The Challenge of Hivaids for Agricultural Extension

At the outset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the prevailing attitude was that agricultural extension approaches did not have to be modified in any way, that it was a problem to be dealt with through other institutions in each country. This attitude, however, is necessarily changing in light of the gravity of the problem and the havoc it is wreaking on rural societies. Qamar has described the nature of the challenge from several perspectives:78

Until recently, HIV/AIDS was considered mainly as a health issue, and all the programs for combatting the epidemic were based on health and medical sciences. . . . However, views are changing fast. The adverse effects of HIV/AIDS on development institutions and their programs in Africa have forced the health and non-health development agencies alike to approach the problem from an entirely different angle. The HIV epidemic is now being considered as an important cross-sectoral

75. B. E. Swanson, B. J. Farmer and R. Bahal, 'The Current Status of Extension Worldwide', in Report of the Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1990.

76. FAO, SEAGA Macro Manual, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Draft, July 2001, module 12.

78. M. K. Qamar, 'The HIV/AIDS epidemic: an unusual challenge to agricultural extension services in sub-Saharan Africa', The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 8(1), December 2001 (selections from pp. 2-5 are cited in the rest of this section).

developmental issue bearing far reaching implications for policies and programming, both for the governments and international development agencies.

The loss of breadwinners due to the epidemic is leading to increased poverty and food insecurity among affected families in sub-Saharan Africa. Also professionals and other categories of skilled labor have not been spared by the epidemic. The main consequence of this calamity in many affected countries is the reversal of the social and economic progress made during the last few decades, coupled with the serious negative impact both on households and relevant organizations and institutions. This is especially true for small-holder agriculture. .. . An enormous cost burden has been imposed on households and organizations due to diversion of resources to health care, loss of both skilled and unskilled labor, funeral costs, costs of recruiting and replacing staff, and reduction in productivity due to losses of human resources.

Both subsistence and commercial agriculture have been affected by AIDS significantly in the way of decline of crop yields, increase in pests and diseases, and decline in the variety of crops grown in case of subsistence farming.. . . Major financial and social crises have been created in the agro-industry due to protracted morbidity and mortality and loss of skilled and experienced labor.. . .

He points out that extension services themselves are directly affected because staff members incur higher risks than others as a result of the frequency of their visits to areas affected by HIV/AIDS, and their need to attend to sick family members and neighbors. The epidemic has undermined morale in many extension services. In addition, the costs to extension organizations have increased because of outlays on treatment of affected staff, funerals and insurance. In Uganda, it is estimated that 20 to 50% of extension staff time has been lost because of the direct and indirect effects of the epidemic.

Qamar adds that the effect on farming populations has been devastating in many cases:

The epidemic is changing the traditional composition of the clientele for extension services. In the areas of high HIV prevalence, the category of healthy and able-bodied men, women and youth, in the late adolescence to middle age range, is the one that has been most affected through high levels of morbidity and mortality. One finds more women and children now engaged in farming due to prolonged illness and/or death of their spouses, parents, guardians and older members of the family. Paradoxically, the struggle for feeding a large number of children left behind by their parents who have died young, has forced many very old persons back into farming who had retired from active farming long ago. The emerging target population for extension services increasingly includes more physically weak, sick, and elderly persons, widows and young orphans. These newcomers, who even though they are exposed to farming due to living in rural areas, have relatively less experience in agronomic practices . .. and have limited physical and technical capacities for the use of heavy tools, farm machinery and animal-drawn farm equipment.

And the technical messages traditionally conveyed by extension agents are losing relevance:

there are now applications for agricultural credit from orphan- and widow-headed households, which are often not eligible according to the existing criteria for the approval of credit applications. The extension staff who, in general, are supposed to support the applications .. . feel lost in the absence of the new criteria needed for this new clientele . . .

The notoriously persistent denial and 'conspiracy of silence' about HIV/AIDS, common among rural communities, is gradually giving way to relative openness. . .. The farmers' questions are no longer limited to farming. There are so many queries related to HIV/AIDS. However, the extension staff, who know little about the epidemic and have not received any special training in this subject, feel helpless and embarrassed in front of the farmers. They are not in a position to offer any useful information or meaningful advice.

Meeting this challenge in the areas affected by the epidemic obviously requires substantial modifications in the way agricultural extension is conceived and carried out. As Qamar has put it, 'Presently there are no extension programs and strategies to improve agricultural skills of inexperienced young farmers including a large number of women and orphans who have suddenly become clientele of the services. The notoriously weak linkages between extension, research and other relevant agencies are no help in addressing the need for developing new technologies and equipment suitable for the new situation' (op. cit., p. 6).

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