Over the summer, I have travelled across the Western Hemisphere to visit two new ILRI Graduate fellows I am supervising. They are spending two-and-a-half months in the field to help us validate a model useful for the impact assessment of innovation platforms. This research is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).
One student is investigating the Tanzania Dairy Development Forum and is hosted in Tanzania by the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. The second student is evaluating the Nicaragua Learning Alliance and is working in collaboration with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Nicaragua, with co-funding from the Humidtropics CGIAR Research Program. Despite the two very different field settings, they are both using the monitoring and evaluation conceptual framework on national-level innovation platforms and thus have to travel across Tanzania and Nicaragua to collect their data.
Embracing the field adventure
Kennedy Kago is a Kenyan MSc candidate in Agricultural Economics at Egerton University in Kenya. Ken already had ample experience of applied research in agricultural economics before his fellowship at ILRI; he had already been involved in various research projects in Kenya and had undertaken field data collection and statistical analyses. Nevertheless, his time in the field still led to experiencing new situations and learning from them.
In past projects, Ken had worked within a large research group so other people were organizing interviews for him; he just needed to show up at the right time to conduct the interview with the respondent. But this time, Ken was on his own to study the impact of the Tanzania Dairy Development Forum on the market access of Tanzanian dairy actors and on the nurturing of smaller innovation platforms at regional and milk-shed levels.
Ken, Dar es Salaam’s traffic jams and the sea
He had to plan the whole research and fieldwork schedule by himself, thus gaining experience in managing a field research project. Ken also gained ‘people skills’ from his time in the field. Working at national level with very busy dairy industry actors, he realized that it was easier – at least in Tanzania – to drop into the office of a potential respondent unannounced with his official letter of introduction from the Tanzania Dairy Board, explain his research and ask for an immediate interview or for an appointment for an interview later. This strategy had a better chance of resulting in completing an interview.
When he tried calling beforehand and introducing himself by phone, respondents were more likely to refuse the interview or, worse, to agree on an appointment but not show up for the actual interview. In Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania, it was particularly difficult to manage a tight interview schedule: many respondents cancelled interviews at the last minute because of their busy schedules and this messed up Ken’s work plan.
The city’s legendary traffic jams did not help. This was in contrast to interviews conducted in other Tanzanian regions where dairy actors were more easily available. Tanzania being a very large country, Ken travelled from city to city using public inter-city buses, switching to motorbike taxis or tuktuks for local transport. Having grown up in the Kenyan highlands, Ken saw the sea for the first time during his time in Dar! As Kenya and Tanzania share Kiswahili as a language, Ken had no problem at all blending into the local context.
A ‘blanquito’ in Nicaragua
The other student working in parallel in Nicaragua could not stick out more from the local population. A pale-skin and ginger-haired German, Dirk Landmann said his ‘blanquito’ appearance actually helped open doors to conduct his field research on the impact of the Nicaragua Learning Alliance on capacity development of Nicaraguian farmers to understand and participate in agrifood value chains. Dirk is currently studying agribusiness at the University of Göttingen in Germany. Although he had no past research experience, he had a very good educational background on agribusiness, which he had put into practice with several practical internships across Latin America.
I shadowed him during three days as he conducted individual interviews with representatives of coffee farmers’ cooperatives and I was impressed by his ability to use his excellent spoken Spanish to joke his way and make his local respondents comfortable before interviews. After identifying that using public buses would not be efficient to complete his interview schedule across the country, Dirk requested an authorization to purchase a second-hand motorbike and protective gear so that he could travel more easily to the remote locations where he would find the farmers’ cooperatives he was supposed to interview as part of his project.
Thanks to this cross-country transport means, Dirk has managed to speed up his interview yield in the regions where there are many cooperatives to be surveyed. By getting up early and finishing work late, he has sometimes managed to complete seven individual questionnaires per day. He particularly enjoyed meeting the local people and uncovering the components that characterize trust building between actors in the agrifood value chains of Nicaragua. However, Dirk’s start in the field was not easy.
A tough test
He first felt rather alone when having to meet the national respondents who had to share their learning alliance members’ lists with him. When he met three senior representatives from the Foundation for the development of agriculture and forestry technology in Nicaragua (FUNICA), he felt very uncomfortable by the one-hour-and-a-half grilling session he had to endure where he defended his research project, the conceptual framework used and the data collection method chosen.
Having left this difficult meeting feeling rather depressed, he was pleasantly surprised to realize afterwards that he had actually convinced these local partners who then were extremely helpful to plan his interview schedule in the different regions of the country where they were active in developing capacities of farmers’ cooperatives, and to arrange meetings with more potential survey respondents. Dirk found that having prepared a one-page flyer presenting his research project was very helpful to introduce himself to his interview respondents.
Both Ken and Dirk have had to extend their stay in the field because of the slow start they both faced due to the difficulty in interviewing busy national-level actors of agrifood value chains. This means they will have to work extra hard on their data analysis and write-up for their first MSc thesis drafts, which are due by the end of their ILRI fellowship beginning of December.
By Jo Cadilhon, Senior Agro-economist, Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI.