A hard rock of age
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CTA. 2002. A hard rock of age. Spore 102. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47747
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore102.pdf
In most ACP countries the proportion of old people will grow for decades yet, despite HIV/AIDS and other ills. The average age of a cocoa farmer in Ghana is 56. Is agriculture going grey?What were those seven ages of man again, those passages from...
In most ACP countries the proportion of old people will grow for decades yet, despite HIV/AIDS and other ills. The average age of a cocoa farmer in Ghana is 56. Is agriculture going grey? What were those seven ages of man again, those passages from the incredulity of birth to the inevitability of death? Something like infancy, youth, courtship and marriage? Then worker and doer, parenthood, organiser, adviser and purveyor of wisdom. Then what? Just old age, with the threshold being set, usually, at 65 years? In most ACP societies, even where that 65 years seems unattainably high, old age has long been seen as a period of rest, respect and deference; now it is a more active period. Few subjects preoccupy people more than age, whether in its absence or in its unceasing advance. Indeed, one aspect of the circles of life to which Spore regularly refers is time, and its passing. With the speed at which time flies, the pattern of life changes fast. Just imagine, more than half the people in ACP countries were born after the ACP Group was conceived in the early 1970s. The image, a very real one, of urban street corners and markets brimming with ambitious youth, of villages where groups of young people huddle and debate endlessly whether to stay or go, hides another. An image of grey, of lined faces and worn-out hands that, without full and urgent attention, will come to haunt us, as both observer and victim - if we are blessed to live that long. For while our societies are bulging with youth at one end of the demographic scale, the number of elderly people is growing fast too. In the Caribbean, above all, and in much of the Pacific, a relatively large part (12%) of the population is elderly; this will increase substantially over the next three decades. The Caribbean is often referred to as the oldest of all developing countries, according to a study for the US National Academy of Science. The nation of Barbados, for example, already has a European-style proportion (11%) of its population over the age of 65. In Jamaica, famous for the longevity of some of its citizens, the proportion is more modest, 7%. Official UN forecasts predict that this will double in the next 30 years. Or even sooner: in Jamaica, as with other countries of the region and beyond which saw massive flows of migrants to Europe and North America from the 1950s onwards, the phenomenon of inward return migration is taking hold as migrants return home to retire where the heart has, after all, always belonged. Migration, from young states Is it a twist of fate that today s flows of migrants to the North are from the late starters in the migration game, mainly Africa and east and central Asia? They too are being encouraged, in a tortuous and often demagogic yes but, no but dance by European politicians to travel to the North because of this same phenomenon of greying ; in countries such as Italy and Sweden, almost one in five (18%) people is over 65 and unwilling or unable to work. The high level of migration from Africa, and of internal rural-urban flows of people, reflect the continent s relatively high fertility rates where population has grown at an annual average of 2.4% since the 1950s. At current rates, Africa s population (760 million in 2002) will double by the year 2035. This surge in the number of young people hides the growth in the number of elderly people. Their share of overall population has scarcely grown, but their actual numbers have: the UN Economic Commission for Africa predicts that 'the size of the elderly population is expected to jump more than 70%, from 16.6 million to 28.6 million persons over the period 1995-2015'. Among the countries expected to join the ranks of Nigeria, where there will be more than 2 million elderly people by 2030, are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Africa and Sudan. Has AIDS changed all this? But, many ask, hasn t HIV/AIDS changed this landscape?? Yes, it has cut its murderous path through whole age groups, but these days the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa is usually taken into account in demographic analyses, unlike even 5 years ago. The message is chilling: Botswana has seen its average life expectancy rise from the mid-30s in 1955 to 59 years old by 1998, only to be literally cut back to a predicted 44 years old by 2015. The population growth rates of many a sub-Saharan African country have, thus, been severely dented for a few years. With the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Africa apparently decreasing and under some sort of control, the effect on the elderly part of society has two distinct characteristics. First of all, over the next generation or two, there will be the despair-inducing loss of sometimes half a country s productive labour - not only in terms of deaths, but also of the losses of other people s time and resources which are occasioned by these deaths. There are more than 10 million AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, many in rural areas. Their relationships with adults are with overwhelmed second aunts and uncles who find themselves having to care for their deceased siblings offspring (and which Spore reader does not recognise this?), and with the elderly, who have been less exposed to the virus. In the longer term, over five or more decades, callous though it may sound, that HIV/AIDS dent in population growth will probably be made up. One-fifth of sub-Saharan Africa s population is between 15 and 24 years old, and fertile. Unless another, even more horrific scourge or implosion takes place, many of these young people will make it through to old age. And when they get there, they will find the sad scenario which is being rehearsed today. Helping hands no more Today s elderly find themselves caught between several rocks and hard places: their naturally waning health; increased responsibilities of caring for and educating grandchildren; more agricultural tasks; a breakdown of the normal social support systems from their families, and reduced support from a State apparatus which has been decimated by both structural adjustment programmes and HIV/AIDS. Many smallholdings now depend largely on the young and the elderly for labour and energy. In such circumstances, there is little hope of building up reserves, whether financial or food. Farm production is mainly for survival consumption and less for the market. The reduced mobility of the young and the elderly makes that market ever more distant. That famous utterance by the delegate from Benin at a preparatory meeting of the World Summit on Sustainable Development - 'instead of giving a man a fish, we now have not only to teach him how to fish, but also how to market it' - is even further away from reality. This is no foundation for a surging agricultural sector. Time to redesign Even in less dramatic circumstances, the phenomenon of ageing in agriculture throws up three key issues. The first, a recurrent plea in Spore, relates to changes in farming methods, logistics and equipment and the need to adapt processes and tools to the mechanics of elderly - and youthful - bodies. These so-called ergonomic options of redesign must become an essential response to the unrecognised greying of many rural ACP communities. They should include technological developments with tools and instruments, tillage practices and harvesting techniques; and research on less intensive cultivation processes with fewer and lighter operations. As yet, this area has not yet been addressed in detail by such welcome new age-focus programmes as the HelpAge International network, which embraces 49 developing countries. Second, measures are needed to help the elderly to encourage the young to farm. And third, the respect factor, where strategies about deference and dignity need to actually lighten the load on the elderly. Here, it is a question of adding in aged components in local health care, micro-insurance and even micro-pension schemes run by micro-finance agencies. Such initiatives, few in number, are coming from those concerned with labour and working conditions, such as the International Labour Organisation in eastern Africa. Look to them. Look elsewhere too, for the most interesting can sometimes come from the most unexpected. The process of greying has already visited thousands of farms in the North. There, surely, lies a wealth of sad experiences to be shared in solidarity, between farmers organisations amongst others. Ageing is one of life s little basics, one thing that unites us. [caption to illustration] Experience, patience and wisdom three key assets in our social capital Contact HelpAge International for details of (regional) networks HAI PO Box 32832, London, N1 9ZN, UK Fax: + 44 207 713 7993 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.helpage.org [summary points] Policy highlights Ensure ageing farmers have continued access to educational, financial and infrastructural services; Encourage small-scale enterprises and local financial services; Connections to the information society; Ensure the rights of older women; Appropriate social security measures. From recommendations concerning the rural elderly; UN Second World Assembly on Ageing, Madrid, Spain, April 2002