Posted November 14, 2015

After over one month in Tanzania as a RIFA fellow with the Health for Animals and Livelihood Improvement (HALI) Project, I have found myself going in unexpected, though very interesting, directions. My original plan was to interview pastoralists, livestock officers, and university researchers about disease risk factors in the Greater Ruaha Landscape of southern Tanzania, and to map local perceptions of land use change and livestock disease risk with farmer and pastoralist focus groups. Instead, I am in the historic coastal town of Bagamoyo, taking part in a 4-week applied course on “One Health” approaches to zoonotic disease, and preparing to join HALI’s field team on a study tour in northwestern Tanzania when I return.Ian Trupin_Tanzania&Rwanda3.jpg

Shortly after I arrived in country, I found out that my initial research plan would be impossible, as my research permit application, which I had intended to include on a larger research permit renewal, would not return in time for me to use it. Instead, I decided to join on to one of the HALI Project’s several ongoing projects. After consulting with the field team and the head office in Davis, I decided to join the PREDICT 2 Human Behavioral Risk Surveillance team in Tanzania, which is collecting a variety of qualitative data on human practices and perceptions related to human-animal interfaces in northwestern Tanzania. PREDICT 2 aims to establish and improve systems for early detection and response to emerging infectious disease outbreaks in high risk regions of the world, like East Africa’s lake zone. My main role will be to add capacity on qualitative data analysis and help train the in-country field staff in using data management software, while also learning field methods from the field staff. In addition, I hope to retain an element of spatial research from my original plan, by possibly creating local maps to target further surveillance activities in Murongo area of Kagera.

This is where the Rx One Health course comes in. “One Health” is an approach based on addressing human, animal, and environmental health as interlocking elements of a broader picture, such that improving outcomes for one element must take into account its relationship with the other two. Because the next PREDICT site visit isn’t until July, I decided to take advantage of an opening in the course to learn about the One Health approach while also getting the specific training I will need to work with PREDICT.

I am now a week and a half into the course, which is taking place at several locations in Tanzania and Rwanda. The course brings together twenty two students and professionals in fields ranging from veterinary medicine to disease ecology, as well as myself, in International Agricultural Development. We hail mostly from the US, Tanzania, and Rwanda, though there are also participants from Nepal and Denmark. Rx One Health has been both fun and fascinating. Although my work with the HALI Project up to this point has taught me some basic vocabulary and concepts related to emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and zoonosis (the exchange of pathogens between humans and other species), I have found myself learning how to catch bats in mist nets, take cheek swabs from vervet monkeys, vaccinate chickens, and take blood samples from cattle. Between lessons on field methods, we’ve also been able to visit and interview people at typical interfaces for zoonotic disease infection, such as fishermen and Maasai pastoralists, tour a rural health facility, and observe laboratory spaces. Additionally, we’ve had numerous lectures from HALI staff and partners. These ranged from non-profits like Wildlife Connection, which works to reduce wildlife-farmer conflict around the Greater Ruaha Ecosystem, to the Apopo Project at Sokoine University of Agriculture, which trains African pouched rats to detect TB in human sputum samples. We have learned about the politics of village-led Wildlife Management Areas and about case studies of epidemic disease outbreaks, as well as the early warning systems that HALI is helping to pioneer through USAID PREDICT.

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Being introduced to so many unfamiliar skill sets and areas of knowledge in such a short period of time has had its challenges. One the one hand, I’m finding it easier to talk to other participants about their work and past experiences, and getting a better idea of how people in these fields ask and answer questions. On the other hand, it has been a challenge to sift through the information and determine what is most relevant to my own project.

For the remaining two weeks of the course, we’ll be moving on to Rwanda, where we will be learning from One Health professionals at the University of Rwanda in Kigali, and Gorilla Doctors in Kinigi. I will be doing my best to continue absorbing as much knowledge as possible, while also using what I’m learning to reshape my approach to the rest of my RIFA experience.


Through the support from the Henry A. Jastro Fellowship and the Research and Innovation in Agriculture Fellowship, I collaborated with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to conduct research in Northern Vietnam. The project seeks to investigate and report the economic and environmental costs and benefits of two cassava management practices in the mountain region of Yen Bai. In Vietnam, 60% of agricultural land is covered in mountains and plateaus, making land vulnerable to increased runoff, soil erosion, degradation, and declining crop yields. The topography combined with the condensed and heavy rainy season (May – October) further jeopardizes the productivity of marginal agricultural land. This project targets cassava growers, as much cassava is grown on sloped or degraded land due to the resiliency of the crop.


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My study is part of a larger CIAT project that aims to integrate climate smart technologies into traditional agricultural practices to improve agricultural resiliency among smallholder cassava farmers in Southeast Asia. The Climate Smart technologies were tested and chosen in collaboration with growers in the initial study in 2002. During the initial intervention, participatory land mapping and soil surveys were conducted to assess current and historical land- use types, local soil types, and future land use preferences. With this data, ten climate smart technologies were chosen by the CIAT team and presented to local farmers. The farmers prioritized the technologies in terms of perceived benefits and chose seven practices to test. Planting grass strips (paspalum) along contour lines on sloped cassava fields was one of the chosen and widely adopted practices. These grass strips are planted for the dual purpose of decreasing soil erosion and providing fodder for livestock.

In August 2016, I traveled to Van Yen District to conduct the fieldwork. Van Yen was one of the districts where high adoption of the practice occurred during the initial implementation in the early 2000s. I collected socioeconomic, input and output data, and soil samples from cassava growers. The three cropping systems included; monocrop cassava production, grass-strip and cassava intercrop implemented five to seven years ago, and grass-strip and cassava intercrop implemented ten to twelve years ago. The chosen cassava plots had to be on slopes of 20% - 40%. 


Across three communes, 15 farmers were selected that fit within each of the three criteria, resulting in a sample of 45 farmers total. At the commune level, 5 farmers who practiced monoculture were chosen, 5 farmers who practiced the cassava grass intercrop for 5 – 7 years were chosen, and 5 farmers who practiced cassava grass intercrop 10 – 12 years were chosen. Soil samples, GPS coordinates, slope, and aspect were collected on each cassava plot to gather soil level information about the effects of each of the three cassava practices in the area. From each section of the slope, top, middle and bottom, soil was collected at two depths, 0 – 20 cm, and 20-30 cm. These samples were analyzed for texture, pH, total organic carbon, total nitrogen, available phosphorous, exchangeable cations (Mg, Ca, Na, K) and bulk density. The results of the soils samples will be used with the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) to model soil erosion with the different practices. Through the socio-economic survey and the soils data, I will be able to monitor the biophysical impacts of the two cassava systems, in addition to evaluating the economic, social and environmental impacts of these two systems. The results will lead to recommendations, workshops, and provide support and feedback to growers, CIAT, and agricultural extension of the practices effectiveness.

The support from the Jastro award funded an interpreter to help conduct the surveys, a field assistant to assist with the soil sample collection, transportation of 270 soil samples to be analyzed in Hanoi, Vietnam, and analysis of the soil samples.




Henry A. Jastro Award takes Laura Reynolds to Nepal

Posted by htgnguyen on February 23, 2017

Bringing Agriculture Up Close With Remote Sensing

Posted by htgnguyen on January 5, 2017

By Caitlin Peterson

Why study traditional agriculture?

Posted by klebaudo on October 17, 2016

By Hanyuan Jiang

Driving on the so-called loneliest road across Nevada, it is hard to believe that there will be any agricultural land in this area needless to say a city. Buy Fallon is one. On in an early spring afternoon, my friend and I arrived at the Churchill County Museum at Fallon late, only to realize that the museum had just closed. But the staffs, walking to their cars at the parking lot, were still nice enough to stop by and talk to us. Knowing that I am a student from China, one of them asked what I am studying. “Agriculture”, I said. “Oh, so you are going to teach the Chinese farmers how to farm?” flatly I just replied with “I am not sure”. 

The reason I am not sure if I can teach Chinese farmers how to farm is because I am not sure if the modern Agricultural sciences I am learning here at UC Davis should be “taught” to those farmers in China. Indeed, economically developing countries like China are transforming their agriculture to be more “scientific” and productive. Just like the agriculture, farmers’ life in many of these countries is experiencing dramatic changes. More and more of them are starting to follow the trend of agricultural modernization, using different synthetic chemical and machines. Therefore, the study of traditional agriculture may be called a work against this era. 

My RIFA research in Ifugao, the Philippines may be an example of such work. While a lot of farmers have begun growing the new varieties of rice which ripen in four or even three months, instead of the traditional Ifugao Tinawon rice, some farmers are still struggling to keep their one season per year Tinawon. Those who maintain this rice variety also hold onto the traditional way of growing it. After harvesting, the farmers trample the rice stalk into the soil as fertilizer. Likewise, before planting, they weed the grass around the rice terrace and also put them in the soil. No synthetic fertilizer is added. For hundreds of years, Ifugaos have sustained themselves doing such rice farming and swidden agriculture (for food other than rice), until recently when some started growing two seasons of rice with fertilizers and leaving their swidden fields.


(Storage of Tinawon in an Ifugao native house)

Other than the extensive rice terrace, Ifugao is also known for the “Hudhud”, native narrative chants. One occasion for Ifugaos to sing the Hudhud is during rice harvest. A typical Ifugao rice harvest scene is more than a nice picture. It is an exciting movie. Singing the Hudhud while skillfully cutting the heavy rice panicle one by one with a rhythm, an Ifugao farmer bundles the panicles together. As the panicles are being tied tight, a sound was made from this firm full bundle. Zooming out, you will see a team of up to 30 of such farmer working together surrounded by the golden mature rice, in the sea of waves of rice terraces. The chorus of Hudhud echoes from the terraces on the mountain slope up to the sky. When the harvest is finished, the farmers will have a big meal to and share the harvested rice.


(Ifugao farmers harvesting rice)

Along with this develops the tradition of “Baddang”, Ifugao version of Bayanihan, the spirit of communal unity. Faced with frequent risks from typhoons, Ifugaos learned to cooperate in smoothing the loss of some members by working voluntarily for the community, from removing or even rebuilding houses, repairing damaged dikes or terraces.

The ideology of modernity under the disguise of “science” is penetrating deep in our world. With such judgment, agriculture development equals to “precision”, “resistance”, “productivity”, “efficiency” and so forth, regardless of how people think of food and how farmers are positioned in the society. In a world of potential threats from nature and social uncertainty, learning to cherish the gifts from nature and to share the joy of harvest and the sorrow of loss is the reason to study traditional agriculture.

By Emily Webster

By Elyssa Lewis

Coping Strategies Index focus group, KwaZulu Natal

I was recently asked what made me want to work in international agricultural development, and pondering this question brought back memories of visiting my family in South Africa, which I have done every other summer since I can remember. South Africa is a beautiful country that exists in stark extremes, where makeshift shanty towns abut gleaming, wealthy neighborhoods. Considered an upper middle-income country, this distinction hides the fact that between 40 and 50 percent of the population is defined as poor and there still exists unacceptable levels of food insecurity and hunger. Much of this is experienced by black households in remote rural areas, often traditional homelands, where infrastructure is poor, due to historical marginalization under Apartheid. Rising food prices, coupled with increased reliance on cash food purchases is expected to only exacerbate these conditions, and a lack of access to secure, reliable and reasonable formal credit makes it even more difficult for households to deal with shocks and stressors.

It is in this context that SaveAct, a South African NGO, has been working with rural communities since 2007 to promote saving groups as a means of providing more reasonable and reliable access to credit. Working primarily in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces, both traditional homeland areas, SaveAct has seen tremendous growth and success in its savings group efforts, now reaching over 46,000 savings and credit group members.

As a brief aside, for those that are not familiar with savings groups, here is a brief description. While microfinance institutions (MFIs) and banks, over the last 30 odd years, have given millions of poor people access to much needed credit and financial services, financial exclusion remains disproportionally high among the rural poor. This is due in part to the prohibitive costs involved in reaching remote areas and the high-risk profile often attributed to these customers. Thus, savings groups, have been advocated as a way of providing these much needed financial tools to those living in remote rural areas. Rather than having an outside entity provide credit, self-selected groups of 10-30 people come together on a regular basis to pool their savings, and then give out loans to members, creating their own sort of credit union. These loans are then repaid with interest, providing a sizeable return on investment, while still providing credit at an affordable rate. Savings plus interest are then distributed at the end of the year, and can become quite sizable given the context. Since groups are using their own capital, the revenue also remains within the community.

SaveAct, however, wanted to know more about the impacts that it was having on the households and communities that it works with, which is where I came in. Last summer was actually the second time that I had worked with SaveAct on a monitoring, evaluation and learning (ME&L) initiative. The first time was the summer/winter before I started my master’s degree, where I worked with a team to design, implement and analyze a household survey of their agricultural extension beneficiaries in the Eastern Cape, using electronic data collection tools. I was inspired and challenged by this first experience and jumped at the opportunity to return, when I heard about the Research Innovation Fellowship in Agriculture (RIFA). Given my previous engagement with SaveAct’s programs and staff, it was exciting to pick up where I had left off and address needs we had identified before. Through several conversations over Skype and through email, it was determined that SaveAct needed a more rigorous and systematic way to monitor the impacts that it was having, but in a way that would be relatively simple to implement. Looking at their theory of change, it was clear that improving food security was one of the first effects expected to take place as a result of being able to access credit during times of need. And furthermore, food security is seen as an important proxy indicator for poverty, which is why my project was to develop a ME&L tool that could measure food security.

The most commonly accepted definition of food security comes from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which states that food security exists “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity, therefore, is the lack of any or all of these components. In conducting background research for this project I found that due to the complex nature of food security, there is no single measure that exists, which can capture its many dimensions. However, there are three mains ways that food (in)security has been measured in various countries around the world. The first is experiential, and seeks to assess how food insecurity is experienced along a scale from worried about having enough food to actual experiences of hunger. The second is a measure of dietary diversity, looking at the number of different foods or food groups consumed over a given period, which addresses food utilization and access. And the third known as the Coping Strategies Index (CSI), which analyses the various coping strategies that households utilize when they don’t have enough food or money to buy food.

Given the context specific nature of the CSI, which is not a standard set of questions but rather a methodology used to create a unique survey tool, I thought this would be the one that would be the most useful in helping SaveAct learn about the impacts it was having. Thus, over the approximately 3 months I was there, we conducted 12 focus groups (6 in Eastern Cape and 6 in KwaZulu Natal) of 5-14 savings group members, where we brainstormed common coping strategies. In addition, focus group participants created a seasonality map of what times of year each coping strategy would have been used, with stickers going from one to five under each month (see picture), with the aim of better understanding what times of

SaveAct Annual Partners Meeting, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu

the year were particularly strenuous and why so that SaveAct could attempt to tailor their efforts to these times of increased need. And lastly, each of the coping strategies brainstormed was rated on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being the least severe and 4 being the most severe. These severity ranking can then be used to weight each coping strategy.

These result was the creation of the SaveAct CSI, which is a simple set of questions (easily added to a baseline survey) that ask about the frequency a household has had to use any of the most common coping strategies, weighted by the average severity score of each strategy. The frequency and severity scores are then multiplied together and summed, with higher scores indicating higher levels of food insecurity. A score of zero would indicate that a household is food secure.

It was fascinating and humbling to listen to people’s stories and hear time and again about the positive changes people attributed to being a part of a saving group. One group, in particular, thanked us for coming and conducting the focus group with them because it made them realize how much better off they were now.

Hopefully, now that SaveAct has their own CSI, they can continue to learn about the changes they are having on people’s lives and incorporate these lessons into developing even better projects and services.

For me, this experience has taught me more than I can even express, inspiring my current thesis research, and helping to shape me into a more effective development practitioner.


Elyssa Lewis is a second-year M.Sc. student in the International Agricultural Development Program at the University of California, Davis.