3.8.2 Loss of skills and the division of labour
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An important finding from all three countries is the significance that the loss of male household members has for the management of the household economy, and for the marketing of agricultural produce. With respect to this last, the deaths of men who were conversant with marketing, has meant that many households have had to rely on selling their produce to unscrupulous middlemen. These middlemen exploit the farmers. In so doing, farmers frequently become demoralized, sometimes to the extent that they have abandoned farming as unprofitable.
In Gwanda, there has traditionally been a marked gender division of labour, between crops, agricultural tasks and above all between domestic and other work. This has significant implications for the way in which the epidemic affects the lives of women. Most women are overburdened with housework, taking care of babies and now, in many cases, orphaned children, collecting firewood and fetching water. School children contribute little in terms of labour since most are away at school all day.
The women complained that they have to walk long distances to collect water and firewood and that it took about two hours just to fetch water, while the collection of firewood took even longer. These tasks greatly reduce the time women have to participate in agricultural activities. When a household is then confronted with the additional burden of caring for the sick, for members of related families, in mourning ceremonies, women are faced with major problems of managing their own labour and that of others in the household. It is important to note that it is not only the additional tasks which take up their time (and energy), it is also the increased management demands of the household and farm which require additional thought, worry and effort.
In addition to this problem, it is also knowledge of domestic and farm management skills, as well as the skills themselves which are threatened by the loss of mature women from the community. In Uganda, it was found that more women aged between 13 and 44 died in a two-year study period than men. Since it is the women in this age group who are primarily engaged in full-time agricultural production throughout most of the country, the rapid progression to death of this group allows little time for adjustment and coping in the household's farming practices. This inevitably has serious consequences for the affected households.
In Gwanda, the study has already noted that the rural farming system was in a stage of transition from a banana-based system to one composed primarily of what were once considered secondary crops such as cassava. Cassava, like sweet potato and to a lesser degree yam and sorghum, used to be produced by women rather than by men. Some men who have lost their wives, and who are unfamiliar with the crop varieties and cultivation methods, have found it hard to take over the cultivation of these crops. However, it was also observed in all three countries, that widowers usually remarry fairly quickly and therefore solve the problem in that way.
In Teta community, in Zambia, there are significant differences in the role and position of women within the diversified farming system, as compared, for example, with the maize-based system in Mpongwe District. In an analysis of labour and labour management in one area of Mpongwe, it was shown that the more food secure households are those in which both husband and wife are involved in agricultural production, and among these, the most efficient were those households where men were organising timely ploughing arrangements, either through tractor or oxen hire, or through labour-zpooling arrangements. This situation is due to the necessity of planting as large an area of maize as possible to ensure a surplus, and the fact that maize tends to be a crop controlled by men - since they have greater access to credit and usually control the marketing arrangements.
In Teta the situation is different. The area planted to maize and other crops grown in ploughed fields is much smaller than in Mpongwe. It is therefore easier for women themselves to manage this operation, and even to hire oxen to cultivate this smaller area. The diversity in the production system thus also gives women more independence. Dambo cultivation of local maize and beans are largely women's activities; it is only with the advent of Irish potatoes, that women have become involved with the techniques of wetland production.
3.9 Coping mechanisms: the role of NGOs and self-help groups
Given the fact that deaths from AIDS and other diseases are affecting the transfer of skills and knowledge in East African farming systems, certain coping strategies are emerging which may help to counteract the negative effects of these impacts.
At the level of the farming system, coping responses have already been touched upon. What needs to be emphasised is that these responses are not uniform and that there is a clear gradient in ability to cope in relation to the wealth of a particular household.
At the level of the community as a whole, the most important response has been the formation of self-help groups, some spontaneous and some under the aegis of an NGO. This is in itself an important development in some societies, particularly in southern Uganda, where inter-household cooperation has not been the norm. It suggests that here the traditional response may provide a firm base for future efforts to cope not only with the impact of the epidemic, but also with the wider problems of low incomes and poverty which form the background to that impact.
However, it should also be noted that in some cases the impact of the epidemic has been so severe that the limits of traditional cooperative resilience and response have now been reached and exceeded. In such circumstances, the supporting role of NGOs may be crucial in working to provide advice to farmers and extension staff in animal and crop husbandry practices. Agencies currently working in this way include, ActionAid, InterAid and World Vision International, whose activities are described below. Already, and often with the assistance of NGOs, special interest and other self-help groups have come into being with members pooling their knowledge and giving each other confidence in undertaking on-farm as well as income-generating activities.
In Gwanda, for example, World Vision International has encouraged the formation of small self-help groups primarily engaged in agriculture and handicraft making. The NGO has been instrumental in providing vocational training for groups in the field of carpentry, tailoring and construction. These are aside from the NGO's other activities like providing complete packages of school assistance to orphaned children and giving counselling and care to AIDS patients.
Box 7: Self-help group 1. Kayunga United
Kayunga United started operating in March 1992 and was aimed at improving the morale of unemployed youths by encouraging them to grow cassava cooperatively. The 1 2-member group has since offered considerable assistance to orphans, widows and the needy including house construction and repair as well as offering food.:
Recently, World Vision International gave them a donation of hoes, herbicides, pesticides and vegetable seeds. Training has been given to the group in bee-keeping and they are also expecting to receive/modern bee hives from the NGO.
In addition, the group has benefitted from the technical training sponsored and offered by World Vision International.
Action Aid is also highly active in Uganda mainly in the district of Mubende. Under its General Community Support Programme the NGO has built schools, assisted farmers in agricultural production through the provision of inputs, and through assistance to the health sector, by means of an immunization and treatment programme. Other activities have included: awareness and sensitization programmes; assistance with farm-management; and assistance in improving animal husbandry practices. In the past, farmers would only be interested in owning large herds of cattle, irrespective of how they were looked after. Recently, many farmers are adopting the practice of improved animal husbandry incorporating tick control, farm fencing and supplementary feeding of cattle. The result has been improved milk production and increased farm incomes which are reflected in a higher standard of living of farmers to the extent that households have graduated from grass thatched houses to houses roofed with iron sheets; finally, the area under various crops has increased, for example some young people are forming cooperative farming groups and are now able to cultivate large areas.
However, AIDS is likely to affect the progress of the NGO's work in the community. Some youths have already died and many are infected. Those that are sick are unable to work effectively. Once they die, their activities are not usually taken up by survivors who are often their elderly parents or younger siblings. In some of the more affected areas, ActionAid is launching an anti-AIDS campaign through such measures as video shows, condom supply and demonstration, as well as the care of AIDS patients.
As a result of increased deaths due to AIDS, the number of orphans has risen in the area. ActionAid is now supporting local group efforts to care for these orphans.
Box 8: Self-help Group 2. Agaliawamu (Unity is strength)
Agaliawamu is regarded as one of the most successful groups. It was started in 1992 for school girls to provide them with basic training in tailoring and farming. By 1993, 10 members had graduated in skills development. The group is currently also helping to look after the sick.
Agaliawamu was given a donation of US $17.00 to buy handicraft materials, and assistance in purchasing the materials. The group has also received pesticides, fungicides, vegetable seeds, implements and technical training in nursery-bed preparation from World Vision International. It is, nevertheless, experiencing similar problems as Abagalanyi, see above, i.e. a shortage of agricultural inputs especially tools and equipment and proper marketing awareness for their products.
3.10 The personal and community trauma of HIV/AIDS
In a heavily affected community such as Gwanda, the social impact of HIV-AIDS on the population has been enormous. Gwanda was one of the first communities in that country to experience the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Since little was known about the disease when it struck, few if any precautions were taken with the result that the community lost many able-bodied people, young men, women and young children. Almost every household in Gwanda is HIV-affected, afflicted or both. A walk round the community provides adequate evidence of the impact. The presence in almost every homestead of graves of people who have died of AIDS, and the incidence of AIDS-related sickness in many households bear witness to the widespread trauma. As a result, many aspects of social life and behaviour have been affected and most of the women's and youth groups are concerned with providing assistance to widows and orphans.
Given the above, it is even more surprising that many of the youth in the most afflicted communities continue to have indiscriminate sex; even having sex with widows and widowers of people who are widely known to have died of AIDS, according to discussions held with groups of local villagers. This behaviour is attributed to the fatalistic attitude most youths have towards the epidemic generally. Many of them believe that they are already infected and consequently see no reason why they should not have normal sexual lives and maximise their pleasures before they die. This may also have something to do with the nature of life in many rural areas. For example, in the Mpongwe area of Zambia where local people reported that pre-marital sex was very common, it was simultaneously pointed out that in rural areas such as these, there is no entertainment, as such, apart from beer and sexual relations.
By contrast, discussions with several groups of teenage girls in Gwanda revealed that the girls are truly frightened of contracting AIDS. Many of them believe that one can only be safe through sexual abstinence. The girls lamented that it is material poverty which compels them into early marriages or to have premarital sex. They claimed that if they had financial support, mainly in the form of access to income-earning activities, they would abstain from premarital sex and early marriages to much older men, both of which increase their exposure to infection. Widows in the same community likewise believed that if they were given financial support, they would abstain from sex or avoid remarrying and therefore stop the spread of the disease.
Nonetheless, village group discussions and individual interviews also made it clear that many adults in Gwanda have, in fact, significantly changed their social and sexual behaviour. Most were said to have stopped indulging in indiscriminate sexual intercourse preferring to remain with their spouses. At the same time, the groups also reported that many families are additionally burdened with the responsibilities of fostering orphans of their deceased relatives and the only way of fulfilling this responsibility was to stay alive (i.e. by avoiding HIV-infection).
In general, the extended family system is still said to be strong. As in all societies in Uganda, however, this system is being undermined by social change. Associated increased individualism has had implications for the fostering of orphans in the AIDS-afflicted communities. In several AIDS-affected and afflicted households in Gwanda, the extended family system has been further over-burdened with the problem of large numbers of orphans and many surviving households have found it increasingly difficult to cope. This situation is being alleviated by some NGOs like World Vision and InterAid which are paying school fees for the orphans in addition to providing them with clothing, blankets and a few other basic commodities like agricultural implements, and water containers.
In Zambia, the social impact of the disease is also observable. On the one hand, in the case of divorce which seems to be a growing phenomenon in a number of the villages studied, a mother moves back to the village of her own mother, usually with most or all of her children. In the event of death of the mother, it is possible that the children will be subsequently split up and sent to different relatives.
Box 9: Self-help group 3. Abagalanyi (Those who love each other)
This women's group was formed early in 1993 with an initial membership of 75 persons, although currently it has only 11 active members. The group's aim is to improve the standard of living of women in the community and to take care of orphaned children as well as the sick by giving them emotional support and providing them with the basic necessities.
The group undertakes communal farming and meets at least twice a week. Having secured a piece of land, members are growing tomatoes and potatoes which they hope to sell and thereby: generate sufficient income to enable them to expand their operations. The women also meet to discuss e problems encountered and to mane plans :for the week ahead
The group has plans for extending the farm and starting up handicraft production with the aim of making and selling mats and baskets. The group has also benefitted from training in bee keeping with World Vision International providing the members with beehives. In addition, the NGO has also provided the group with vegetables seeds as well as pesticides and fungicides. At present the group: faces a number of problems, the most crucial being a lack of agricultural tools. Another problem is in the marketing of produce. The women are worried about middlemen who usually travel to rural areas and exploit farmers by offering them abnormally low prices. Considering the perishability of the vegetables they produce, the women are certainly vulnerable to exploitation. This is particularly unfortunate given that :these women already require as much assistance as possible in order to be able to assist orphans and the sick.
In one village in Zambia, a woman farmer complained that her production had deteriorated because she had been nursing one of her daughters who eventually died from HIV/AIDS. Apart from the time spent in caring for her sick daughter, the emotional cost of seeing her children decline, having to care for them but being helpless to arrest the progress of the disease, must also be taken into account. Since 1990, of this particular woman's three daughters, two had died from HIV/AIDS, as did a daughter-in-law. Another farmer, a former council worker, from Teta in Zambia is another example of the emotional cost of the disease having been high. The farmer's daughter died in 1991 after he and his wife had nursed her for some time, and in 1993. just before the interview another daughter had committed suicide, inexplicably.
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