Income generating activities as components of sustainable rural livelihoods for young southern Africans - AIDS and other constraints

Income generating activities as components of sustainable rural livelihoods for young southern Africans - AIDS and other constraints

The literature dedicated to exploring rural livelihoods in southern Africa has devoted comparatively little attention to non-agricultural livelihoods, as several authors have pointed out. This gap in knowledge about non-agricultural livelihoods is also reflected in the literature looking at the effects of AIDS on rural livelihoods in Southern Africa. In general, research focusing on the effects of AIDS on livelihoods has also tended to neglect effects on young people’s abilities to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves in the future, and consequently, AIDS-affected young people’s abilities to engage in non-agricultural livelihoods have been even less explored.

This paper reports on a study with rural young people (aged 10-24 years) in Malawi and Lesotho, focusing on their opportunities to learn skills and access capital and assets to engage in income generating activities (IGAs). Participatory group exercises and individual interviews provide many examples of how young people learn skills and start small businesses, as well as insight into their strategic thinking around engaging in these livelihood options.

Various factors, including the effects of AIDS, are shown to affect young people’s prospects of succeeding in their ventures. Young people are themselves very keen on starting IGAs, and are supported by adult members of their communities in asking for interventions to help them do so. The paper argues that expanded vocational and business training, focusing on locally appropriate types and scale of businesses, coupled with help to raise start-up capital has the potential to improve poor and/or AIDS-affected young people’s chances of securing sustainable rural livelihoods in their futures.

Since AIDS is intertwined with many other issues affecting young people’s livelihoods, it is however problematic to single out and target only AIDS-affected young people with interventions on skills building and IGAs. Policy makers’ attitudes to vocational skills training and support for IGAs in Malawi and Lesotho are also explored, and policy recommendations made in relation to supporting vulnerable rural young people in their attempts to build sustainable livelihoods for themselves.

Young people are themselves very keen to learn various skills and to try running small businesses, and often mention IGAs when asked about future plans and aspirations. Adult community members also talk about wishing that vocational skills training and loans for businesses were available to young people locally, and in participatory dissemination activities with the communities, these issues were mentioned repeatedly when generating recommendations for governments and NGOs.