Maryline Darmaun, a PhD student in the Avaclim project, looks back on her seven weeks of putting into practice the scientific method for evaluating agroecological initiatives that she helped to develop.
Why did you go to Senegal?
I went to Senegal as part of my thesis with Avaclim. I am based in the "UME Innovation" research laboratory of the Montpellier SupAgro School and employed by CARI, the NGO coordinating Avaclim. The aim of this mission is to finally carry out the first fieldwork for my thesis.
Can you go back to the framework of Avaclim project?
The goal is to deepen knowledge about agroecological initiatives. There is a lot of talk about agroecology, but this talk is sometimes lacking in concrete terms. The research component answers the questions: What are these agroecological initiatives? What characterises them? What are their effects? Why does it work or not? If so, under what conditions?
Four components make up Avaclim. Component 1 aims to mix and share knowledge about agroecological initiatives. I am working on the second component, the research component, as part of my thesis. We are developing a methodology to account for the multi-dimensional effects of agroecological transition initiatives. It is being tested and enriched in the field in the seven project countries. This is what I did in Senegal in this mission. The scientific results on the potential of the agroecological transition feed into component 3, which is advocacy, and component 4, communication.
Could another of the seven Avaclim countries have been the subject of such a study?
All countries use the same methodology. Another country could have been chosen, but only one. It is very time-consuming to carry out such a wide-ranging follow-up as in Senegal, even in the context of a thesis. There is a lot of field research and reflection that is necessary before the mission. I can't do the same work. Fortunately, the scientific partners in other countries also test the methodology in their field.
Why was Senegal the most relevant field?
Having had the chance to work with Enda Pronat colleagues, I already knew a bit about the context. That's why we chose this country. And when I was at FAO, we worked with ISRA, Avaclim's research partner in Senegal
Which initiatives were evaluated?
I went to evaluate the two initiatives chosen for this. The first was in the village of Sare Boubou, in the commune of Koussanar, in the south-east. In this one, an analysis of an agro-ecological transition on a village scale was carried out. We focused on 9 farms.
The second is called Guélack and is located in the north-east of the country. It is a collective farm where 14 people work, plus students, as there is a training centre. I alternated between travelling to the field and returning to Dakar for assessments and planning.
Did you have any difficulties in testing the evaluation methodology?
There was a good and a bad surprise. The good surprise was the reception of the method by our partners in Senegal. If it seemed complex at the beginning during the virtual exchanges, when we worked on it together in the field, we realised that it wasn't so difficult. It has to be said that it is a very holistic assessment, covering many different topics, from soil health to quality of life to economic conditions. Such a broad coverage cannot be done in one day.
The rather negative side concerns rather logistical elements. We have reduced our ambitions to collect data on soil health. The lack of equipment such as the auger, which allows soil to be recovered, has sometimes complicated the work. A lot of projects need this tool and run in parallel.
How do you feel about the mission?
It was wonderful for me to complete a year's work. With Covid-19, it was not possible to leave, so it was very stimulating to finally be in the field with colleagues. We didn't stop for a month and a half! I also learned a lot about the contextualisation of the tool.
Will you be going back?
Yes, in November 2021, to organise workshops within the two initiatives, in order to share the first results and enrich them with feedback from the participants in the data collection.
When is your thesis due?
I am already halfway through! Time is running out... The manuscript is due in December 2022 for a defence in February 2023, which corresponds with the end of the Avaclim project.
Finally, do you have an anecdote to share?
In Sare Boubou, I was attacked by a cow. In the village, animals roam everywhere. One cow seemed aggressive to me, apparently it didn't like me. I was told that she hated trousers. One day, when I was walking near her with a colleague, I saw her scratching the ground like a bull. She was hanging on to a baobab tree, but her thread didn't hold and she started chasing me! Fortunately, there were no consequences. This interaction made the village laugh for several weeks... And I never went near the cow again!