Experts from necessity : agricultural knowledge of children orphaned by AIDS in the Couffo region, Benin

R.C. Fagbemissi

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Chapter 1 sketches the general background of the study. The study tests
the hypothesis that HIV and AIDS not only impairs or modifies farmers’
agroecological knowledge base, but also impairs or modifies their strategies to
mobilize knowledge and resources. The research mainly aims to understand
agricultural knowledge and practices among children orphaned by AIDS,
consecutive to widespread interest in and concern about erosion of agricultural
knowledge in AIDS-affected communities. Such a possible loss of knowledge
could be detrimental for the children of farm households. Therefore, the focus
is on studying possible intergenerational differences in knowledge between
categories of child farmers and those of adult farmers, and analyze various
causes that could explain these differences. The study is situated in the Couffo
region, in south-west Benin. This region has a relatively high HIV prevalence
rate. Chapter 2 presents the conceptual framework for the study, and introduces
the main concepts, namely agricultural knowledge, problem-solving processes
and the linkages between social networks, resources and agricultural practices.
The design of the study is articulated around the concepts of ‘knowledge in
stock’ and ‘knowledge in action.’ Knowledge as a stock represents the contents
of people’s minds while knowledge as action makes refers to the way knowledge
is applied in solving agricultural problems. This is reflected in how people
understand a problem and develop practices to solve it. The chapter highlights
that the way people solve a problem depends on their stocks of knowledge
and on their capacity to develop different kind of strategies to effectively solve
that problem. Chapter 3 provides an overview of the study design and the
methodology used in the research process. The overall methodology, which
was used is a mixed model approach. This approach combines qualitative and
quantitative methods for data collection and analyses. It draws upon methods
and techniques in ethnobiology and ethnoecology.
Chapter 4 examines the magnitude of AIDS-related orphanhood in the Couffo
by focusing on the demographic and livelihood characteristics of households
containing children orphaned by AIDS. The aim is to understand orphans’
everyday life situations and to provide insights into the diversity of orphans
and the way this diversity affects various responses to mitigating the impact of
AIDS. Basic typologies, which are used by the care organizations, formed the
entry point for conducting a household census. The result of the census shows
the diversity among the children orphaned by AIDS. Particularly, it is shown
that the majority of the orphans live in small households, which comprise
of four or fewer members, and that most of these households are headed by female adults who are often the main care providers to the orphans. The main
livelihood activities of the orphaned households consist of farming (mainly
maize, cowpea and cassava) or small business, and in very few cases, livestock
raising and off-farm labor. The census found a total of 322 AIDS-related
orphans, aged from 0 to 14 years, and living within 88 households. Seventyone
percent of them are under the care of their mothers and grandmothers,
68% are paternal orphans, 58% are between the ages of 7 and 12, and 68% are
in primary school. These households are, to a large extent registered within
local platforms for that offer direct or indirect access to formal care services
implemented by national and international institutions. Support from the
extended family includes more affective components such as frequent visits,
or providing help during an intensive farm activity period or offering moral
caution to borrow money. During the study of orphans’ typologies, it was noted
that an important part of the children that had been counted were no longer
living in their initial households. The investigation of these movements of
the children shows that orphan mobility is rooted in various factors among
which are the main livelihood activity of the household, the gender of the
orphan’s main care giver, the amount of the household’s farm land, the age of
the orphan and his/her contribution to farming activities. These parameters
play an important role within the phenomena of orphans’ mobility and must
be taken into consideration when designing appropriate care for rural orphans
and their households. It is also found that some specific services are needed
for the community members, with respect to managing conflict and tensions
that could arise with the management of orphanhood, and that female caregivers
deserve special attention and protection with respect to their access to
land and other productive resources.
Chapter 5 and 6 report on the differences in stocks of pests knowledge among
maize and cowpea child and adult farmers. The ethnoecological perspective
is used to uncover and explain child and adult farmers’ ability to name
maize pests, through the analysis of their cognitive salience index (Sutrop’s
CSI). Farmers’ perceptions and experiences of maize and cowpea pests are
also investigated through the analysis of their life words. The intention is to
systematically check the assumption of intergenerational loss of traditional
agricultural knowledge linked to the impact of AIDS on farming communities.
The results of the CSI analysis in Chapter 5 indicate that children orphaned
by AIDS are more knowledgeable than non-orphaned. One-parent orphans
residing with the surviving parent are more knowledgeable than double
orphans farming on their own. Non-affected adults and their children are the
ones with the lowest CSI scores compared to affected adults and orphans.
These are rather positive findings in opposition to what was assumed. Results
in Chapter 6 show that Adja farmers use various descriptors to reflect on
their perceptions and experiences about pests in maize and cowpea farms.
Precisely, eight types of descriptors are extracted from pile sort exercises and
the consecutive follow-up conversations with farmers according to the groups
they belong to (AIDS affection status and generations, that is, affected/nonaffected
and child/adult). These descriptors are constructed from a rich and
diverse body of semantics, that proves to be related to AIDS affection status,
especially among the children. Further analysis shows that these descriptors
are generally based on the form and/or function associated to the pests, and
reflect individual farmer’s expertise about their agroecology. In fact, not only
do these descriptors reveal farmers’ knowledge of pests, but they also enlighten
us on farmers’ day-to-day relations with those pests while struggling to protect
their harvest. One of the findings is the importance of the proximity of at
least one biological parent and the quality of the relationship adult-child in
the formation of child expertise. The disaggregated analysis of the domains of
child expertise given their use of descriptors shows that double orphans are
less expert compared to non-orphans with respect to pest damages on maize
(p < 0.05), and compared to one-parent orphans for aspects linked to pest
control (p < 0.05). In all, non-orphans seem to have similarities with affected
adults, and use more functional items in their perceptions of pests, while
orphans, especially one-parent orphans seem to have commonalities with
non-affected adults with an equal use of form and function. This last point
suggests that there could be an alternative route of expertise building among
the one-parent orphans. Meanwhile, double orphans, making more use of
form descriptors, seem to build their expertise from the observation of the
natural order.
Chapter 7 uncovers differential strategies used by farmers, especially the
orphans, to access and use agricultural knowledge and their pest control
practices. The aim is to examine the process through which farmers of various
AIDS-affection statuses solve pest problems. In this process, the emphasis is
put on how they identify the pest problem, diagnose its cause, choose among
available solutions, and on the actions they eventually take to solve the pest
problem. The study shows significant differences between affected and nonaffected
adults, between orphans and non-orphans, and between adults and
children in many aspects. The results show that individual farmers are more
competent in identifying a pest problem than understanding the causes of
that problem. With respect to causes identification, there are differences
between orphans and non-orphans, between affected and non-affected adults,
and between adults and children. Farmers’ choices of solutions are based
on their perceptions of the causes, and their expectations (motivations for
226 growing cowpea). They, therefore, use criteria accordingly to choose among
the available options. Although Adja cowpea farmers often rely on, and have
confidence in the use of existing homogenous technological packages to deal
with pest infestation, it is important to note that the solutions basket of the
affected adults has a more diverse content. The study also found differences
in the types of material resources and equipment of farmers given their AIDS
status and generation. While the orphans predominantly report the possession
of small sprayers, some of the non-orphans simply use domestic containers
such as basins together with branches of palm trees to spray insecticide on
their cowpea farms. Non-affected adults have bigger sprayers (sprayers with
a pump) at their disposal, compared to affected adults. Farmers use several
ways to get knowledge and information. The important role of cowpea for
farm households justifies farmers’ strategies to mobilize knowledge and non
knowledge resources for managing cowpea pests. However, it is important
to signal that non-affected households mostly cultivate cowpea for market
purposes, while affected households give this crop an important weight in
household’s food stocks, in addition to the possible sale of surplus on the market.
This apparent single versus dual purpose is to be linked to the combination
of poverty and AIDS. Hence, affected and non-affected farmers’ strategies to
solve cowpea pest problem is linked to the importance they confer to it as either
means of generating income or that of diversifying household food resources.
For instance, the fact that affected farmers give an important weight to cowpea
in household food security architecture obliges them to be cautious with the
use of harmful solutions such as spraying cotton insecticide on cowpea plants.
In this line, it is found that one fifth of the AIDS- affected adult farmers only
report the use of insecticides that are specifically recommended to be applied
on cowpea plants. Further results show that farmers of different AIDS statuses
use diverse connections to mobilize resources to address pest problems. This
eventually evolves into differential perceptions and abilities in understanding
the kind of pests in the farms, identifying the causes, and addressing pest
problems based on their differential social realities and agency.
Chapter 8 reflects on the most important findings and presents some
general implications of the study for scholars, rural development agents and
care providing institutions. The overall conclusion from the thesis is that
there is little evidence to confirm the hypothesis of knowledge decline and/or
a break in inter-generational knowledge transfer. In fact, the pattern suggested
by this study is that orphans in Couffo tend to be more knowledgeable in
the domain of pest management than both their non-orphan peers and
adults. This conclusion is more pronounced for single orphans, especially for
paternal orphans, than for double orphans, who seem to be in a relatively
more vulnerable position with respect to the acquisition of agroecological
knowledge. The need and necessity of being engaged in agricultural practices,
and the quality of interactions with an adult teacher, are important explanations
for this.
The chapter further elaborates on the need to redefine childhood and to
consider orphans in the 10 to 14 years age range as pre-adults given that they
have specific needs and are drawn into adult responsibilities. The existence of
AIDS is also analyzed as a possible door of opportunities for improving rural
livelihoods. Analyzing vulnerability can also consist of examining what works
and how to strengthen those existing local responses, with a special attention
to the orphans and their guardians. This leads to examining innovative
approaches that could help to effectively mainstream children orphaned by
AIDS within rural development policies and agendas.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Leeuwis, Cees, Promotor
  • Price, L.L.M., Co-promotor, External person
  • Lie, Rico, Co-promotor
Award date30 Sep 2010
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085856092
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • knowledge
  • agriculture
  • children
  • orphans
  • acquired immune deficiency syndrome
  • agricultural households
  • ethnobotany
  • indigenous knowledge
  • pests
  • benin
  • west africa
  • least developed countries
  • generations
  • farmers' knowledge
  • livelihood strategies

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