Franciska’s fieldwork in Zambia

Hello there! This is Franciska Sprong writing here. I am a master student from the program Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Currently I am in Mongu, Zambia, to conduct fieldwork for my master thesis. This thesis is attached to Agness Musutu’s PhD, which is part of the River Commons project. I am investigating the fishermen’s perception of the spatio-temporal distribution of fish in the Barotse Floodplain.

Beginning of April I arrived in Zambia, just after the rainy season. The Barotse Floodplain was still covered in water, although the grass had overgrown most of the water. By now, the water is receding quickly, which leads to changes in habitats (Figure 1).

Today I am going to conduct a participatory mapping and hopefully, if time permits, some interviews as well. We will drive to Senanga, 100km south of Mongu where I am staying. My colleagues from WWF will fetch me, and then we go. They should have been here an hour ago, but that’s how things run here… flexibility is an asset. Oh, there is a car coming, yes, I think there they are. “Hello, good morning, musuhile cwani?” And off we go for a two-hour drive to this focus group of WWF.

We are received at a primary school just north of Senanga, and the people of the focus group were already waiting for us. I introduce myself in Silozi, and explained what we were going to do today. Fortunately, we also have a translator with us, because much more than introductions and greetings, I don’t know this Bantu language. It is amazing how people appreciate and enjoy when you as a white European, try to speak some words in their language. It is really a good start for a conversation, a mapping exercise, or an interview.

I ask them to draw a map of the area, with the river, the floodplain, and so on, during muunda (flood, February to April), and another map during mbumbi (low water, August to October). Subsequently, they can put the fish species they know in Silozi, in the right place in the map. The map helps me to understand their perception of the movement of the fish in the plain, and it gives a clear overall picture of everything going on during the different seasons. It is very nice to see them engaging in discussions about which species belong where, and which ones are the first to move out of the river into the plain when the water level starts rising. Afterwards, I thank them for their cooperation, we take a small break with drinks and snacks, and then I ask the fishers in this focus group (consisting of fishers and fish traders) whether I can interview them. That is fine with them, good! Four more interviews to go, on this very productive day.

After those interviews, it was time to go home, and on the way back, we stopped to buy and try some cassava from a lady selling it on the roadside. Wow, I feel so blessed that I have the opportunity to be in this country and culture as part of my study program. It enriched me so much and I have learned a lot on cross-cultural, academic, and personal levels.

Figure 1: Receeding water in the Barotse Floodplain. Photos taken on 31 May (top left), 14 June (top right), 27 June (bottom left) and 11 July 2023 (bottom right).


Participatory mapping with a focus group of WWF Zambia.


Focus group participating in mapping exercise.


Conducting an interview with a fisherman and the help of a translator.


A fisherman in action on the bank of the Zambezi river in Zambia.


Participatory map of the low water situation during “mbumbi” (August-October – on the left / February-April – on the right).

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *