As part of the University of Lausanne Masters in Geography (orientation Development and environment), we recently organized a very successful ten-day “field school” in conjunction with the University of Antananarivo. The Swiss and Malagasy students focused on issues of poverty, development, and sustainable farming in the highlands of Madagascar.
The goal of the field course, which we organize each year, is to expose our masters students to the reality and complexity of international development fieldwork contexts, to the practicalities of field research on development topics, and to do so in partnership with students and faculty from the University of Antananarivo. We also worked with a Swiss NGO, Helvetas, which has projects in the region.
We spent the first day in Antananarivo for initial meetings with our counterparts. We then travelled to Ambositra, a town 6 hours south of the capital, which served as our base. We divided the students into three mixed groups who then worked intensively to develop research questions, research strategies, and undertake field-based data collection over the next five days. One group worked on questions of public health in the small urban area of Ambositra; another group focused on the impacts of a Helvetas-sponsored bee keeping project to the east; a third group focused on agricultural changes in Leimavo, a hamlet previously studied by Jean-Pierre Raison in 1970 and by myself in 1998 to the west. Methods used included interviews of farmers and of government officials; surveys of city residents; mapping of tree orchards, and so on. Students then prepared a research presentation that was delivered conjointly at the University of Antananarivo.
The field school was made possible through funding by the University of Lausanne (Institute of Geography and Sustainability) and by MOVETIA, a Swiss agency for exchanges and mobility. Thanks are due to our partners at the University of Antananarivo: the geography program in the Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines, and the ABC (agroecology, biodiversity, and climate change) program in the Ecole Superieur des Sciences Agronomiques, as well as to the NGO Helvetas which facilitated one of our field cases.