6. Food security, vulnerable groups, HIV-AIDS and coping strategies
Land reform has had a direct impact on food security at national level as well as on farm workers’ requirements. The decline in maize and wheat production since 2000 was compounded in 2001-02 and 2002-03 by a major drought affecting the entire southern Africa region. In Zimbabwe, however, the disruptions associated with ‘land invasions’ further undermined crop production. For jobless farm workers, access to food has been difficult and irregular. Food aid has been made available to some of those without a livelihood, and to children under five and those of school age. The role of the FCTZ in the three Mashonaland provinces and in Manicaland has been pivotal in this. There have been deaths from starvation in several provinces. Moreover, despite efforts to provide food aid, the incidence of malnutrition is increasing among farm workers’ children on farms and in informal settlements.
Like other social groups, farm workers have been vulnerable to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. The prevalence rate among them in the 20-49 year age group is estimated at higher than 25 per cent. The consequences include a rise in the number of orphans and child-headed households. Extended family and nuclear family structures are under severe stress as household assets are drawn upon to treat people with AIDS-related sicknesses. Resources and home-based care institutions for the sick are very limited. Constant food shortages mean poor nutrition for AIDS patients, among others.
Other vulnerable groups in the farm worker community include migrant workers and their descendants, women, the elderly, youth and children. Most migrant workers or their descendants have no communal homes, land or jobs to fall back on. There is no social safety net for the elderly and retired workers, or for women concentrated in insecure, seasonal jobs.
In response to the loss of permanent jobs and access to shelter and social services, farm workers have pursued a number of coping strategies. These include the itinerant search for piece-work jobs at different farms at different times, informal trade, gold panning, fishing and hunting. Income from these activities is irregular and limited, but the workers appear to have no other options. The working conditions and wages on the farms of small and new commercial farmers are unattractive. A few farm worker households receive remittances from relatives working elsewhere. Some farm workers have created or joined ‘informal settlements’ on which they have access to a small piece of land, and to basic, often-rudimentary social services.