Strengthening research on sustainable livelihoods in Zambia with the Coop4wellbeing project

At the end of January and the beginning of February 2023, we embarked on our second Coop4Wellbeing project research trip to Zambia together with colleagues from the NGO People in Need and the Department of Development & Environmental Studies at Palacky University. During our month-long stay in the area around the city of Mongu, the regional centre of Western Province, we continued with the research activities that we had started in February 2022. In addition to deepening our understanding of linkages between society and nature, this year we also focused on issues of land access among small-scale farmers and on their aspirations.

In planning the second research trip and defining the topics for data collection, we drew on previous project activities; in particular our two-day workshop with Czech development cooperation actors (CDC) and the results of the first field research trip to Zambia. The aim of the trip was to obtain answers to the following questions through four participatory workshops and more than twenty in-depth semi-structured interviews:

  • Is our understanding of the social-ecological system in Western Province as it emerged from the first field research trip correct? What gaps exist in the map of linkages between society and nature, and do they differ from actor to actor?
  • What situations do small-scale farmers find themselves in with respect to land access within the customary governance system? How do farmers address these situations, and what mechanisms do they use to do so?
  • What are the aspirations of small-scale farmers in terms of livelihood security? In what ways are these aspirations aligned with the focus of the CDC projects?

The first two workshops were focused on validating the interim results of the project and communicating them to the actors who were involved in our research in the previous year. The workshops were intended for the representatives of key actors (government, NGOs and traditional leaders). The main objective was to discuss the linkages within the social-ecological system of the Western Province and to add to them the linkages that were missing. However, the introduction of the research results to the key actors and the subsequent discussion of these results is not only important for validation and supplementary data collection; it is crucial from an ethical perspective and to motivate actors to further collaborate during the research process by increasing the local actors’ sense of ownership of the research results.

The other two workshops were focused on the issue of land access among small-scale farmers. During the first field research trip, we uncovered different types of land access situations that small-scale farmers face; however, it was not clear from the previous data how these situations are addressed and which actors are involved. In order to understand these seemingly hidden dynamics and processes, we used the serious game method. This research approach is based on the idea that play creates a safe and informal environment which promotes mutual learning and interaction between participants who come from different types of backgrounds. This allows the participants to explore sensitive topics such as access to land in a non-violent and fun way. Moreover, because of how sensitive the topic is, the workshops were conducted with men and women separately. The workshop involved the female and male farmers playing a simple board game where they had to face various situations related to land access as they progressed through the game plan. After discussing possible solutions to the situation, the game continued until the farmers reached the end of the game plan. The interaction between the farmers and their enthusiasm for the game helped us obtain a plethora of solutions to the given situations that would enable us to construct a complete picture of land access in the Western Province of Zambia. Access to land and issues related to it are incredibly important for the livelihoods of local farmers and therefore for development projects and their implementation.

The last type of data collection we conducted among small-scale farmers was in-depth semi-structured interviews. The results from the first research trip indicated that the CDC actors’ or local government’s vision may sometimes differ from the ideas of the ordinary population which development cooperation projects target. Therefore, we primarily focused on aspirations in the interview, i.e. what farmers want to achieve in the future in terms of livelihoods (as well as other goals that are important to them) and what their plans for this are. We focused on what vision farmers have for their children or grandchildren as well. Last but not least, we were also interested in what farmers have wanted to achieve but for certain reasons could not. Understanding these past and future aspirations, including the associated obstacles and opportunities, is crucial for correct project identification.

We will be analysing the collected material in the following months and then present them to CDC actors during the next participatory workshop. The focus of the third workshop will be to jointly develop action steps and recommendations for how to handle these research findings in the preparation and implementation processes of CDC’s projects.

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