Southern Africa’s exceptionally high HIV prevalence and recurrent food crises prompted De Waal and Whiteside (2003) to hypothesise a 'new variant famine' (NVF) in which inability to access food is driven by the effects of AIDS. Among the tentative explanations are the ‘loss of livelihood skills and assets’ brought about through AIDS’ impacts on rural children. In particular, they suggested that orphaned children may fail to inherit land or other productive assets, and inter-generational transmission of knowledge and skills may be disrupted, leaving orphans ill-prepared to build food-secure livelihoods. However, these propositions remain largely untested (Mason et al 2010). This paper presents findings from research that explored how AIDS, in interaction with other factors, is affecting young rural southern Africans’ livelihood activities, opportunities and choices. The paper applies a sustainable livelihoods framework (SLF) to examine the relationship between AIDS and young people’s access to livelihood assets, with potential implications for future food insecurity. The paper begins by briefly introducing the NVF hypothesis, and the postulated role of young people in linking AIDS and food insecurity. The SLF is introduced and the research settings and methods described. The paper then considers how AIDS affects young people’s livelihoods in the communities studied, focusing principally on the processes at the heart of the NVF hypothesis. It emphasises the role of contextual factors – not just the shock posed by AIDS but also the transforming processes, structural and policy contexts that enable or inhibit access to assets and their use in constructing livelihoods, particularly relation to AIDS. The paper concludes that while AIDS is affecting some young people’s access to assets, it is but one of many factors shaping young people’s livelihoods and is unlikely to have a systematic or predictable effect on future food security. Moreover, the paper demonstrates that if the SLF is to more adequately anticipate livelihood sustainability, the temporalities of livelihoods, and the role of lifecourse and generation, need greater prominence.