Parallel insights from the Himalayas and the Tanzanian coast, on agricultural-research-for-development field work

04 Mar 2014 by Jo Cadilhon

I have travelled recently to visit two new ILRI Graduate fellows I am supervising. They have spent two months in the field with the IFAD-funded MilkIT project, which is enhancing dairy-based livelihoods in India and Tanzania through feed innovation and value chain development approaches. This research is linked to the CGIAR Research Programs on Livestock and Fish and Humidtropics. Our aim is to gather data that will help us validate a model useful for the impact assessment of innovation platforms. Despite the two very different field settings they were immersed in, both graduate fellows have been able to share relevant lessons with each other and the project hosting them.

Pham Ngoc DiepPham Ngoc Diep is a Vietnamese MSc candidate in Agricultural and Food Economics at the University of Bonn in Germany. Diep is passionate about working for farmers. She already had agricultural development experience in Vietnam and Thailand before joining ILRI but her motivation to take an MSc course and this fellowship was to learn about research methods and tools that she could use in relevant ways for her agricultural development work. She has been diligently going through the traditional steps of a research protocol: two months of literature review and developing questionnaires, two months of field surveys in Tanga Region of Tanzania and she is now inputting her data before analysis and interpretation to write up scientific publications.

Coming from an urban background, Diep liked having had to stay for an extended period with farming communities to collect her data. This experience will help her work better with farmers in future because she has witnessed and appreciated their daily schedule, how they communicated, how they saw, understood and interpreted things. Diep hopes to use this new skill in future when working with farmers in other countries. Diep was particularly challenged by the need to work with interpreters because she could not speak the local language. Having used local extension officers as interpreters, Diep had to think all the time about the possible bias they were introducing into the questions and answers exchanged with the dairy producers with whom they also interacted as part of their regular professional activities. Although the breezy seaside guesthouse she stayed in in the coastal city of Tanga was very pleasant, Diep suffered from the arid heat when working in districts further inland.

ShankerThe other student working in parallel did not have problems of language or overheating. Shanker Subedi is currently studying agricultural economics at the University of Hohenheim in Germany. He is Nepalese with some previous rural development experience in his country and some knowledge of Hindi. So Shanker felt completely at home during his field work interviewing smallholder dairy producers in Himalayan villages of Uttarakhand State in Northern India. He got along very well with the villagers in whose home he would stay  and whose food he would share, for a small fee.

For Shanker, this experience in the field was an opportunity to put agricultural research for development into practice. He felt his social status had been raised while there by the fact that he could share relevant prior agricultural development experience he had from Nepal with the project partners: the viewpoint of an experienced youth was valuable. However, Shanker was more affected by the remote location of his fieldwork setting. The 3G key he had bought – and which was supposed to work where he went, according to the telecoms shop seller – turned out not to pick up any signal so his computer did not have internet access when staying in the villages; he had to rely on his smartphone to stay connected.

Shanker reported suffering from the bitter cold during the Himalayan winter while in the field: he could not work in the evenings because his hands would go numb from typing in the freezing air. The cold nights also made it difficult for him to sleep restfully at night. And then his laptop broke down and he had to travel for two days to the nearest city to get it fixed and lost some of his files in the process.

Both Diep and Shanker are now back in sunny and cool Nairobi. They are now working hard on their data analysis and write-up for their MSc thesis or fellowship report, which are due beginning of April.

Jo Cadilhon
Senior Agro-economist,
Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI