Our South African trip has started! We arrived in Jo’burg on Sunday morning and after a long drive through some stunning landscapes, arrived late in Thohoyandou, where we received a very warm welcome from our local partner, Prof. Edward Nesamvuni. Our first couple of days have been taken up by a workshop to get to know our new colleagues better – we are receiving help from three of Edward’s students and several of his colleagues who work in the region, but also get to know the area of the research (the village of Folovhodwe in the Musina Municipality of the Vhembe District, which is itself in the Limpopo Province).
On day 1, we started with (re)-introducing the project and going over our roles and how we will all contribute, but our main focus was getting to know the area better. Khathu Muthala, who works in the advisory services of the department of agriculture presented a participatory extension approach (PEA) that he and his team have developed in a previous project in the area. Next, Edward gave us an overview of the Limpopo province and of smallholders with some interesting statistics on demographics, language, education levels, and the informal economy in the area.
Sally led a presentation on drought analysis and modelling with Anne chipping in on definitions of drought and data needs for the model. We did a very useful exercise gathering our own definitions of drought, which allowed Sally to then set out the definition from a hydrology point of view. This was followed by some conversations about how we may integrate the model and the narratives and how we might present the findings to the local villagers. It transpires that communication with the chief is key and that the traditional and more recent hierarchies are the best channels to share findings. In this respect, we benefit from Edward’s support and that of his colleagues who have been in regular contact with the chief to follow the appropriate protocols before we arrive to carry out the research.
On day 2, we turned our attention to the ethical challenges that we will be facing in the field and how we negotiate passing on information about the project, getting consent from the villagers themselves, but also how we work through interpretation. We reviewed the questions that we will be asking in the narrative interviews on drought memories and we also narrowed down the themes and list of questions for the transect walks that we will be doing with some of the various committee members in the village in the next few days.
Before having a working dinner with district officials interested in learning about the project, we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Tshakhuma fruit market – a real feast of colours and textures for the eyes!