Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 459)



  440. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) So it is very difficult, let us say, for an agency like FAO to barge ahead in the area of AIDS if the Member States at the FAO Conference do not give instructions in this direction. This is something which is I think a very important issue. At the Conferences of FAO etc our bosses are the ministers of agriculture. Now the ministries of agriculture are a bit at a loss in the area of AIDS and, therefore, the problem is a bit of a chicken and egg issue, it is how to get them sufficiently aware so that they will give a mandate and instructions to move in this direction. Our studies have shown that the health approach in all this is very important. We all hope for a vaccine and things like that but, meanwhile, there are other developmental strategies which can be helpful. These strategies need to be identified with the ministries of agriculture but it is not easy to start this process because the ministries of agriculture say "We are not used to doing this, we do not know what to do. How do we go about this? You tell us". Now we do not really know either because it is a process where we are facing a new situation and it is something which has to be jointly explored. In an agency like FAO, other departments of agriculture say "Where is the mandate from the ministries of agriculture?". We have to get out of this situation. We are beginning to get out of it but it has been a slow process. To come back to rethinking, I think at this stage whether it is agricultural policies and programmes, whether it is educational policies and programmes, in the strongly affected countries they have to be reconsidered, it cannot be business as usual. In many ways what has to be done in this rethinking is development which has not been taken seriously enough previously. AIDS does not mean that one has to do things which have never existed before, it means one has to take the education of children much more seriously and we have to consider what it is it that is really important for them to learn within their context and the world they will be facing. For the ministries of agriculture, there should be rural credit, for example, or do we leave it all to loan sharks? I was in a South East Asian country not so long ago and AIDS leads to the sale of land and this is a desperate situation, of course, for a farmer, it is the last thing they want to do but they are all indebted. In between two crops when they are at the lowest, that is when the loan sharks come by and start asking for reimbursements and they are unable to reimburse. At that time, of course, as if by accident, some traffickers also show up and say they can help out "if you give us one of your daughters to take to the city". So if a farmer is faced between the choice of selling his land, which is the end for the whole family, or selling a daughter, of course it is not a real choice. These things really exist. That is why rural credit then becomes important because it gives some more resilience to people who would otherwise find themselves in totally desperate situations.

   Chairman: Yes. I think we should go on to the response to the impact of HIV/AIDS and perhaps Mr Khabra could lead us in those questions.

Mr Khabra

  441. The Committee has heard evidence that there are community coping mechanisms to support households and children in distress. Are such mechanisms coping with the effects of HIV/AIDS? What sort of support do they provide and how can they be assisted by governments and donors? Finally, what can be done to provide alternative means of income generation?
  (Mr du Guerny) I think, as I mentioned, all these farm household systems are traditionally designed to be as resilient as possible because they have always faced disasters throughout history. They can only take a certain intensity of shock or certain kinds of shock and AIDS, as I mentioned, because of the way it works is a protracted disease etcetera and because it hits the adults it turns out to be the kind of shock that most are not able to absorb. That way when one talks about coping mechanisms, sometimes it is a bit misleading because in many cases they are not able to cope and it leads to the impoverishment and destruction of the farm household. Otherwise there are coping mechanisms, such as we have mentioned with the changing agricultural practices and things like that, sending other children out to migrate, either to reduce the pressure on the household but also in the hope that they will get some remittances, be able to send something. This is where one can explore community responses and where I think with the governments and NGOS, etc., one has to set up obviously partnerships in order to increase the resilience. That depends in each case on the type of epidemic one is facing. In some cases it can be through improving land tenure systems, it can be through improving rural credit, it can be through modifying the way in which extension workers work because the normal extension worker is used to dealing with an adult to push commercial crops and now the extension worker might have to deal with orphans and try to help them just survive. The extension worker has learnt how to promote coffee or bananas, etcetera, and has to be retrained in order to learn how to deal with a 14 or 15 year old. You do not approach and talk to them in the same way, you have to be aware of their situation and the kind of help they need. They have no access to rural credit because they are minors, so are there other ways to help them? They do not have the strength to manoeuvre heavy beasts, animals like oxen, so can they be taught to plough using lighter animals such as donkeys, etcetera? That is why I say the Ministry of Agriculture has to rethink its strategies. Also it is itself affected by the AIDS epidemic. The staff of the ministries of agriculture are being decimated in some cases. They are often losing extension workers, they are losing highly qualified staff and they can be extremely difficult to replace. So, for example, in a decentralisation process where you have the capital with the Ministry, then you have the provinces at district level, etcetera, sometimes they might have to consider shortening the chain of command in order to save on staff because there are less staff available. There are problems, also, of when you lose a specialist in irrigation in an area, it is not necessarily easy to replace them. You do not necessarily have another one available. One has to reorganise the geographic areas for which staff are responsible and you have to do it in such a way that they are still effective. This is a big challenge to a Ministry like the Ministry of Agriculture. We have found out that in some cases it is very difficult for them to adjust to some of the things because the way they run their staff is determined by a Civil Service Commission, etcetera, which is outside of them so it makes it more difficult for them to adjust because they have to get the Civil Service Commission or whatever to start changing the rules also. It is going to be a complex process for ministries to adjust to the impact of the epidemic and to respond. Also it creates a lot of cost for the ministries because replacing qualified staff is something which is extremely expensive. It creates all kinds of disruptions in the way the ministry functions because people have to attend funerals.


  442. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) In the ministry often there are practices of helping out the family so suddenly the ministry, which is already constrained in its resource level, finds itself having to divert scarce resources to areas which it did not consider before in order to support its staff and mitigate the impact of the epidemic on its staff. This is quite a new problem for these ministries and it is not quite like downsizing through Structural Adjustment Programmes or something like that because that you can think out and plan whereas here you are responding to something which is hitting you, so it does not work according to plan. You do not decide that you will favour more the irrigation or another area, the epidemic hits more these people than others and there is nothing you can do about it. This is an entirely new area which is quite complicated.

  443. For these reasons do you not think, Mr du Guerny, that FAO should have been a co-sponsor of UNAIDS?
  (Mr du Guerny) FAO has been an active member of the inter-agency advisory group. I was Chairman myself of the group in 1996 and 1997 and while I was Chairman I did revise the terms of reference with the group in order to put more emphasis on developmental issues so that it would be more balanced, not just between health and development. We have been promoting developmental issues and particularly issues concerning rural populations, etcetera, within UNAIDS and with the other co-sponsors. We do work closely with UNAIDS. We work closely with UNDP. We also work in discussions with the World Bank and, of course, with WHO. The two key groups we work with have been UNAIDS and UNDP. In fact they have been funding most of the FAO studies because FAO itself did not have the resources to conduct them.

Mr Khabra

  444. What is an alternative means of income generation for improving households?
  (Mr du Guerny) Yes, sorry, I had not answered that question before. The first thing is to ensure their food security. Producing their own food becomes essential. So all these household gardens, etcetera, with a variety of things is extremely important. The income generation, generally this happens through migration. This is where going back to education is important. These children who migrate to the city, will they end up as street children because they have no skills or can one already in the rural areas train them in certain things so that they do have a chance of finding some means of supporting themselves? If they are trained a bit in masonry and carpentry or whatever, this would increase their chances of having access to income and, therefore, to send remittances. In the rural areas themselves, in the farm household, they are already working all day so it is very difficult for them to absorb new activities. I think the important thing is to ensure their food security within their own household and then for the income to ensure those who go to the city or to work on a plantation or something like that have the right skills so they have a chance to get a job and have something which is better paid.

  445. You mentioned education a number of times. How should the education and child labour policies and programmes of developing countries' governments and donors be affected by the withdrawal of children from schools and the growing number of orphans?
  (Mr du Guerny) This is a difficult question. Perhaps one has to consider a more technical and professional kind of education at earlier ages because we have to be realistic. This is not a question of conventions, of saying children should stay in school until the age of 16, etcetera. If they are going to become orphaned at the age of 13 or 14, it is an ideal but what do the children do, they have to survive. The question then I think is early on to ensure that they acquire all the indispensable skills, including agricultural skills, which often they do not acquire. That is something where extension workers could play a role also. In areas where AIDS is prevalent one should have policies as if the household is going to be affected. So stress the education and the skills at the earliest age. Ensure that the children already know how to grow certain things, so whether they learn to do it in school or at home, all this depends on the local situation and one can think of many diverse strategies. That should be absolutely necessary. What are the minimum skills to survive in a city is something all the rural kids should know also. Otherwise they go to the city and they are open to any exploitation which increases the risk that they themselves will become infected.


  446. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) Then it is a never ending story.

  Chairman: How are we going to train their teachers? Ann Clwyd can you continue with these difficult questions.

Ann Clwyd

  447. Yes. I think you have actually answered most of the questions I was going to ask you about the loss of agricultural productivity and you have already made it clear that the loss of a parent or both parents obviously leads to that.
  (Mr du Guerny) Yes.

  448. What evidence did you gather to support that view?
  (Mr du Guerny) There have been a number of surveys in East Africa mostly and, since we mentioned working together with other parts of the UN, these were funded by UNDP. Now we have surveys funded jointly by UNDP and UNAIDS. They were small scale surveys because the resources were limited but they were focused on the households and this was very clear. We did get quite a lot of evidence and recently we got evidence also on what happens for livestock and that is quite interesting. As one goes up towards the semi arid and arid zones of course livestock often becomes more important. That had been a bit overlooked in the first surveys. Livestock represents status but is also the bank on the hoof. You do not put your money in the bank, you buy livestock. So, of course with every disease the herds get depleted, they are not well looked after and we have a little bit of evidence that when only the children are left, what remains of the livestock tends to disappear because the children do not know how to look after them so they just die or are stolen or whatever. I think there we need also a specific strategy of what to do.

  449. Has any use been made specifically of the elderly or grandparents as a way of replacing that lost knowledge?
  (Mr du Guerny) Yes. The grandparents, where they exist, play an essential role. One of the difficulties is that knowledge changes. The agricultural practices now are not those of 20 or 30 years ago. Therefore, the grandparents might not know of the more recent developments. Even if the grandparents play an indispensable role in supporting the orphans, they might still have an impact on the process of agriculture development. Agriculture is a very complex thing and to run a farm household system, it is like running a business firm, it requires all kinds of different operations which are often difficult to imagine in view of the very specialist tasks/jobs one often has in an urban environment. You have to know a bit about breeding, you have to know about the weather, you have to know so many different things. This is why division of labour is important, because it is very difficult for one person to have all these skills. That is why the transmission of knowledge is so important and reverting back to the grandparents, because of the improvement in modern knowledge, it is broken. Some of the things can only be acquired by long experience. You cannot just be told once how to select seeds, for example, it is through practice that slowly you learn which are the better ones. Anything which requires practice is also a problem.

  450. Can any greater use be made of radio or television, where it exists, to pass on some of that knowledge?
  (Mr du Guerny) I think this is certainly an area which should be developed. Firstly, I think what is really important would be to try and assist ministries of agriculture, NGOs who are involved in rural development etcetera., to think out what would be the most appropriate strategies so that one really knows what to tell the people and also to set up networks between rural institutions, between the ministries of agriculture, because there is no point everybody repeating the same experiments. There can be again perhaps a certain division of labour if there are the right networks between ministries themselves but also with NGOs and the private sector, etcetera.

  451. Are there any examples of best practice where schemes have been introduced to pool agricultural knowledge in a community?
  (Mr du Guerny) UNAIDS has a series called best practice and actually we are bringing out one or two papers there. In fact, in our case it is a little bit misleading because we really do not have this, it is too new to really know. We have reached the stage where we really have to design these things. We have done all the background work, especially on impacts, now the issue is what to do and how to do it, we are on very uncertain ground. How can the ministries move and what do they do since they are weakened, what should they try to have done by somebody else, NGOs or private or whatever, all this is something where we are in uncharted territory?

  Chairman: Can we talk about the commercial agricultural sector and Nigel Jones would like to lead us on that.

Mr Jones

  452. I wanted to ask if there has been any analysis of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the commercial agricultural sector? Is that sector doing enough to advise people how to prevent HIV/AIDS or mitigate the impact of it?
  (Mr du Guerny) We have done some studies in Kenya. We have found that commercial agriculture was affected because unskilled labour might seem cheap but it still is costly to replace. It is not as unskilled as it appears to be, they always have some skills. Therefore, when the replacement arrives that person has to learn. You also have skilled people in the commercial agricultural sector, managers, etcetera, and their costs, they can be extremely difficult to replace because they really know the plantation etcetera, and you cannot just bring in a very good agronomist or whatever from the outside to run the plantation overnight. Plus, many of these plantations, like if they are into sugar or things like that, their machinery can be of a particular type, it can be old, etcetera. When the workers who are running these machines fall sick and die, you cannot just replace them like that and at the same time, because these workers knew how to repair these machines, you often find they are old machines, there are no more spare parts, etcetera, so this means changing some of the equipment which leads to all kinds of expense. The plantations have been affected in all their costs in health schemes, in the absenteeism of the workers and all this kind of thing. Plantations are by definition commercial, they are there for profit and anything which affects the profit, of course, is a problem for them. We have even seen in one case in the study done in Kenya a company selling the plantations because the costs were rising too much and the plantation was becoming less competitive in a globalising economy. In these plantations with the cost of labour, even if the salaries are very, very low, all the differences can have an impact. Also, some of these plantations, since there is not necessarily very formal forms of social security —" some are more organised than others —" they still have responsibilities vis a vis the workers so they have to give days off for sickness, they have to give days off for funerals, they have to pay for the transport of a body back to the village with some people to accompany it. Some companies I have heard have even bought what is called a sort of funeral bus in order to transport the workers who accompany the funerals. All this leads to disruption, of course, in the plantation. Even when the work is contracted out, like in sugar, often it is small farmers who produce the sugar cane but because they look after the sugar less well one needs more tonnes of sugar cane to produce one tonne of sugar. There are many ways in which the cost can be affected. The commercial sector has begun in Kenya to organise itself. It is aware of this and it has been setting up projects for orphans. It has been trying to do prevention, more education campaigns and things like that. They are beginning to respond.


  453. Mr du Guerny, we have to make some recommendations on the future for agriculture and sustainable agriculture policies to the Department for International Development and, indeed, to other bilateral lenders. I wondered what you would recommend to us or what you would suggest we recommend the Department for International Development actually does about changing the way in which it tries to help agriculture to change in view of the impact of HIV/AIDS which you have been so interestingly telling us?
  (Mr du Guerny) I think we have reached a point now where we have to really mobilise the agricultural institutions.

  454. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) We have the background knowledge necessary. We have to mobilise them and that would require advocacy with ministries of agriculture, with donors, etc. Would donors be willing to support activities in this area rather than more traditional health orientated activities? Right now resources go more towards health. We need to get together ministers of agriculture, heads of departments in various fields like livestock, irrigation, to make them aware of a number of issues but also to work out what would be the policy implications and to assist in the process of developing the appropriate and most effective policies under the circumstances. I think we also need to alert the countries where prevalence in rural areas is not so high yet. If we could really stop the epidemic from developing too much in rural areas in parts of Africa, that would be an important contribution. One of the problems is that governments, institutions, everybody tends to react once the situation is bad. It is very difficult to get real prevention before you see the damage.

  455. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) Since the development activities should really be done anyway, it is not necessarily a wasted investment to do this kind of development activity if there is no epidemic. Even if there would not be it still would be good for development. So I think trying to really make ministries of agriculture aware in the countries which have not yet been hard hit is very important.

  456. Probably nowhere more important than India, for example.
  (Mr du Guerny) Yes.

  457. Or China.
  (Mr du Guerny) China, South East Asia.

  458. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) Thailand is one of the success stories but certainly countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are at high risk of having important future epidemics.

  459. Yes.
  (Mr du Guerny) They are in a situation where there is a very rapid change happening. The economic crisis is not going to last forever, they are emerging. The social upheavals due to very rapid economic development are tremendous. It is going to be a melting pot of people moving around so these are conditions which are very propitious for the development of the epidemic. I think there also it is necessary to get the ministries of agriculture on board as soon as possible. Sri Lanka also, Bangladesh, I think all those countries. I do not think it would be exactly like in Africa but the numbers there of populations are often much larger than in Africa so even small percentages result in tragedies on a large scale. It is something which should not be overlooked. Fertility has already gone down much more in those countries so it is a different demographic context. As was pointed out, the land tenure systems are different. A lot of work needs to be done. The surveys which have been done in Africa, we cannot just transpose the findings or the conclusions to South East Asia.

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