Perseverance and the Fruitful Journey: What it is to survey in geographically challenging location

Written by Sony KC.

The Nepal Center for Contemporary Research (NCCR), conducted a survey for the project, Feminization of Agriculture Transition and Rural Employment (FATE) in 513 Households in Jirmale Village Development Committee (VDC) of Ilam district. The survey was conducted between November and December 2015.

Jirmale VDC borders Jhapa district of Nepal and Mirik in India and is prominent for its picturesque, yet challenging geographical location. To get there by bus, the team took a bus from Kathmandu to Birtamode of Jhapa district, which takes about 14 hours if everything goes well in the road. From Birtamode, the team then took a hired vehicle towards Jirmale. From Birtamode, the ride is about two to three hours uphill, on the rough roads. As we climb uphill, the misty and foggy weather embraces our mind and spirit with a fragrance of freshness, providing a break from the scorching heat of Birtamode.

There are nine wards in this VDC, of which we were to conduct surveys in 5 wards (1,2,3, 5 and 7). For the team, administering the survey instrument in the households of these wards required a sound planning because of the settlements. Wards 1,2 and partly 3 is called Salakpur, well known for massive cardamom and mandarin oranges production. Though these three wards were located adjoining to each other, there were alienated households located in the high hills, which required one to two hours of walking. The challenge was not in the beautiful trekking serenaded by tall trees creaking with the breeze, with birds chirping and monkeys chattering, which was too good for the ears, admired by our enumerators, but the absence of household members upon reaching the destination. Time, which is always crucial to maintain, during big surveys like this one, was an issue. Some members had to wait till dusk until the household members arrived and convince them to be a part of our survey, further taking their valuable time.

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Oranges in Salakpur, Ilam District. Photo by Sony KC.

Moreover, for the rest of ward 3 called Patapur, the team had to travel downhill, towards Jhapa and then enter a different route to reach the destination. Patapur, however, is less similar to ward 3 of Salakpur in terms of its geographical built. The terrain is filled with tall beetle nut trees, broom grass and is rather hotter than Salakpur. Again, like Salakpur, administering questionnaire in this area, in terms of isolated houses became a challenge. There were cases where our researchers returned distressed, because one or two households located in a isolation, refused to participate in the survey. In order to reach these households, few researcher’s had walked for hours, searching for the respondents and the households. In such cases, denial from respondents to become a part of the survey, despite attempt from the researcher’s to convince them was a challenge along with the topography.

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The team ready to set for Patapur from Salakpur in a hired pickup, Ilam District. Photo by Sony KC.

Additionally, the geographical challenge is not only limited within VDCs but the most strenuous part is location challenge within wards. By this, what I mean is, for example, reaching ward 5 called Rambhyang was another ordeal for the researchers. We had to plan ahead for this ward. After completing survey in Patapur, the team had to climb back to Salakpur, which took about a day. After reaching Salakpur, in the dusk, the team prepared to set for Rambhayng, ward 5, early dawn. During rapport building with the villagers, we were told; the distance to Rambhyang would be somewhat like 2 hours. Early morning we set our journey to Rambhyang, which took us 3-4 hours, partly because we were new to the location.

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The team crossing a landslide area on the way to Rambhyang, Ilam district. Photo by Sony KC.

Like Salakpur, Rambhyang did not fail to captivate our hearts. The greenery and scenic beauty of Rambhyang along with the most amicable people welcomed us. The strenuous effort we put to reach there as a team, vanished from our hearts and pretty soon we were ready to rapport build in Rambhyang and start our survey. Few people in Rambhyang, who are also tagged as the ‘knowledgable people’ willingly helped us and guided us to reach households. The only challenge here, again, was reaching households that were distant, moreover, added to it was when there were no respondents in the households, after an hour’s trek. Not to forget, we had two parts of the questionnaire to be filled and hence, in some cases, researchers had to travel back to the households.  As a team, we did decide that we could have few researchers stay over in one of the households, but in some cases, these things were impossible, despite our attempt. Some household’s were not comfortable hosting and they denied without hesitation.

Interestingly, people in Rambhyang were more than pleased to be a part of the survey. One opined, “We are glad that we will be, at least, our village would be recognized in terms of cardamom plantation because only Salakpur has been taken on the limelight so far.” An elderly woman opined, “thank you for finding our village. We do not have transportation service here and we thought people only went to places where they had these facilities. We welcome you and please tell everyone in Kathmandu and other places about our village.” Hearing these made our team happy and the warm welcome has become an indelible memory.

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In Rambhyang, with the most amicable team who were ready to be interviewed at night. Photo by Sony KC.

After completing survey in beautiful Rambhyang, the team had to go back to Salakpur again, as it seemed to be the centre for all the wards in Jirmale. We set our journey to Salakpur in the evening and planned for ward 7. Early morning we headed to ward 7. For that, we hired a vehicle from Salakpur (a private pickup which is usually meant to be transferring goods) towards the base of the hills of this area. Then we trekked for an hour towards the east, reaching ward 7. Like in Rambhyang, people in ward 7 were welcoming and the geographical location of this ward was similar to Rambhyang, yet beautifully located.

What this tells us is that surveying in areas with complex geographical location, adding up to logistics and requirement, is no doubt a challenge, but the result of reaching these isolated areas to build evidence is more than fruitful. We, as a team conducting research for FATE project, always shared and reflected upon, how we were fortunate to become a part of this survey where no one has surveyed before. We did face complexities due to topography, as we combed the hills carrying our belongings, encountered landslides on our way, took a wrong path thinking it was the right one where there were no houses or people on the way to direct us but in the end we met our mission and we made our respondents happy.

As a FATE team we have succeeded in creating a database for an area rich in agricultural products, particularly cardamom and hardworking farmers. The one survey, which took more days, than planned, has given us rich data and information.  The journey has been fruitful and bringing Jirmale into the limelight in terms of its people and livelihood has been the one of the best picks to build stronger evidence.

 

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