The important lesson during my fieldwork

Tomonari Matsuo 22nd August 2022

Due to the pandemic, travelling abroad has been strictly prohibited, which prevented us to travel to the field to initiate the fieldwork activities. Unlike the fieldwork in Mexico, we did not yet have a skilled team in the local community for advancing the fieldwork in 2020, we postponed starting the field activities until a PANTROP team member would be able to travel again. In 2021, the travel restriction was slightly loosened which enabled us to travel to Ghana to finally get the fieldwork resumed with a great collaboration with Dr. Lucy Amissah, senior researcher in forestry research institute of Ghana (CSIR-FORIG). Fieldwork has started with small numbers of people from Wageningen university, CSIR-FORIG, and the local community. Over time, people in the local community gradually recognized us and we succeeded hiring more people working with us. At the end of the fieldwork campaign in 2021, we had a large team of over 20 people for PANTROP fieldwork in Ghana.

It was interesting to me that my role in the fieldwork has greatly changed over time. With a small number of people in the initial stage of the fieldwork, I spent more time in the forests measuring trees crazily from morning to evening. However, as number of people has grown, I spent more time on the management of the teams. I have realized how important the team management is for conducting efficient and productive fieldwork as more unexpected things could happen with more numbers of people (teams). However, at the same time I started to miss measuring trees crazily all day long in the forests. This experience taught me that management of the teams is essential for the success of the project, but also reminded me my initial motivation (passion) on tropical forest research. With this lesson, when I returned to Ghana with 4 MSc students from Wageningen university for the fieldwork in 2022, I tried to balance myself; I again spent most of the time managing the teams but also spared decent amount of time doing the measurement by myself in the tropical forests. This resulted in the great advance on the projects and also gave me the great pleasure of working in tropical forests (and Malaria).

Coordinating fieldwork remotely – Challenges and Opportunities

Iris Hordijk 18th April 2021 

Due to the pandemic our fieldwork activities are postponed to times where the coronavirus is not heavily restricting daily life. Usually, we spend at least a few months in the field each year in either Australia, Ghana or Mexico, but now we are experiencing the challenges and opportunities of coordinating fieldwork from behind a laptop or phone. This way of coordinating the data collection is only possible if you have a skilled team at your field site with a responsible and independent leader. Especially at our sites in Mexico this is the case, where a long history of relationship building with the local community by Jorge Meave and Miguel Martínez Ramos resulted in the fortunate situation where data collection can continue without a PANTROP team member being present.

The coordination of fieldwork remotely can sometimes result in new situations where you get a phone call in the middle of the night (yes there is a 7 hour difference between Mexico and Europe), or that you get a whatsapp from your local field assistant to tell you that they are running out of tree tags tomorrow, while you are pretty sure that you communicated that you need at least a week to ship anything to the remote field site. In this way it is not so different from fieldwork on the ground, as you are dealing with unexpected situations or need to come up with a clever solution on the spot.

What does make it different is the connection with your fieldsite, as pictures are helpful but do not tell the whole story, or the interaction with the local people, and the jokes with the field assistants and students during lunch. It teaches me that I can trust my field assistants, as the data coming in seems accurate, and that with empowering them with materials, trust and a decent salary I will have a very independent field team next time I will go into the field again!