Tuesday, 23 July 2013

An eventful and (another) insightful day

Well, you never know what's round the corner. Woke up today thinking it would be like another day in the field collecting interviews but it turned out quite different. I did do the interviews, in fact, I did more than planned and so ended up not leaving until it was dark which gave some villagers a bit of a fright when they saw what must have seemed like a ghost walking around. In fact, one lady ran inside when we walked past. This was a very remote village and for many of the smaller kids they had never seen a white person before.

Back to the morning though, we started later as my colleague had to visit the hospital (she's due to give birth at the end of August). So, I went to have a coffee and bite to eat as it was late morning by this point. It had slowly become apparent though that there was a buzz in the air in Zomba as truck loads of people were coming past singing all dressed in orange. It turned out that the President was in town and people from her party had come to see her. After sitting down waiting for food I heard some sirens (a very rare sound since I've been here). I soon realised that the President was coming past which was why they had shut the road. After several vehicles speeding past I eventually saw a big black 4x4 with two flags on and, as it came past, saw a hand waving. Yes,  today I saw the President's hand! I certainly hadn't bargained on that when I woke up this morning.

Anyway, the rest of the day was very productive even though it took a very long time to get to the village where we were doing the interviews. I interviewed the final Ministry of Agriculture member of staff and then the village head and the first of four famers. The lady farmer who I spoke to seemed to be particularly struggling, which made for a difficult situation. Although she got a subsidy coupon last year, she wasn't able to use it to buy any fertiliser. As such, her and her family didn't harvest their maize but instead ate it before it was ready (green). Life in that village seems very tough indeed. I suppose really its precisely these people that are driving me forward in my research. I want to know what can and should be done through government policy in order that they can improve their lot and not be struggling anymore just to get enough food to last them through the year. That's such a basic thing, but without that, getting an education or maintaining their basic health will always be put under pressure.

I learnt lots today about life for the average farming household, taking note of local prices in the rural trading centres and asking lots of questions about local markets to the extension officer I met. It seems that this year prices are up by around 1/3 which doesn't bode well for the coming months as maize stocks start to go down, even though the country has estimated a 300,000 metric tonne surplus this year. This is a big question that needs to be looked into - how prices can remain high in spite of some fairly decent production.

Not long in so I popped straight to the restaurant to order some dinner, had a hot shower and went down for a much-needed (and my first) Malawian rum and coke with my dinner. I start again tomorrow with what will be my final day in the field.

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