Many times it seems what is holding things back is the lack of information, the lack of data from which to make reliable assertions and then good decisions. My assignment is about collecting data but it feels more like a shot in the dark. Will I find the person who has the answers? During my escape to Gorongosa National Park I learned that the park is setting up a fruit drying factory at Vila Gorongosa with financial backing from the Carr Foundation and USAID. If I hadn’t taken then vacation when I did I would not have learned this information. They are already drying tomatoes and hoping that the local communities increase in income will dissuade them from cutting down the trees on Mount Gorongosa which changes the ecosystem on the mountain and the water flow into the national park.
It was a fluke that I found this out. Hopefully I will be able to visit the project before heading back to Beira next week as they are already drying tomatoes and looking for an export market.
I also wonder if the people I find to interview give me their honest answers or tell me what they think I want to hear. In the first week with when some of the farmers told us they could not get reliable price information we asked if they had a radio. The answer was yes one person in the association did have a radio, so at first we thought maybe this person did not share the information or perhaps could not afford to buy batteries, but then a long story emerged that the price information radio show did not happen on the same day of the week at the same time so they never knew when to listen to the radio. A week later we found out that this was not true, but rather a story to cover up their mistake or their inability to understand the radio show.
As an interviewer in English I can gauge pretty quickly how someone is answering and ask the necessary follow up questions, but here in Portuguese there is a delay in my reaction time and often I am unable to ask the necessary follow-up questions in a timely manner. Half working with a translator both helps and hurts as sometimes the interview gets out of my control and important details are lost, but we can go much faster if she asks the questions and I listen to the answers only interrupting for clarification as my comprehension is coming back much more quickly than my ability to speak fluidly. Sometimes she is impatient with my follow up questions because she thinks she understood what I wanted to know and that I am the one who misunderstood. When we have to work with the three-way translation things get really complicated. Overall I think we have been doing a good job but it hasn’t been easy.
On the positive side here in Mozambique I have not felt that I’ve had to struggle against information sharing. For the most part people have been quite willing to answer questions, have their photographs taken and if there is any hesitation it is erased after we explain the project and what were are doing. Only one older woman buying vegetables at market refused to participate in our interviews. She glared at us suspiciously and told us we were from the government and she did not want to get thrown in jail. She then follow us to the next person we chose to interview and listened in while giving us the evil eye before going on her way.
My greatest struggle has been trying to find out vegetable production data. The Mozambican Agricultural Extension and Research Service does not collect data on vegetables, after many questions and interviews I feel I have an accurate estimate for the income generated by tomatoes for all actors in the value chain. The cost side is another matter completely. My data says things like “pesticides cost a lot, so we buy them and use them when we have money” and ” seeds cost a lot so sometimes I save them from last years crop, I have no idea how many tomatoes I plant per hectare”. So here in my last week in Chimoio I am facing the same problem I often faced in the US- how to lay out an argument for collecting data. Will I be able to find the words that will convince the agricultural association trainers and managers to collect production data from farmers and encourage and train farmers to collect their own data?