Postcards from the Field: Focus Group Experiences
By Thais Santiago
In 2019, I spent a month in the field coordinating focus groups with farmers from Rondônia. My job was to correspond with local agencies and organize meetings with farmers throughout the state. In total, 9 meetings were organized in the three study regions. We started these meetings by creating a seasonal calendar of key events and activities performed by the farmers during a year, including key processes related to blue and green water and social interactions. Next, we worked together on a timeline of the previous 5 or 10 years to identify any remarkable events or changes in their activities. We then listed key decisions that they need to make both on a regular basis and in response to unexpected events. At the end, farmers were asked to rank the regular (scheduled) decisions and the event-driven problems/responses by order of importance and influence on the farm livelihood. These meetings greatly increased my understanding about their experiences with changes on water availability and how these factors have been driving their land use decisions. All this information, including an increased familiarity with their regional vocabulary and expressions, was useful to develop the survey instrument that was later used to interview more than a thousand farmers in seventeen municipalities throughout the state.
It was also interesting to perceive farmers and local agents’ willingness to participate and help with our research. Sometimes it was challenging to face the initial distrust of some participants, but once I was able to clarify our purpose, I received valuable feedback. Overall, their positive attitude, curiosity and sense of community in most of the focus groups meetings were inspiring and made me feel even more committed to return the findings of our research to them. In many meetings I was surprised by delicious banquets prepared voluntarily by farmers with fresh fruits, coffee, pastries and dairy products grown and prepared on their own properties. They usually used these moments to thank us for the work we have been doing and invite our team for a second round of feast at their homes. It was also inspiring to notice the role that female leaders have been playing in their communities. It was evident during meetings with the female president of rural producer union in Ouro Preto do Oeste, farmers from the Women's Association and the female leader of a rural settlement in Ariquemes. I am grateful for this opportunity and all the knowledge shared. I am looking forward to providing scientific evidence able to improve the livelihoods of the amazing people I have met.