grass. Infected households find tasks such as this demanding and difficult to meet. As a result, their livestock is of low quality and do not sell well.


    It was indicated that, traditionally, the elderly, who cannot work on the fields anymore, distribute their fields among their children who in return share some of the produce with them. However, with HIV/AIDS prevalence, the elders showed a concern that their ailing children were not able to support them with food. However, on a more serious note, these children were also reported to be selling or renting those pieces of land to meet their medical and funeral expenses – a clear evidence that HIV/AIDS was not only impacting on the immediate family but on the extended family as well. Interestingly, the previous FAO study had revealed that despite their problems, HIV/AIDS infected and affected households were not willing to sell land since they considered it so valuable that they wanted their children to inherit. However, this time around, sale of land by the HIV/AIDS affected households seemed to be on the increase, thus portraying not only worsening conditions, but desperation as well. According to the participants, the landless people seemed to be winners in this equation since, through land accumulation, they were becoming more food secure.


    In the previous study commissioned by FAO and SARPN it was reported that coping strategies adopted by rural communities are becoming inadequate in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and acute food shortages. The study found that some people living with HIV/AIDS were increasingly employing sharecropping and Mafisa as coping strategies. This was because they were often too sick to work on their fields and this arrangement allowed them to avoid the risk of their land being revoked and assured them of continued access to agricultural land and food. Ironically, participants of the Dissemination Workshop reported that some community members were showing reluctance in engaging in sharecropping and Mafisa arrangements with people affected by HIV/AIDS currently because the affected households were increasingly dishonouring the agreements by abruptly selling land or livestock, sometimes without alerting their contractual partners. One of the reasons is that infected and affected households are often forced to sell some of the mafisa livestock in order to cater for the medical treatment expenses or to meet funeral expenses once the infected individual passes away. In some cases, when the ailing partners eventually die, trouble emerges between the remaining family members and contractual partners on agreements (which are often not documented) and unreasonable expectations are made on the partners. For instance one of the participants related an incidence where he was expected to bear the burial expenses for his dead partner just because he had been utilizing his assets in a sharecropping arrangement. This is indeed very sad, since without those coping strategies, HIV/AIDS affected households are left even more vulnerable.


    One coping strategy, which, according to the workshop participants has not changed was reported to be that of forcing children out of school in order to assist in household and farming activities. Interestingly, they argued that it was not only the children of HIV/AIDS affected households who dropped out, but this seemed to be a common practice throughout the community. However, they indicated that children did not only drop out in order to assist ailing parents but had to abandon school because most households cannot afford school fees. It is in this contest that the issue of free primary education was discussed and communities reported that children who dropped out were often at secondary and high school level where education was not free and yet more expensive.


    While one would have expected the incidences of fallow to increase since the infected and affected households cannot effectively engage in production due to labour limitations, participants reported that incidences of fallow remained insignificant probably due to the latest developments in land sales and renting. This is indeed a short-term solution, which in the long run would render the orphans even more destitute particularly when considering that for most of these households, agriculture is the main source of food and income.


    Incidences on reduced wages for HIV/ADS affected households were also reported. Reasons attributed for that were that in a few cases where the affected households are either formally employed or are engaged in piece works, they are not able to report regularly at work because of their other demanding care-taking role. As a result they often receive reduced wages and in some cases they are even lose their jobs.

    Community members indicated that currently some people in the village were being employed by the government to do catering services for free primary education programme. However, the infected individuals, due to their health condition could not be hired for such jobs particularly since they have to produce a medical certificate as a pre-requisite. This problem, combined with stigmatisation, whereby participants reported that very few people would eat food prepared by the infected individuals for fear of being infected, left the infected individuals with very little options - a clear evidence that they were not only denied income by virtue of their illness but some income generating activities marginalized them as well.


    Some uncompromising customs were also reported to have worked against the interest of the affected household. For example, it is a custom in Lesotho that a widow has to be at home before sunset. Thus it was indicated that widows employed far from home have had to temporarily take leave or resign from work in order to comply with the mourning requirements. This actually serves them a double blow whereby they not only lose a loved one but also the much needed income for the household.


    Although it was indicated that food aid had temporarily assisted the orphans in meeting their food needs, stories were related where other orphans who had not had a chance to learn skills that are necessary for certain income generating activities from their parents had ultimately engaged in easy alternatives such as prostitution, thus increasing the likelihood of the virus spreading even more.


    During the FAO study, widows interviewed in Ha Poli reported that they had been allowed to retain their deceased husband’s land, and were empowered to rent out farming implements. However, the participants reported that currently widows were selling agricultural production equipments such as ploughs to meet burial expenses. Ironically, the same implements used to be their contribution in the sharecropping arrangements and thus their loss meant that they could not engage in the only reliable means of ensuring that there is food on the table.


    The participants confirmed that the infected households still find it easier to work in the garden than a far away field. However, there were complaints that yield from the garden is not enough to support the household’s requirements and hence these people still needed to engage in sharecropping. Nevertheless, current problems with sharecropping and the reluctance of other community members to engage in such contracts compounded the problems of these households.


    Workshop participants admitted HIV infected people were being stigmatised and discriminated against since the disease is associated with bad behaviour (fooling around). They went further to explain that the initial introduction of the disease and the manner in which it is spread tended to be associated with foreigners or people who associated with migrants. As a result the disease was linked more with promiscuity. Fear of the unknown was also quoted as a major contributing factor to stigmatisation because of the secrecy afforded HV/AIDS. Because of those factors, AIDS orphans are often not accepted in the community since people believe that they are also infected. The orphans are ridiculed since they think that they have inherited the disease and fear that they may be infected by closely associating with them. They also want to protect their children since they think a close encounter of AIDS orphans and their children might infect them.

    The Sesotho concept of “thoto” literally meaning inheriting the deceased’s burden was reported to be also eroding since relatives no longer want to be burdened by the so-called AIDS victims as they might contaminate their children. They even went further to indicate that doctors have told them that if they touch AIDS patients they will be infected. Similarly, they believe that even entering a house with an AIDS victim could lead to contamination. This is a clear indication that educational programmes need to be strengthened in order to remove some of the misconceptions about the virus.


    Participants observed that Basotho culture has changed a lot over time through adopting western culture and as a result community cohesion and solidarity has significantly eroded. Indivualism has weakened communal ties and has resulted into loss of trust. Even the sick ones, are currently reluctant to accept gifts in terms of food from well-wishers for fear of being poisoned. Women liberalisation attitude of not obeying their husbands was cited as one of the reasons for the current situation. This made it clear that it not only the overburdening of the community safety nets that the decision makers should be concerned about, but the fact that in some communities the traditional safety nets had long evaporated even before the advent of HIV/AIDS.

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