Dan Brockington is leading an ESRC/DFID project exploring long-term livelihood change in Tanzania to revisit sites first surveyed in the 1990s. We try and talk to the same families that were visited in the original surveys, conducting re-surveys and then sharing results and findings with community members. One of the features of this work is that we also visit these sites with the researchers who conducted the first work. Here we have re-blogged a series of entries and reflections about these revisits in which researchers consider what changes they have seen and what they might mean.

The second blog in the series is from Olivia Howland, Post-Doctoral Research Associate on the project. In February and March 2016, Olivia and Torben Birch Thomsen did fieldwork in the project’s  second study site in Tanzania.  Ikuwala village is located in Kililo District in Iringa Region, in the beautiful southern highlands. 

I drove to meet Torben on the Sunday, and we spent the afternoon and evening going through the ODK surveys and learning how the tablets work.  Mwanyika, Torben’s long-time field assistant and translator, sat with us to go through the plan for the research over the next two weeks.  Torben was only going to be with us until Thursday, when he had to fly back to Denmark, so we needed to make the most of his insights and experience in a relatively short window of time.

On going through the survey, we realized that much of it would not work in Ikuwala village.  The immediate issue was that tomatoes did not feature on the crop list.  I had designed the survey based on what I had learned from our first study site, Gitting, near Mount Hanang, much further north, where farmers do not grow tomatoes.  Torben explained that tomatoes are the main source of income for farmers here in Ikuwala, and were a major cash crop.  Furthermore, the harvest is not measured in gunias, or sacks, as I had indicated on the survey: here they are measured in tengas.

I had never heard of a tenga.  A tenga is a large, open weave basket made with bamboo strips.  These are filled with the tomato harvest and carried by lorry or motorcycle to the nearby TASAF market in Ilula to be sold to traders and individuals from all over East Africa.

There were many other mistakes and problems with the survey, so I spent the following day in something of a panic attempting to recode it and get it onto the tablets in time for our domestic unit surveys to be administered on the Wednesday.

On the Monday we visited the various local government offices to explain the research and to request permission to undertake research activities in the area.  Armed with my letters from The University of Dar es Salaam, and the Regional Government Offices, we made sure that all local officials were well informed and happy for us to go ahead with our work.

On the Tuesday we conducted focus groups.  We wanted to ask people in Ikuwala about the meanings of wealth and poverty, about what wealth groups there might be in the village, and about the definitions of a household.  We did one group with women and one with men. We had planned for two of each – one older, and one younger, but this seemed to be confusing and we ended up with only one mixed age group of each gender.  This worked well and we got lots of excellent discussion and conflicting opinions, which led to debates – really great in focus group contexts as it helps us to understand differing opinions.

The rest of the two weeks were spent undertaking domestic unit interviews with every household from Torben’s original list.  His fieldwork in Ikuwala was conducted in 1996, but he has spent time there on different projects both before and since then, so he and Mwanyika are fairly familiar faces there.  The joy with which most people greeted Mwanyika meant that interviewing was an easy and largely fruitful task.  These existing relationships with communities are invaluable for our project.

Torben left on the Thrsday and Mwanyika and I continued with the interviews.  About half of the people on the list were relatively easy to find.  They had not moved from their original household since 1996, and many of the household heads from 1996 are still living.  It will be interesting at the analysis stage to see who has changed their wealth status, either up or down, and to try and work out from the qualitative element of the interviews what might have caused these changes.

The rest of the people on the list were harder to locate.  Some had moved, but only to the nearby town of Ilula, or to other villages close by, so with a bit of hunting, we managed to find them.  A small number, six or seven, had died, their children had moved away, and so the original household had broken up.  These people we did not locate since we are interested in the history of the household since 1996, and if that unit no longer exists we cannot resurvey them.

Since we are currently in the rainy season, or just after it, a significant proportion of people were out every day at their shambas (farms) and so I drove out to find them.  One particularly memorable interview was with a man who owns three tractors and has a very large farm.  He grows tomatoes and employs casual labourers to weed and harvest.  He was certainly one of the wealthier people who we interviewed.  Another was with a man who we had tried for several days to locate.  He has two wives and so two separate domestic units, yet he currently lives alone at his shamba.  It was a long drive down winding paths in the bush, which got narrower and narrower until I could go no further as the ‘road’ had really turned into nothing more than a tiny footpath.  However, we found his hut in a thick grove of bamboo.  It is a hut made of bamboo with a grass thatched roof and no belongings.  He was seated outside in the shade of the bamboo thickets, wearing an old crochet hat and a thick jacket – rather overdressed for the searing midday heat.

Of course he remembered Mwanyika, and they spent several minutes catching up on the past twenty years and the various developments in their families.  He seems to live alone here for much of his time because he taps ulanzi, an alcoholic drink made from the sap of the bamboo.  The longer it sits, the more alcoholic it becomes, as it continues to ferment.  Nothing is added to it, and to the Hehe people (the local tribe) it is thought of as a gift from God.

Our interviewee used to sell ulanzi and make some money from this, but now he says everyone is doing it, so there is no longer any money to be made from the drink.  He stays out here at his shamba much of the time drinking alone or with friends and complained that he had no food here.  He survives by drinking ulanzi and going back to one of his wives occasionally.

On one day in Ikuwala, we only managed to do two interviews.  This was because there was a funeral in the neighbouring village.  An old lady had died, and left around a hundred grandchildren and great grandchildren, so this was a very important ceremony to attend.  Ikuwala was like a ghost town, with almost all the inhabitants at the funeral.  The funeral would go on for three days, but the first day was the most important to attend, so for the next three days we really struggled to interview anyone.

The fieldwork in Ikuwala is now complete.  It took exactly two weeks.  We have a huge amount of data to go through, including focus groups, wealth rankings, surveys, qualitative interviews, and secondary domestic unit data (that is, people who have moved from the original domestic units since 1996 and started their own independent domestic unit).  This will take some time.  But it is clear that tomatoes have been a major source of income for farmers in Ikuwala.  The market for them has grown, prices have increased, and now that motorcycles are the ubiquitous form of transport, almost all producers are able to access markets cheaply and easily.  So, tomatoes and tengas were an important addition to our survey!

My next destination is Gitting, where I am meeting again with Vesa Matti-Loiske to continue our fieldwork there.  The fieldwork has become much more efficient since our first attempt in Gitting, and we will need to review much of what we have done there already.  After Gitting, at the beginning of April, I will be heading down to Njombe to undertake fieldwork at another study site with our collaborator Esbern Friis Hansen.


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