Fieldwork preparation: Challenges and things to consider
The choice of my fieldwork countries in itself posed several challenges related to security, access, and transport. First, looking at the oil palm-producing regions in the Philippines, it became clear to me quite quickly that I needed to take extra precautions. Most of the oil palm plantations in the Philippines are based in Mindanao, which is commonly-referred to be less safe than other areas of the Philippines. Going through the travel advice by multiple foreign offices of national governments, I needed to make sure that I knew where I was going in Mindanao to interview people. Luckily, most of my family from my mother’s side is from and lives in Mindanao. By asking my family to reach out to all our relatives in the provinces I wanted to visit, I was able to stay almost during my entire fieldwork with relatives.
With regards to Papua New Guinea, I unfortunately could not rely on family contacts. I reached out to several academics who have or are working on PNG, but unfortunately they also could not provide me with personal contacts, especially in the capital Port Moresby, which is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the region. I started to feel increasingly insecure about my stay in PNG, so I was able to convince my partner to accompany me during my fieldwork (at least whilst being in the capital; my partner had just finished his master’s degree and was searching for job opportunities – in the end he was able to get an internship at UNDP in Port Moresby). He was of great help in making me feel more confident in going to a place I had never been before!
Second, the palm oil industry is highly controversial and known to be rather careful in revealing information. Therefore, well ahead of the start of my fieldwork, I contacted as many potential research participants as possible. That way I was able to gain access to palm oil companies in both countries, which enabled me to snowball my way to other research participants while in the field. I also contacted academics and researchers who have previously worked on palm oil in the respective countries, who were able to provide me with further important contacts in the industry.
Overall, the fieldwork preparation was extremely time-consuming, but it was definitely worth to prepare as much as possible prior to it. I learned to thoroughly prepare prior to departure, especially with respect to administrative issues, such as research visas. I intended to leave for PNG in January 2017, however due to delays in the visa process, my departure was delayed by almost 6 weeks. I can only recommend to get information about national policies on researchers conducting fieldwork in the country well in advance to avoid any unnecessary delays.
In the end, I conducted my fieldwork without any security threats or transportation issues, despite major challenges along the way. More about that in my next blog post!