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4. The impact of HIV/AIDS on the extension service

4. The impact of HIV/AIDS on the extension service

Agricultural extension is one of the central institutions dealing with human resource development and technology transfer to farmers and rural households in most countries in the world. As agricultural development in a country moves forward, the knowledge and technology needs of farmers and farm households continue to increase. In countries where farm households have low levels of literacy and more traditional farming systems, extension programmes will generally be more educationally focused, aiming primarily at human resource development in rural areas. These extension systems, often functioning as integrated agricultural and rural development programmes, help farmers form organizations/associations, such as commodity groups and cooperatives, and promote the use of government services and improved technology.

Table 2 The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Traditional Coping Mechanisms in Rural Economies

Some extension systems may expand their human resource development focus to include rural youth, child development, nutrition and household management programmes. Broad-based extension systems that include agriculture, population education, environment, home economics, rural youth, gender and community development components are essentially designed to improve the welfare of rural households and communities rather than achieve more limited agricultural production and technology transfer objectives.

Participants at FAO's 1989 Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension recognized that economic pressure is forcing extension in many countries to justify itself on more immediate economic criteria that are closely related to technology transfer and increasing agricultural productivity, thus ignoring extension's traditional role in human resource development. They pointed out that pursuing an extension system that is narrowly focused on technology transfer risks promoting growth without equity. Unless the educational and technology needs of all major groups of farmers are effectively addressed, the long-term consequences will likely lead to a small proportion of very productive commercial farmers and the vast majority of rural people being left behind at the subsistence level in conditions of pervasive rural poverty thus jeopardizing the success of population programmes. The socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS on rural households requires a broad-based agricultural and rural development concept that is based on a more balanced approach to extension that takes the specific HIV/AIDS-related needs of different rural groups into consideration.

An FAO-sponsored survey of 207 agricultural extension organizations in 113 countries revealed that an estimated US$ 6 billion was spent in 1988 on extension activities worldwide. The survey results indicated that there are approximately 600 000 extension workers for 1.2 billion farmers worldwide. Based on the survey results, it is estimated that in 1988 approximately 58 percent of extension resources (including time) worldwide were directed towards commercial farmers, including specialized producers of cash crops and export commodities. Only 22 percent of extension resources were directed towards subsistence farmers and 7 percent towards rural youth and young farmers. The proportion of female extension workers in 1988 worldwide was estimated to be about 16 percent, and yet only about 5 percent of extension resources had been directed towards women farmers. It is unlikely that these trends have changed substantially in recent years. It should, however, be noted that structural adjustment programmes have resulted in drastic reductions in extension budgets and staff and created an institutional vacuum in some countries.

As recommended in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security, in addition to the need of increasing food production, the need for policies conducive to investment in human resource development, research and infrastructure for achieving food security is recognized, with a focus on the alleviation of poverty among the rural poor. The World Food Summit Plan of Action stressed the importance of giving special attention to providing agricultural development services, including education, extension and training, to disadvantaged groups -- small farmers, rural women and youth. In view of the detrimental impact of HIV/AIDS on rural economies, agricultural planning authorities need to place this concept at the contra of their concerns and efforts.

Agricultural extension is in transition worldwide. Governments and international agencies are advancing structural, financial and managerial strategies to improve extension programmes. Decentralization, cost-sharing, cost-recovery, participation of stakeholders in development initiatives and the decisions and resources that affect them -- these are some of the elements in extension's current transition.

Given the problems and challenges mentioned earlier, priority should be given to improving and strengthening extension services, especially through farmer education and training, to meet the challenges of ensuring sustainable agricultural and rural development in HIV/AIDS-affected rural areas. Fundamental policy changes and new strategic directions or approaches are urgently required to increase the efficiency of providing relevant agricultural extension and training programmes to farm families, focusing on small-scale and resource-poor farm households, and especially targeting rural women and youth. The following suggestions for improving extension activities only provide general directions for action. Each farmer education/training activity has specific goals, problems or needs. An appropriate extension strategy will have to be developed based on the results and findings of location-specific assessment surveys, cultural context analysis and the needs of the respective target beneficiaries.

4.1. Immediate and medium-term extension activities/strategies to alleviate the consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic

The impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production systems and the decline of agricultural knowledge and management skills, as well as the disproportionate impact of the disease on rural women, which cumulatively lead to the loss of rural household food security, the deterioration of traditional coping mechanisms and dwindling of family and community resources, does have a direct impact on the performance of extension services. However, there is little precise information on how the impact of HIV/AIDS is affecting the performance of agricultural extension services in specific locations.

Hence, there is an urgent need for appropriate location-specific assessment surveys, which could provide precise quantitative and qualitative information on the scope of the impact of the disease on agricultural production, rural households and the work and coverage of extension services. Such surveys should also collect information on how HIV/AIDS related morbidity and mortality affects the availability of trained staff and the coverage of extension services. In addition, precise information is needed on the legal aspects involved in HIV/AIDS-related mortality and the implications on land rights and inheritance laws for widows and orphans. Furthermore, data on the specific implications of HIV/AIDS on small-scale and/or landless farmers and women, as well as on the availability of household labour, savings, cash and other socio-economic data need to be collected. The assessment of the current status, likely future development and prospective demographic, social and economic impact of HIV/AIDS in a specific rural district/community needs to be undertaken in a joint effort with all agencies and selected NGOs represented in the respective district/community. A limited rapid rural assessment survey could meet the immediate needs focusing on the impact of HIV/AIDS on households, communities, health facilities, traditional healers, traditional coping mechanisms and survivor assistance programmes.

The results and findings of such location-specific surveys need to be analysed and used as inputs for the design of problem-solving, action-oriented interventions and for the planning of appropriate extension strategies, including development of adequate training programmes and training support materials; empowerment of women by providing relevant training and extension advice; strengthening of traditional coping mechanisms; and the promotion of cost-effective survivor assistance programmes for orphans, widows/widowers and elderly farmers. FAO's Agricultural Extension and Education Service (SDRE) envisages possible studies and training activities related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic with a focus on its implications/consequences on agricultural extension programmes. For more details on these activities, see Annex 2 (4).

In view of the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on rural economies and farm families, extension interventions cannot focus any longer only on the technical aspects of agricultural production and livestock development. Frequently, the extension service is the only government agency represented in rural areas and the extension workers are the only rural resource persons who can assist rural families in alleviating the socio-economic consequences of the disease. However, agricultural extension staff need to be guided and trained to utilize their community organization skills to assist the most vulnerable groups in affected communities to pool their expertise and knowledge and reinforce their confidence. They should also assist affected rural communities in undertaking on-farm as well as off-farm income-generating activities and facilitate self-help associations to provide immediate assistance and support to HIV/AIDS widows/widowers and orphans.

One of the immediate and medium-term means of increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of agricultural extension programmes to meet the challenges and to alleviate the consequences of HIV/AIDS is through the application of improved and innovative extension methods. FAO/SDRE's field experiences in the last decade have demonstrated the importance of extension methodologies that rely on strategic planning applications and participatory approaches that can minimize inputs or resources and maximise outputs or results. A Strategic Extension Campaign (SEC) methodology developed by FAO/SDRE has been introduced in Africa, the Near East, Asia and Latin America. This methodology emphasizes the importance of people's participation (i.e.. intended beneficiaries such as field extension workers and small farmers) in strategic planning, systematic management and field implementation of agricultural extension and training programmes. Its extension strategies and messages are specifically developed and tailored based on the results of a participatory problem identification process on the causes or reasons of farmers' non-adoption, or inappropriate practices, of a given recommended agricultural technology or innovation.

The SEC technology transfer and application approach is needs-based, demand-driven, and has a problem-solving orientation. The SEC methodology has been developed to focus on specific issues related to a given agricultural technology recommendation. Basic concepts and principles of SEC have been used in the efforts to integrate population education and environment issues/concerns into agricultural extension activities in selected FAO member countries. Most of the important principles and techniques employed in planning, implementing and managing SEC activities would be applicable to developing and implementing problem-solving extension activities to mitigate the consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic an) to support the Ministry of Agriculture's policies, strategies and priority programmes. The SEC methodology is useful to agricultural extension services and to small farmers because it:

There is a need to promote more egalitarian gender relationships in families and communities. All reproductive health (RH) programmes should specifically include a HIV/AIDS prevention strategy. Because RH programmes have traditionally targeted mainly women, the strategy should be designed to increasingly address men. Men's relative authority in all ranges of life, from personal relationships to making national policy, needs to be openly discussed. Strategies for encouraging and enabling men to channel their power constructively at these various levels should be developed and factors inhibiting this should be identified. Lessons learned from the perspective of male motivation for population and family planning programmes should be taken into consideration for reproductive health promotion and multisectoral programmes of HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation.

Agricultural extension can assist farm households and specific target beneficiaries most affected by HIV/AIDS to become organized into functional groups and/or community organizations, such as commodity groups, cooperatives, farmers clubs, etc., that will directly serve their immediate needs. Such group segmentation of target beneficiaries can increase the effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of agricultural extension and reproductive health advice, including appropriate training by developing demand-driven, needs-based and problem-solving extension and reproductive health activities.

4.2. Long-term strategy to strengthen extension programmes

In full-impact communities, where HIV/AIDS-related morbidity and mortality are already high, extension programmes may have to be revised based on the actual impact of the disease on agricultural production systems, rural households and food security. Specific target groups such as widows/widowers, orphans and elderly farmers will have to be given special attention. As part of the long-term strategy for rural development in the presence of HIV/AIDS research linkages and research inputs could be directed towards the development of less labour-intensive crops and production methods bearing in mind the minimum nutritional value required. Research has to correspond more closely to the needs of farm households with fewer working adults.

Farm support services could be strengthened to ensure that technical advice, credit and forms of labour substitution are available. The development of appropriate technologies to reduce the time spent on water and fuel collection, for example, could be critical in releasing more labour for agricultural tasks. Research into the maintenance and creation of income-generating opportunities in rural areas as alternatives to agriculture, particularly for those for whom the physical effort of farming is no longer feasible, is also essential. A good socio-cultural assessment of these communities will allow to devise mechanisms to alleviate the impact of the spread of the disease on the social fabric of rural communities. Traditional household and village structures that normally play a critical role in family welfare and resource management are under strain. Research could be done into agricultural and social coping mechanisms and the experiences be shared between areas with similar farming practices.

Furthermore, the specific needs of rural youth need to be addressed in a systematic way. Among both men and women, the hardest-hit group are young people. UNAIDS estimates that half of all infections to date have been in 15- to 24-year-olds. In some countries, 60 percent of all new HIV infections are in this age group, with a female to male ratio of 2 to 1 among 15- to 19-year-olds.

Unless special attention is paid to young people, particularly girls, in rural areas by extension services, they tend to be ignored. Especially in communities affected by HIV/AIDS, it is not enough for extension services to claim that they target rural youth. One of the lessons learned from field experiences of FAO/SDRE's youth activities is that extension services must have an identifiable, formally structured youth Program me in order to reach rural young people in an effective manner and that it should have a gender-specific approach.

One of the major recommendations coming out of FAO's Expert Consultation on Extension Rural Youth Programmes and Sustainable Development, which was held in Rome from 29 November to 1 December 1995, is that any comprehensive extension service targeting, rural families must have a strong rural youth programme component. The special reference to HIV/AIDS is that, especially in high-impact areas, rural youth extension programmes could help to effectively fill the void caused by the loss of agricultural knowledge at the community level as many family members in the "productive" age groups are dying. Young people need to be trained in sustainable agricultural technology appropriate to the changing situations caused by the epidemic in their communities. Older citizens, largely unaffected themselves by the disease, can be mobilized as local volunteer leaders through the rural youth extension Program me with adequate training and support, to share their valuable knowledge and skills on agricultural practices.

There is a growing body of knowledge showing the relationship between effective reproductive health education programmes. and the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Experience indicates that educational attention to sexuality and reproductive health issues tends to lead to a reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. While agricultural extension services are having difficulties working with adult women and men in addressing reproductive health issues, rural youth extension programmes can easily incorporate this sensitive subject matter into ongoing educational programming with groups of girls and boys and/or young women and men.

In terms of the role of extension in HIV/AIDS prevention youth programmes may have the potential for greatest impact from two perspectives: first, in high-impact communities where morbidity and mortality are high, prevention may be already too late for the adult population; and, second, adults tend to be set in their way of life and it may be difficult to change their sexual behaviour. Research shows that it is often easier to change the beliefs and practices of young people. Effective HIV/AIDS prevention education programming for extension services, therefore, needs to target specifically rural youth.

One of FAO's studies on the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS in Uganda found a very direct relationship between the use of alcohol and drugs and sexually risky behaviour. Although it is not common for agricultural extension services to target adults and youth to create awareness about the detrimental consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, it should be taken into consideration that it is relatively easy for extension workers with proper support and training to incorporate a drug demand reduction component into ongoing extension rural youth programming.

It is generally acknowledged that risky and destructive behaviour directly leads to low personal self-esteem, especially among young people. Rural youth extension programmes can contribute significantly to boost moral, and self-esteem of youngsters. Such programmes motivate young people to get involved in productive activities, often resulting in some financial gains. They enable girls and boys, through training and practice, to develop leadership and interpersonal communication skills that can help them work effectively with peers in accomplishing concrete tasks. Many rural youth extension programmes have member and voluntary leader recognition programmes to acknowledge their accomplishments and provide public recognition. All of these factors contribute to enhance the self-esteem of young people.

Another long-term response of agricultural extension services to the impact/consequences of HIV/AIDS could be a systematic Program me of action to integrate gender issues in their programmes/activities. In view of the fact that only few women receive extension advice on field crop production and other farm-related activities, despite their involvement in agricultural production and farm management, the issue of increasing women's participation in extension activities needs to be urgently addressed. In order to enable extension services to address the priority needs of rural women the following actions should be taken into consideration:

Rural youth extension programmes. which generally work with mixed groups, could offer a safe environment where girls and boys, by meeting and working together, learn and practice appropriate gender roles. Purposefully structured learning activities can enhance the development of gender roles, which are known to have direct implications on HIV/AIDS infection.

In many developing countries it has been noted that few women apply for extension posts because they lack the technical training. In addition, cultural norms prevent them from accepting posts/assignments away from their parents or husband/family. In order to meet the declared demand for female staff in agricultural education and extension programmes. the following measures/activities are recommended:

A broad-based extension and education approach requires policy, technical and organizational support from all relevant government ministries/departments and NGOs. Hence, there is a need to encourage and promote an improved, closer and institutionalized collaboration and coordination with agriculture-oriented government agencies/institutions and NGOs, as well as with nonagricultural ministries/agencies and their decision-makers/officials, e.g. those dealing with health, population, environment, education, youth, etc. From a technical point of view, better functional linkages will need to be developed with appropriate multidisciplinary groups of scientists/researchers, technicians, relevant specialists, etc., who are qualified to contribute to the development and implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation programmes.

4.3. Multisectoral HIV/AIDS control programmes with a focus on sustainable agricultural and rural development

With the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production systems threatening rural, urban and national food security, the agriculture sector needs to be at the forefront of concern. Cultural propensities, nucleated village organization patterns, the dynamics of estates/plantations labour force and particularly the location of villages along highways cumulatively make the rural areas, and thus the agricultural economy, highly susceptible to infection and the effects of HIV/AIDS. In order to meet the major challenges for rural economies, including farmers and extension programmes, closer collaboration and coordination between ministries of agriculture and nonagricultural ministries, institutions and/or agencies should be urgently initiated or improved. Existing national HIV/AIDS programmes also require agriculture sector-based interventions to mitigate the devastating effects of the disease in rural areas.

The main focus of a multisectoral HIV/AIDS Program me should therefore go beyond prevention of the disease and give increasing importance to the aspect of mitigation of the HIV/AIDS impact. The Program me strategy requires a coordinated and concerted effort based on a consultative and interactive process through decentralized Program me implementation and full community participation. Agricultural education and extension programmes will have to play a key role in the implementation of such programmes.

4.3.1. Operational framework

(a) Policy adjustments

Rural development policy in sub-Saharan Africa must begin to consider the growing labour constraints associated with HIV/AIDS and the potential widespread disruption to the rural economy and social structure. Government policy in the past has been geared towards labour-intensive food production strategies on the basis of continued high population growth rates. In certain areas of Africa these assumptions may have to be reexamined. Policy recommendation about the relative merits of particular crops in any farming system must now take into account the impact of HIV/AIDS on labour and income, spelling out realistic goals, objectives and implementation strategies.

(b) HIV/AIDS-related database

Most of the information on the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural economies is based on anecdotal observations. Ministries of agriculture, therefore, should prepare an inventory of the existing information and of relevant ongoing projects/activities with regard to HIV/AIDS related to agriculture, and then systematically collect further data and information to identify in a scientific way the actual HIV/AIDS situation in specific localities and determine the linkages between the epidemic and agriculture. More specifically, the following major aspects should be taken into account:

The results and findings of the data collection exercise need to be used as inputs for national planning and Program me formulation purposes, as well as for regional and local mitigation strategies targeting individual farmers, families and communities.

(c) Strategic framework and action plan

The Ministry of Agriculture, in coordination with the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries and NGOs, should prepare and formulate a strategic framework for the national AIDS control Program me and develop viable projects/activities to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture and household food security based on location-specific information/data. In view of the rapid spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic into the rural areas, the following immediate, medium-term and long-term goals should be taken into consideration:

(i) Immediate:

(ii) Medium-term:

(iii) Long-term:

The Ministry of Agriculture should develop a long-term plan to mitigate the consequences of HIV/AIDS in rural economies through the promotion of sustainable agricultural and rural development following a participatory approach that involves the relevant agencies, institutions and farmers.

4.3.2. Implementation and resource mobilization

National AIDS control programmes should include a broader spectrum of HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation activities. Their coordination should be delegated to an institutionally integrated HIV/AIDS steering committee, which should be associated fully in the organization and management of the national AIDS control Program me The Ministry of Agriculture and other associated agencies should establish technical advisory committees on HIV/AIDS and agriculture/household food security advising the various departments/units as well as selected regional and district level agricultural offices/institutions on all HIV/AIDS related issues. In addition, each ministry or agency/institution should establish a monitoring unit, preferably in the planning department and designate a desk officer to organize and coordinate HIV/AIDS-related activities. Similarly, in the regional planning offices a specifically designated officer should be in charge of the coordination of HIV/AIDS activities, and the institutional capacity at regional and district levels should be strengthened to effectively monitor and coordinate HIV/AIDS-related activities.

The national AIDS control Program me will have to provide the collaborating ministries and agencies/institutions with additional budgetary resources for the development of an efficient HIV/AIDS action programme. A resource mobilization strategy will have to investigate possibilities to obtain technical assistance and financial resources from the international donors and relevant NGOs. The Joint United Nations Program me on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) can coordinate and advocate for maximum participation of community-based organizations, NGOs, bilateral donors, national agencies, universities, research institutions and other national and international partners who could potentially be involved in HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation strategies/activities.

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