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The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Land: Case studies from Kenya, Lesotho and South Africa

A Synthesis Report prepared for the Southern African Regional Office of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

August 2002

Scott Drimie
Integrated Rural & Regional Development, Human Sciences Research Council, Private Bag X41, Pretoria, 0001, South Africa

FAO Southern African Office
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HIV/AIDS is the major development issue facing Sub-Saharan Africa. The impact of the epidemic will increasingly devastate people's lives, particularly in the poorer areas of the continent. Louwenson and Whiteside have summarised the implications of HIV/AIDS for poverty reduction in a background paper prepared for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):
    "The devastation caused by HIV/AIDS is unique because it is depriving families, communities and entire nations of their young and most productive people. The epidemic is deepening poverty, reversing human development achievements, worsening gender inequalities, eroding the ability of governments to maintain essential services, reducing labour productivity and supply, and putting a brake on economic growth. The worsening conditions in turn make people and households even more at risk of, or vulnerable to, the epidemic, and sabotages global and national efforts to improve access to treatment and care" (2001: 4).
Although intensifying responses to the epidemic have focused on prevention and care, these have tended to ignore the broader picture of the implications for development and poverty reduction (Collins & Rau, 2000). Discussions amongst development practitioners and policy makers have therefore been limited and a number of policies and goals have failed to take into account the added challenges resulting from sharp increases in AIDS related mortality rates.

Part of the problem with factoring in the impact of HIV/AIDS on land and in particular on land policies is the lack of empirical data pertaining to the issue. In response, the Southern African Regional Office of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) commissioned a three-country study into the impact of HIV/AIDS on land issues. The results of this empirical research, conducted in Kenya, Lesotho and South Africa, are currently being finalised by the Human Sciences Research Council.

This research has confirmed that as a direct result of very high infection rates in the Southern and East African region, HIV/AIDS will seriously impact on a range of land issues and livelihood strategies. These issues include different forms of land use, various types of land tenure and land reform projects that are most appropriate, the functioning of land administration systems, the land rights of women and orphans as well of the poor generally, and inheritance practices and norms. HIV/AIDS not only affects the productivity of the infected, but also diverts the labour of the household and extended family away from other productive and reproductive activities as others take care of the sick. Savings are consumed. Assets are sold to help pay for medical expenses. The utilisation of agricultural land declines as inputs become unaffordable, household labour supply is reduced, and dissipating wealth makes hiring labour difficult. Sooner or later, households fall below the social and economic threshold of vulnerability and "survivability" leaving the survivors - mainly the young and elderly - with limited resources to quickly regain a sustainable livelihood.

These findings reveal a whole range of issues that have a direct relevance for institutions involved in rural development and land reform. Indeed, at a recent conference organised by the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN)1 Dan Mullins of Oxfam-GB argued that 'if we do not explicitly factor in the impacts and trends of HIV/AIDS as a central feature of how to do land reform… we are being professionally negligent, misusing resources for poverty reduction, and are unlikely to achieve stated objectives' (2001). This paper is therefore intended to facilitate further engagement around this issue and should be interrogated and debated to help formulate effective ways of integrating HIV/AIDS into how land is conceptualised in the fight against poverty.

  1. In keeping with the goals of SARPN, the conference was designed to facilitate the sharing of perspectives on land issues in several Southern African countries and to generate debate about how pro-poor policy processes may be incorporated into land reform policy options in the region. During the conference the issues surrounding the impact of HIV/AIDS on land reform received significant interest partly as a response to the perceived dearth of information and policy research on the issue. See the SARPN website at

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