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Finding that ‘Eureka’ moment: the importance of conducting detailed field-research in Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2012
JournalAfrican Geographical Review
Journal number1
Volume31
Number of pages4
Pages76-79
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In 2005–2006, I conducted 14 months of fieldwork on the political economy of bio-prospecting in Madagascar. I was in the deep south of Madagascar investigating the industrial production of the prized medicinal plant, rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). The goal of my research was to examine how foreign pharmaceutical companies gain and maintain access to the plant and if Malagasy benefited from the trade. During that time I had the unusual opportunity to observe a sacrificial ram ceremony. In the moment, the sacrifice seemed irrelevant to my work. It was quick and before I knew it, it was over and the local periwinkle collectors were getting back to the hustle and bustle of market day. It did not seem very significant to any of them, so I let it pass as well. However, after a full review of my data back home, I realized that the sacrifice was one in a series of ‘mechanisms of access’ that companies will employ to overcome the social barriers to production and continue the flow of periwinkle out of the area. Drawing on my own experiences in Madagascar, I describe the importance of keeping detailed field notes to the success of the overall research project.