Malawi Field Work Reflections

Kids chasing the car as we leave the village

Kids chasing the car as we leave the village

As we drove out of the foothills of the Zomba plateau on a bumpy dirt road with kids chasing after our truck, I realized the field work was over. The sun was setting and the dusty horizon made the sun glow like a tangerine. Later that evening we collected the tablets from all the enumerators and said our final goodbyes. Most of them were going to continue their education and some were destined to work on the next survey job. The enumerators gained valuable skills while working on the project like getting familiar with CSPro and administering surveys on tablets which was new to all of them.  It was interesting to comb through all the data we collected and reflect back on the effort and resources used to obtain these surveys.

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What I Learned Working In Malawi

Finally Complete! 25 working days in the field, 60 villages, 1800 individuals surveyed. Quite the accomplishment.

Thandie Conducting an Survey

Field Work at it's Finest!

Our time spent working in the field in Malawi, troubleshooting the tablets and CSPro program and managing the incoming survey data, was enjoyable, stressful, and eye opening all at once. The hands on experience we gained working on a research project as large as this one provided an unparalleled opportunity for increased learning and understanding of field research. All of my years in the classroom could only take me so far, this opportunity working with IFPRI on conservation agriculture bridged the gap between my classroom learning and its real world application. >> Read more

The Fertile Machinga District

Sunrise over the Shire River

Sunrise over the Shire River

We left the remoteness of Balaka for the lush and exciting Liwonde, where we would be working for the next 2 weeks. Liwonde is a beautiful town located on the Shire River and lies in close proximity to Liwonde National Park. More irrigation schemes are located in Machinga because of the mighty Shire River and the low lying flood plains. Many plots yield 3 to 4 yields per year because of irrigation and warm climate of the Shire Valley.

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Balaka Field Work


Farmers getting an orientation on the survey

Farmers getting an orientation on the survey

After getting done final preparations for the field, Jacob and I headed to Balanka with the enumerators. The drive was beautiful. We drive through misty mountainous region of Dedza then dropped into the hot and lush Shire Valley to Balanka. First impressions of the Shire Valley, it is hot and full of green vegetation. Many farmers in this region take advantage of the warmer weather and plant fruit trees. For the first time in a long time Jacob and I were able to watch the sunset. In Lilongwe we never got anything more than a glimpse of sunsets, but here in Balanka we can watch the sun set from the front door in our room, it’s a spectacular view. >> Read more

Riverboat Adventure – Shire River, Malawi

Our weekly schedule here in Malawi has consisted of traveling to multiple villages a day Monday through Saturday administering surveys and collecting the data. When Sunday finally rolls around we're all eager to rest up a bit but also take advantage of the natural beauty we're in the midst of and go on an adventure. This previous Sunday Brent and I along with a few of the enumerators for the project spent the afternoon cruising the amazing Shire River. Here's the footage. Enjoy!

Reflections From the Field in Malawi

Despite being in Malawi preparing a finalized copy of the survey and training the enumerators I feel as though I didn’t truly experience Africa until I traveled into the field for the first day of pretesting. Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, wasn’t unlike many other developing urban cities I’d visited around the world. The most profoundly eye opening experience of the trip came when I was first exposed to life in a rural Malawian village.Riding a bike I feel as though I don’t possess the ability to adequately describe what I experienced that first day in the field. The living conditions were more primitive than you can imagine. That first day was a near constant stream of sights and sounds which unceasingly boggled my mind. A reality so diametrically different than what I experienced growing up in the United States. >> Read more

First Video from the Field – Children of Malawi

I've always had a passion for photography and film making, I even studied it a bit in college. I figured this summer in Malawi with IFPRI would be the perfect setting to utilize my skills. I feel as though I can contribute a great deal more through video than through writing, and hopefully give any interested a better feel for life on the ground in Africa.

The idea didn't first hit me until we'd been in Malawi for over 3 weeks and transforming it into a reality seemed like an especially tall order. Through a stroke of fate we had to leave the field work and travel back to Lilongwe to renew our visas giving me the opportunity to procure the necessary camera equipment and basic editing software which I needed. This is the first test video I threw together with some great footage of some great kids in a remote village we were surveying. Hopefully, given a strong enough internet connection, there will be many more videos to come.

Week 2, Senga Bay

Senga  Bay

Senga Bay

After the research team left, Jacob and I were left on our own. I recall having a strange feeling and a sense of autonomy.We now had to dictate our own work schedule and find ways to get transported around the city.

After a busy week training the enumerators and perfecting CSPro, we got an opportunity to take a few days off and see what Malawi had to offer. The IFPRI staffs at the Lilongwe office were very helpful in giving us recommendations on where to go and how to get there. Naturally we made plans to go to Lake Malawi.

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From Salt Lake to Malawi; Plane rides and first impressions.

After a grueling 30 plus hours of travel, my professor Dr. Parkhurst, Brent and I finally touched down in Lilongwe, the capital of the Republic of Malawi. Two days earlier, late Friday night, we had caught the red eye flight from Salt Lake City International to John F. Kennedy International in New York City. Of all three connecting flights which would eventually get us to Malawi, this leg was the worst. Sleep was difficult and I can attest the little economy section airline seats were not made with a 6’ 1” 185 lb. man in mind. On top of that I had drawn the unlucky middle seat. The passenger on my right took up his seat as well as at least half of mine. The man on my left turned out to be a very interesting fellow who I enjoyed talking with, the single redeeming aspect of that leg of the journey. Upon arrival at JFK we were faced with a 6 hours layover. We managed to find a relatively uncrowded corner of the airport, no easy task at JFK, and got some much needed sleep. I’m sure we were all quite the sight, sprawled out on the floor. Until that moment I never thought a few hours of sleep directly on the ground, especially in a crowded public place could be welcomed and refreshing.

South African Airways airplane

Photo taken by 135ad. Source Flickr (Aero Icarus)

After grabbing a quick breakfast we embarked on the next leg of our journey, a doozy of a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. 14 hours from liftoff to touchdown. I swear I experienced an entire lifetime in that beastly South African Airways Airbus, it still boggles my mind how big those planes are and how they manage to get off the ground. The flight consisted of a lot of reading, in-flight movies, a couple of surprisingly delicious meals, and thankfully a decent amount of sleep. We didn’t have long to spend in the airport at Johannesburg before our flight boarded for Lilongwe, just a short 2 hour flight away. In accordance with the quite specific instructions of my family back home I managed a quick call from the airport before our departure for Malawi. I called collect waking them up in the middle of the night and later found out that our short conversation had cost them $50 when the phone bill came. Hopefully next time they can be a little more patient, have a little more faith, and save themselves a little money by waiting until I arrive wherever I’m going before calling to assure them I made it safely. >> Read more

Week 1. Training the Enumerators

Hashing out the Details

Hashing out the Details

We touched down in Malawi with no time to waste. All of the work Brent and I had done the two weeks prior led right into what we began work once we arrived. We would have begun working on the survey earlier but we were both finishing our finals and I was jumping through all of the last minute hoops preparing for graduation. Now on the ground in Malawi Brent and I quickly got to know the team of researchers who had been assembled to hash out the various nuances of the project. Andrew Bell, Paswel Marenya, Klaus Droppelmann, and Gregory Parkhurst. Quite the impressive group. >> Read more