SPECIAL PROJECTS
 
2nd December 2004.
Farmers’ body tackles AIDS through peers

By Halima Abdallah
WEEKLY OBSERVER

Alice Nakku, a farmer from Gala village, Mutumba sub county, in Mpigi district has 11 HIV/AIDS orphans whom she looks after together with her husband. But she is already worried as she expects four more orphans shortly.

TOP: Alice Nakku checks on her chicks at her home in Mpigi

Nakku has a reason to worry; her sister in-law who was looking after her brother’s four children is now also bed-ridden with AIDS.

Nakku’s brother died earlier and Nakku is the only person remaining to take up the additional orphans once her sister-in-law dies.

Until she started taking AIDS orphans, Nakku maintained her family of two children without difficulties. From her harvest of bananas, sweet potatoes, maize, coffee, beans and poultry, she also sold the surplus to meet other family needs. But today, everything that she produces is consumed at home because of her larger family.

“I cannot have the children starve while I sell food. I buy some food from families with surpluses then resale in Mpigi town [for a small profit],” she said.

Nakku is a farmer, and like other farmers around the country, she has recently received some basic training from the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) on handling and creating awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Initially, there was no direct body that addressed HIV/AIDS among peasant-farmers, who constitute the vast majority of Uganda’s 27 million people. The rural farmers were left to only shock-absorb the disastrous effects of HIV/AIDS, because the village is where the dead are laid to rest and orphans left behind.

Alice Nakku attending to her banana plantation
Nuha Mwesigwa UNFFE’s Director of Policy and Institutional Development/National Project Coordinator - UNFFE HIV/AIDS Programme

Armed with the knowledge from her training on HIV/AIDS, Nakku has been passing on the message to fellow farmers, some of who are members of a local association, Munno mu Byonna (a friend in every thing). The association was formed after families realised they had similar AIDS-related problems; of frequent funerals and orphans, among others.

Nakku also vends condoms provided by the farmers’ federation in the manner that is acceptable in the village setting.
The federation took up HIV/AIDS issues and training three years ago in response to a plea from the farmers themselves. The farmers were not only shock absorbing the burden of dead relatives and AIDS orphans, they were also getting infected in large numbers.

Using Shs 210.0 million initially provided from the Uganda Aids Commission, the federation started preparing districts on how to start HIV/AIDS campaigns and mainstreaming their programmes on HIV/AIDS.

For 2004, the Global Fund (for AIDS, TB and Malaria) has so far given Shs 241.0 million for the federation’s HIV/AIDS activities out of an allocation of 406.0 million. But that still falls far short of the federation’s aspirations to address the crisis among farmers. Mr. Nuha Mwesigwa, the Director of Policy and Institutional Development who also is the National Project Coordinator UNFFE AIDS Program Support, explains that where as the organization is set to effectively participate in AIDS Control Campaign, it is lacking adequate resource to meet the necessary interventions among farmers.
Mwesigwa explained that UNFFE activities are well coordinated up to the household levels and more funding would give the federation strength to reach out to the very last person.
The federation is in charge of entire farming communities in the country.

Despite the good start, the federation faces many new challenges, especially on how to handle farmers who test positive for HIV yet the anti-retroviral drugs, testing facilities and condoms are not adequately supplied in the villages.

There is also need for enhanced awareness campaigns.
For the farmers, the loss of energy to cultivate is the biggest challenge because they have no alternative jobs.
Mwesigwa suggests that a less labour intensive means of cultivation, like the use of oxen and supporting farmers with input supplies to growing of high value crops, be introduced to farmers who are HIV+, adding that assured markets for their produce would also help them manage the virus more effectively as incomes are assured.

“The Federation Extension System needs to be facilitated with for example bicycles at Parish Level to carry out an effective Home Based Care/ Visit to affected and infected households. We would be in position to as well collect data about those bedridden, how many have died, how many are attending clinics, how many are accessing ARVs, counselling services, one indeed who needs support and the like,” said Mwesigwa.

“In turn, this information would be passed to UNFFE headquarters through District Based structures to be processed and forwarded to appropriate organs for Policy Review, and direction for better alternatives to the campaign,” he added. The federation has now introduced a different way of creating awareness among the peasant community - through peer-to-peer initiatives using their Extension Link Farmers (ELFs).

“The approach was bad from the start. Sex is a secret. That is how people are born. Nobody in the village wants to talk about sex in the open,” said Mr Daniel Wanzala, vice president at UNFFE.

The farmers now use peer-to-peer discussions on HIV/AIDS, where each group uses the appropriate words from the rich local vocabulary to talk about sex and HIV.

This is because people can change behaviour when they get involved in the awareness creation processes. The farmers’ new approach to HIV/AIDS has inevitably increased the demand for condoms and the need for more counsellors and more information on HIV/AIDS.

To respond to their demands, UNFFE has ordered for 1000 cartons of condoms for distribution to farmers but current shortage in the country is frustrating the efforts.
The federation, however, has a long way to go in educating the farmers on HIV/AIDS because in districts such as Bundibugyo, awareness is still very limited with some farmers hearing of the HIV/AIDS awareness for the very first time.

In neighbouring Kasese district, the farmers are aware, but are often confused by born again Christians preaching who claim the epidemic and opportunistic diseases that follow are curable by prayers. The farmers in this region are also still reluctant to use condoms, according to the federation’s findings.

In Kalangala district, the fishing community think that gonorrhoea and syphilis are more deadly than HIV/AIDS.
“In Kalangala, fishermen know about HIV/AIDS, but do not know about the dangers. They think syphilis and gonorrhoea are more dangerous,” said UNFFE project accountant, Ms Dora Acio.
However, farmers in Mpigi and Busia are very aware of the pandemic and are demanding for more information and better services.

habdallah@ugandaobserver.com