Adventure in Tanzania: Fieldwork amid the pandemic

Mambo (what’s up in Swahili)! I’m Kendisha, a doctoral student from Indonesia under the WoodCluster project. This year, amid the pandemic, I was finally able to undertake fieldwork in Tanzania, from March 8th (which is women’s day) until June 5th (environment day). My topic is about the potential role of forest farmers’ organizations in linking smallholder tree growers to a more structured market in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia and Tanzania). During the fieldwork, I basically replicated the methods I conducted in my first fieldwork in southern Ethiopia in 2019, with – naturally – adjustments to the local conditions.

Conducting a focus group discussion with smallholder tree growers (©S. Chidodo)

I’m grateful for the opportunity to return to Tanzania again after my first trip in 2018 for the WoodCluster Summer and Field School. My adventure in Tanzania this year began with something historical for the country: a week after my arrival, Tanzania’s late President Magufuli passed away and the then Vice-President Samia took over the presidency. The country was then in a state of mourning for three weeks. Although it meant that some things were slowed down, but I used this time productively. I finalized my first PhD publication, participated in a panel discussion online, explored the Uluguru Mountains in Morogoro, while organizing the logistics for the fieldwork itself.

View of Morogoro from the Uluguru Mountain (©K. Hintz)

In the context of the pandemic, Tanzania was, at the time of my stay, quite an outlier country. Corona-related restrictions that were in force in Germany were not in place. So, coming from the long, lockdown winter in Germany to tropical, pre-Covid life in Tanzania (plus the demise of the late president) was interesting to witness. What a time to be alive!

After about a month staying at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, I headed to the field in Igowole Ward, Mufindi District, with my colleagues, Kosei and Chidodo. In a team of three, we conducted focus group discussions, household interviews and several key informant interviews. We investigated why smallholder tree growers would be willing to participate in a “forest farmers’ organization” or, synonymously, “tree growers’ association” (TGA) in the context of Tanzania. Furthermore, we worked together with an existing beekeeping group to explore in what way they would be interested to transform into a TGA, and how such an association would be structured in terms of the organizational governance and business model.

The field work team by Lake Ngwazi in Igowole (©K. Hintz)

In contrast to the study site in Ethiopia, that in Tanzania has a more established institutional support structure for TGAs, such as from the Participatory Plantation Forestry Programme (PFP2), among others. TGAs exist across the country and are organized under an umbrella organization, Tanzania Tree Growers’ Association (TTGAU). Hence, the awareness is more present in comparison to the case in Ethiopia. Almost 90% of the interviewed farmers expressed they would be willing to participate in a TGA.

As in other fieldwork, you face challenges. This very fieldwork was initially planned to be held in northern Ethiopia in March 2020, but I obviously had to cancel it due to the start of the pandemic. Due to the prevalent difficulties to do fieldwork in Ethiopia, I changed my second study site to Tanzania. Recently I was involved in a paper about “crisis-induced disruptions in place-based social-ecological research – an opportunity for redirection”, and, indeed, it is now time to rethink how we do place-based social-ecological research. There is ample opportunity to, among others, decarbonize and decolonize place-based research, such as doing it remotely and recruiting local partners. While conducting fieldwork remotely in my case would theoretically be possible, but the social and cultural interaction inherent to fieldwork is irreplaceable. I find it indispensable for a young scientist like myself to develop such skills. My journey in pursuing the doctoral degree has been more than just an academic one. It has definitely expanded my horizons, honed my soft skills, and it’s been quite a test of mental and emotional resilience. Nothing worth having comes easy. 🙂

Asanteni sana (= thank you very much) to Prof. Mombo and Prof. Ngaga for the warm welcome at SUA and facilitating my stay; to my SUA colleagues Kosei Masaka and Beatus Temu for all the support and organizing so many things even prior to my stay, and to Simon Chidodo too for the enrichment to the team; to the farmers and hamlet & village leaders in Igowole, and the key informants for the time and cooperation; and fellow friends pursuing the “Reforest” PhD program at SUA for the company; and of course, Prof. Pretzsch, my supervisor, for the guidance.  

By Kendisha S. Hintz

%d bloggers like this: