Averting ‘New Variant Famine’ in Southern Africa: building food-secure rural livelihoods with AIDS-affected young people

Averting ‘New Variant Famine’ in Southern Africa: building food-secure rural livelihoods with AIDS-affected young people

Southern Africa is experiencing the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates alongside recurrent food crises. This has prompted scholars to hypothesise a 'New Variant Famine' in which inability to access food is driven by the effects of AIDS. In line with this, it has been suggested that the impacts of AIDS on young people today is likely to diminish their prospects of food security in adult life. In particular, children whose parents die of AIDS may fail to inherit land or other productive assets, and transmission of knowledge and skills between the generations may be disrupted, leaving young people ill-prepared to build food-secure livelihoods for themselves. However, prior to this research, those propositions were largely untested.

The ‘Averting New Variant Famine’ research project was therefore undertaken to generate new, in-depth understanding of how AIDS, in interaction with other factors, is impacting on the livelihood activities, opportunities and choices of young people in rural southern Africa.

The research was conducted in two villages in Malawi and Lesotho, two of the worst affected countries. The fieldwork comprised four elements:

  • community and household profiling to provide a contextual understanding of livelihood responses to sickness and death, and in particular how young people are incorporated in livelihood strategies
  • participatory research with more than thirty 10-24-year-olds in each community (around half of whom were affected by AIDS) to explore their aspirations, means of accessing livelihood opportunities, obstacles faced and decision-making processes
  • semi-structured interviews with policy makers and other key informants to explore the linkages with macro-level policies and processes
  • life history interviews with more than twenty 18-24 year olds in each village to explore the factors shaping their lifecourses and livelihoods

There are a number of policy recommendations arising from the research:

  • focusing on increasing school attendance (which has hitherto been the main response to the impacts of AIDS on young people) is an inadequate response. Education needs to be much more relevant to the livelihood options available to the majority of rural youth
  • rural young people would benefit particularly from opportunities for vocational skills training, but also business education and the identification of opportunities that rely not only on the local market, if they are to engage successfully in rural enterprise
  • although fertiliser subsidies, food aid and food for work programmes are aimed principally at securing immediate subsistence rather than buildingassets for the future, they can free young people’s time and energy to devote to activities with secure long term prospects
  • equally, cash transfers, including those directed at elderly people, can help young people do business and find employment by putting more cash into local circulation
  • significantly, however, the project findings do not support the targeting of interventions specifically at AIDS-affected young people