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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

The effects of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production systems in Zambia: A restudy 1993-2005

Analytical Report

Michael Drinkwater, Margaret McEwan and Fiona Samuels

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and RENEWAL

February 2006

SARPN acknowledges the IFPRI as a source of this document:
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Executive Summary

HIV/AIDS, following its spread along the major transport routes in the country, and from urban areas into the country side, has had a major impact on lives in Zambia for 20 years. In 1993, a study on the impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production systems was conducted in the Mpongwe area of the then Ndola Rural District, Copperbelt Province, and the Teta area of Serenje District, Central Province. This study, one of the first of its kind to be conducted, was carried out under the auspices of the Adaptive Research Planning Team (ARPT), Research Branch, Ministry of Agriculture, with funding from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The 2005 restudy, which involved the same two lead researchers as the original study, was instigated through CARE International with initial funding from the RENEWAL initiative of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington. Subsequent co-financing for the research effort has been carried out by CARE, through the partnership agreement with DFID (CARE-DFID PPA), CARE UK, CARE USA, CARE Zambia, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the Swedish Embassy in Zambia, FAO, and ODI.

The overall intention of the restudy was to answer two key questions:

  • What have been the effects of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production systems since the advent of the pandemic?
  • How have communities and households adapted to the effects of the pandemic?
More specific objectives are:
  • To investigate the nature of the increase in the impact of HIV/AIDS in the two communities over the past decade.
  • To analyse the effects of the epidemic on rural livelihoods, and the kinds of adaptations that have occurred.
  • To analyse the effects of the epidemic on processes of social change and patterns of vulnerability, particularly with respect to women and children. This would include an analysis of changes in local power structures and relationships, as well as changes, for better or worse, in the status of human rights.
  • To use an appreciative enquiry perspective to identify the kinds of trends and changes that are occurring which we would be build upon to improve the resilience of coping strategies at household and community level.
  • To explore further the utility of the cluster analysis methodology, as an approach that allows overlapping social relationships to be understood more easily.
The methodology used in the restudy replicated to the extent possible that used in the original 1993 study in order to allow for comparisons. The innovative element of the original study was its use of the ‘cluster’ as the unit of analysis. Since households rarely exist as discrete social and economic units, a methodology was used which allowed the overlapping connections between households to be seen much more clearly, as well as the different roles and positions of all individuals within the cluster. Relationships between individuals of different generations, gender, marital and kinship status can be understood. In the restudy, the way in which this allowed the history of the clusters to be tracked, including the histories of all individuals that had been present in 1993, has made possible a depth of analysis of social change which the editorial team is fully aware is only initiated in this report.

Practically, the study’s approach was to determine the major trends in livelihoods over the preceding twelve years; identify the factors or ‘drivers’ influencing those trends, and then the role and contribution of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the changes that had happened. The starting point of the methodology was to understand the broad context of livelihood trends at the macro and meso levels over the preceding twelve years, through an introductory set of activities. As the fieldwork continued, there was a closer focus on changes at the cluster and household level, and a refinement of the research questions towards an understanding of the specific role of AIDS related mortality and morbidity on livelihoods and agricultural systems. The final phase of the methodology involved focus group discussions to validate and deepen understanding around key themes.

Overall, each cluster from the original study was tracked and mapped, resulting in 35 clusters with a total of 165 households being mapped in Mpongwe, and 19 clusters with 53 households in Teta. This cluster remapping included all those persons who were part of the cluster in 2005, and those who had been present in 1993, thus allowing the reasons to be identified for changes in the nature of the cluster and its composition. In this tracking of often quite substantial household change, perhaps most critical were the insights the methodology provided into how people are attempting to deal with the shocks and stresses that have affected them, and the diverse ways in which the resiliency of the matrilineal social system of the Bemba is being tested. In part our analysis aims to explain why the matrilineal system persists, despite its imperfect nature, and why it is not possible to understand the social nature of vulnerability and resilience without an analysis that goes beyond the household level.

In Zambia as a whole, while macro level poverty data has shown an apparent overall reduction in the proportion of the rural Zambian population below the poverty line, in essence this masks increasing disparities. What was most noteworthy from the study was the heightened socio-economic differentiation within the Mpongwe area, where the better off clusters with effective access to maize input and output markets, had yields that were higher than in 1993, but for those without such market access and who were more food insecure, yields were stagnant or falling. In Teta, the process of maize liberalization had left all farmers without market access, and thus although inequality within Teta was less marked than Mpongwe, the better off farmers in Teta had distinctly less assets and income than those in Mpongwe.

The impact of AIDS in the two study areas has been very different. The Mpongwe area, close to the Copperbelt urban centres, and now a major district market centre in its own right, has been a full fledged impact site since the late 1990s. This means that considerable numbers of people who have contracted the disease locally have now also succumbed to it,completing the cycle of AIDS becoming a local epidemic. In contrast, in the more remote Teta area, AIDS remains a more peripheral disease. This is not to deny that the epidemic has had impact, since there have been deaths largely associated with migrating members of the community. But there remains limited evidence that the disease is being contracted and spread within the Teta area itself.

In Mpongwe, of the 123 mortalities recorded amongst the 35 clusters, it is estimated that 52 deaths (42%) are likely AIDS related, including the deaths of 13 children. Altogether 18 of the 35 clusters were affected by AIDS related mortalities. However, of these mortalities it is noteworthy that only two sets of primary producers within clusters died of AIDS, whilst comparatively a greater number of AIDS related deaths occurred in secondary producer households, 21 of 49 deaths (43%) and in other households, 24 of 38 deaths (63%). These figures do show the inverse relationship of mortality, and particular AIDS related mortality to production and food security status, as well as the fact that it is healthier households that will ‘succeed’ as primary producers.

For Teta, 14 of the 19 clusters experienced deaths in the period 1993-2005. There were probably 10 AIDS related deaths since 1993, of which in the primary producer households in each cluster, only one wife was affected. In terms of the average number of AIDS deaths per cluster, in Serenje it is 0.72, compared with 1.5 for Mpongwe. Mpongwe has a larger population than Teta, one reason why the sample there is the larger of the two, but this means that not only are there more potential AIDS related deaths in Mpongwe in terms of real numbers, but also on average per cluster.

It is evident from both field sites that AIDS is now a known disease: many people have seen it and have been affected by it. This is in contrast to the 1993 study where it was only starting to trickle into the consciousness of the inhabitants of Mpongwe and Teta. In terms of its impact, the young woman’s focus group discussion in Mpongwe provides a useful overview: ‘AIDS reduces household members, gives extra responsibilities due to nursing, it increases poverty, and it increases vulnerability on the entire household as resources become over stretched, the number of orphans increase and it is difficult to look after orphans as they expect special care’. Thus production goes down as there are less people producing - even if the patient is still farming, he is weakened so his output is less - and more time is spent on nursing and caring for the patient. The number of orphans increases and this places other burdens on already stretched clusters and households.

Overall, factors affecting the vulnerability and resilience of a household to the impacts of a death on livelihood and food security included: length and degree of incapacity during AIDS related illness; health status of surviving partner/spouse; number of dependents left; characteristics of the primary producer (age, gender, stage in household development cycle); overall cluster composition (e.g. number of female headed households and dependent producers); livelihood and agricultural production opportunities.

However, despite much broader knowledge about AIDS, the link between AIDS and HIV remains misunderstood. People see AIDS but they do not understand how it results from the HIV virus. At least in part because of this, knowledge and information is still far from effecting behaviour change. The latter is particularly evident in both sites around sexual practices and preferences.

With regard to the impact on livelihoods, Mpongwe is a key maize production area for the Copperbelt, with commercial farmers located around and now within the smallholder farming area. A single milling company provides marketing services for Mpongwe, but buys mainly maize and some groundnuts, symptomatic of the strong, single crop focus. The conversion of the farming area into essentially a maize cultivation area had begun before 1993, but has noticeably accelerated since then. Both men and women linked maize with modernity. Even the older women in their focus group discussion in Mpongwe, describing how a crop like sorghum is dying out because of changing trends, stated that sorghum ‘makes people ichungwa’ – a fool, even though it remains cheaper to grow than maize since it does not require fertilizer. In full contrast, however, the change that has undergone in Teta over the last decade is the reverse. There is less maize in the farming system, not more, and the reason is the reduced access to seed and fertilizer inputs the area now experiences. Instead, cassava production has increased, as has also the production of a crop like sweet potatoes. Overall the farming system remains diversified and focused on low input cultivation, with indigenous forms of composting being important.

In Mpongwe, the two major effects on livelihoods since 1993 are the increased mortality levels of both people and livestock. Livestock were hit by ‘denkete’ (corridor disease), an epidemic of which in 1996 especially decimated cattle levels in the area. Since 1993, the diversity of the food production system has also decreased. Whilst all clusters have been affected by loss of oxen and changes in the maize input and marketing system, some clusters types have been more vulnerable to the impacts of these changes than others, particularly with regard to their inability to access draft power or sufficient labour. And in some, HIV morbidity and AIDS mortality has definitely played a role, through the absorption of assets, including food stocks (to feed the enlarged number of dependents), and the loss of labour.

One of the most optimistic findings of the restudy, in terms of understanding how families attempt to rebuild food security and maintain resilience, even in the face of the adversity that AIDS and corridor disease has brought, is the way in which active efforts are made to manage generational change and succession. One facet of the flexibility of the matrilineal system is in that land inheritance – and hence primary producer succession – can lie in sons taking over land and assets from their fathers. In Mpongwe, in 6 of 16 cases of primary producer succession (in the 35 clusters), sons (and one grandson) had taken over from primary producers, and in all cases their cluster status had improved or stayed the same. In the other ten cases, where the successor primary producer has not been a son (e.g. it could be a widow or a daughter), there has often been a decline in the cluster status.

Accounts on matriliny in Zambia and other parts of Southern Africa, have long predicted that in the face of urbanisation, commoditisation and monetisation, matriliny would ultimately disappear, producing more patrilineal type family forms. Since the early 1990s, however, more recent research has shown how these forms could persist side by side and that in fact matriliny was particularly resistant and resilient to economic change. These findings are corroborated by this research. Not only does the restudy show matriliny to be resilient to economic change, but its inherent adaptability and flexibility enables it to accommodate deaths and changing circumstances associated with death. In particular, findings from this study show how individuals, families and clusters are able to realign themselves, following matrilineal principles, in accommodation of deaths and the ensuing burdens it brings.

Two aspects of matrilineal systems emerge from the research as being key to understanding processes at work in communities: these are the flexibility and choice regarding residence locations and the relative fragility of the marital bond. These interlinked features are central to understanding the nature of resilience and vulnerability, with each both causing and being a result of the other. The potential for choice, flexibility and optation is built particularly into men’s residential decision making, with a key factor being where an individual expects his livelihood to be more stable and sustainable. In both study sites, partly as a result of the fact that male labour is in high demand, there is easy mobility and choice of residential location for men: they can choose between in-laws, own parents and independence.

From this, sequential marriages or relationships are often the visible effect of flexibility in residential patterns. These often involve men at the early stages of married life where they have less obligations and more freedom to move between different locations. Even if they do have children, they may feel that they are not valued by other members of the cluster as they are seen as outsiders, are not afforded respect and are ‘used’ just for their labour power. Often these men may continue to work on other cluster members’ fields, never ultimately owning the product of their labours. These former were views expressed by the young men during the focus group discussions; women, on the other hand, spoke about their husbands as being lazy, drinking, not being responsible nor interested in investing properly in the land, always looking for ways of making a ‘quick buck’. The latter was especially the case in Mpongwe where off farm income generating opportunities in the form of piece work was available in the near by commercial farms. Nevertheless, by choice too, older, married men may choose to relocate back to their in-laws village in order to play a food security role there, as was evidenced in one of the Teta case studies.

These processes of fission and fusion are endemic to any situation in which groups of relatives reside together on the basis of kinship. Often fissioning occurs as a result of tension, power struggles, but now also due to the inability of a cluster to survive because of increases in illness and deaths of its members. What is causing growing social tension now in areas such as Mpongwe, is the increasing inequality of clusters due to, for instance, differential access to subsidised inputs, and the ambition of those who wish to become ‘modern’ farmers. These processes have affected usual expectations around sharing, distribution and the role of families and clusters. This issue was aptly expressed by older women in the Mpongwe focus group discussion: ‘The notion of sharing is dying away because the wealthier ones in the family cycles are distancing themselves away from the poorer ones, as the poor cannot give back. This has led to families disintegrating’.

One can argue, however, that the processes already existing within the matrilineal system regarding the fragility of the marriage bonds, and the ability of men to ‘get-up-and-go’ and marry again has in fact assisted with livelihood systems adapting to death and illness, especially in cases where HIV/AIDS has potentially devastating effects on individuals, families and clusters’ ability to adapt and survive. Once a spouse dies, the widow or widower can easily become absorbed into another cluster not only by drawing on kinship ties but also through marriage.

Like many aspects of our analysis, the precise nature of women’s vulnerability was not easily tied down and by no means as simple saying that a divorced woman, with children that included orphans, was automatically amongst the most vulnerable households. Certainly, she would rarely be food secure in her own right, but she may not be insecure either, if she lived in the village of her father or a brother, who had assets and whose own production was secure.

In the context of the focus group discussions at the end of the fieldwork, women split themselves into three categories: the matriarchs, who formed the cluster group of older women; their daughters who are middle aged, and in turn may be having daughters who might potentially be married with young children, and then the young, newly married, or newly with child, women. These latter two groups met together as the younger women’s focus group, though they have definite distinctions of status.

Since women carry the burden for home health care, and for feeding orphaned children, AIDS related deaths has made them more vulnerable. But at this stage our analysis has only begun to open up the kinds of questions an exploration of which is required for a greater understanding of gender inequity. In the higher relative status that women have, and its diverse social protection mechanisms, the matrilineal system, with is social and locational options, has benefits for women that are one of the main reasons matrilineal kinship persists.

In summation, some of the main factors emerging from the research restudy include:

  • Vulnerability, in terms of gender, age and social economic status, can only be understood clearly in the context of cluster relationships (e.g. healthy dual headed families can be more vulnerable than a FHH with orphans), and targeting should be of resource poor clusters rather than at HH level.
  • Whilst national food security has focused on maize intensification, crop diversification remains important for HH food and nutritional security – but requires emphasis on retention of local knowledge (being utilised in Teta but lost in Mpongwe), as well as appropriate policy support.
  • Diversification within and without agriculture contributes also to greater flexibility and resilience in its need for different types of labour at different times (farming systems can be adjusted more easily depending on when resources are available).
  • The potential tragedy of further outbreaks of unchecked livestock disease remain inadequately addressed.
With regard to health, a critical influencing factor is that belief systems are deeply embedded in the culture and community, and these are affecting health seeking behaviour and outcomes, such as sexual cleansing and witchcraft.

  • Protection messages around ‘happy couple’, are mostly seen only as promoting promiscuity and are not appropriate for the cultural context. They do not deal with issues related to culture and witchcraft, nor the practical issues and decisions facing men and women about sexual intercourse.
  • Education around HIV/AIDS is not being translated into practice because of lack of understanding; people understand the signs and symptoms of AIDS, but do not fully appreciate how it results from the HIV virus; the silence of HIV is not understood, and inadequately addressed in prevention campaigns.
  • Ongoing stigma takes place largely because AIDS is known only to end in death. The presence of ARVs, if available reliably, could make a sizeable difference – ‘if there is treatment, people’s attitude towards patients would change’.
  • Targeting the vulnerable: still needs a broad based definition of vulnerability, not just AIDS related (e.g. not all orphans are vulnerable, and not all vulnerable children are orphans).
  • Changing behaviour requires changing the way people see themselves, their own concepts of identity. Sexual practices can change – condom usage is discussed now, whereas was rejected previously – but better information is required as a basis for local discussion.
The need for systematic transmission of intergenerational knowledge could be met through ensuring that:

  • The role of older women (aunts, grandmothers) as the channel for transmitting cultural norms about sex and sexuality is understood so that appropriate messages on HIV prevention are discussed with and channelled through them and not parents.
  • Content of messages: separate AIDS which people know and acknowledge, from HIV which is ‘silent’.
  • Cultural beliefs are better understood around the linkages between human sexuality and fertility, the well-being of kin and family, and the well-being of production systems. Fear of the dead spouse’s ghost (going mad, and misfortune on one’s family) is greater than fear of contracting HIV (which is ‘silent’). Thus people fear AIDS, because they can see it, but not HIV.
Most of all the validation of the use of the cluster methodology in the restudy – by farmers and the research team alike - suggests there is much to be gained by exploring how it can be used in wider, future research as well as programmatic interventions. The methodology provided far reaching insights into the nature of social change, and at its most fundamental, the duree of life of all those in the clusters as they struggle, some with more, some with less success, to survive. Whilst the resilience of social networks was one of the main lessons from the restudy, it remains clear that even for better off farmers, they will continue to experience the tensions of extended family networks that have been put under increasing strain by AIDS, by livestock disease and by changes in the economic and policy environment. Over the next decade, people will continue to live uncertain lives.

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