“Can we have both of them in the shot for the interview?” I asked Els while setting up the camera, nodding to the change agent couples sitting a few meters away from us. They were waiting to be interviewed by Els Lecoutere, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Antwerp for her study on the HRNS Gender Household Approach and videoed by someone who was equally unsure about his gear as well as his filming-skills, me.

“No…”, she replied immediately, “…because we never interview them together”. With a puzzled face and not really understanding the exact reason behind her approach, I hit the record button as Els started her questions.

Talking with female and male farmers under a shading tree in the rural region of Mbeya, Tanzania, Els demeanor was always encouraging and uplifting. Sitting side by side, she was trying to make the interviewee feel at ease with her iPad resting on her lab, occasionally taking some notes.

I could tell the farmers were rather uncomfortable with being filmed during the research-interview as their eyes regularly crossed the lens of my camera, unsure what to make of it. I tried to break the ice, mostly without success, by shaking hands and showcasing how to clip on the microphone. The fact that our HRNS crew consisted of three white people who unintentionally drew the attention of local children to attend the happening did not help either.

Without regard to the peripheral razzmatazz, Els concentration rested only on the interviewee, the translator and her questionnaire. “Who owns the farm?” “Who does most of the work?” “How did you feel about your farm before becoming a change agent?” “How about now?” “How has your life improved since?” While the men usually answered in whole monologues, the wives replies always fell shorter, and more importantly, differed from their husbands to a fair extent.

“Do you see now why we interview them separately?” She looked at me and smiled, knowing she once again proved her methodology to me without explaining it.

Over the past two years now, Els has been researching and studying our HRNS Gender Household Approach and its effects. This time I was allowed to follow her and tape her research which consists out of interview sessions, lab in the field experiments (games with token) and other tests. Among other findings, Els found out that higher cooperation between the husband and the wife leads to higher income, transparency and an overall increased well-being of the household.

Different to other female farmers I encountered during my 7-day trip through Mbeya, the women who were change agents were much more open and self-confident than those, who did not participate in the HRNS Gender Household Approach. Once they were off camera they were lighting up, cracking jokes, talking much more freely and were conversing with their male counterparts at ease. One of the male farmers who tried to take a selfie with me had troubles finding the right app. His wife prompted him to hand her the device as it was apparent that she knew how to work a smart phone.

In the evening, we reviewed the day and exchanged at the dinner table. Having made my fair share of encounters with feminists and believed to have establish a good connection with Els, I tested the waters and challenged her on some topics: “What about me paying for my girlfriends’ dinner? Holding the door open? Is it forbidden to be a gentleman nowadays?”. “I have no problem with you paying for your girlfriends’ dinner, being a feminist is about fighting for equal opportunity”. As she concludes the video “I do what I do because I believe in a just world where both men and women can have a good life and I hope that my research is a little contribution.”

Follow Els in the Field:


By loading the video, you agree to YouTube's privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video

More stories from Muddy Boots:

United by Change: How to address COVID-19 in smallholder communities

For smallholder coffee farmer families, poverty and financial hardship were on the rise even before the pandemic started. And the situation now got worse in many places with COVID-19. Coffee prices are low, food is more expensive, income is affected, farm management...