Interviewing experts with sociologists
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
For the last two weeks, I have been working for the P³ project at the foot of the superb Pyrenean Mountains and yet, I have not taken any plankton or frogs samples, I have not done any of my usual field work activities! I have put away my field backpack and my laboratory coat to accompany my sociologist colleagues Claudine and Andreas on a mission in the Pyrenees for the Molup project, the socio-ecological spin-off of P³. The objective was to meet as many agriculture and landuse experts as possible and to conduct interviews with farmers in order to understand their work, their methods, their motivations, their difficulties, and gather their opinions on a whole range of things related to their work and daily life.
My work had started upstream, with the organisation (or sometimes rather the attempt to organise) meetings with the various actors and decision-makers. It sometimes looked like a treasure hunt where a name, a function, or an organization could lead me to another essential contact, like a ball of yarn being unwound. For example, going to the Agriculture Office in Saint-Girons led me to the website of the FPA, where I discovered AFP and the AFPYR research program (we love abbreviations in France!).
It is true that the period (late July to early August) was suboptimal because of summer holidays (for those who have them) and the extra activity (for those who work in operations or in direct contact with the operators), so I would like to express here all my gratitude to all the people who devoted their precious time to us. In truth, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of positive feedback we received.
Jean-Guillaume Thiébault (from the Parc National des Pyrénées) shared with us his (immense) knowledge about pastoralism in the Pyrenees, from the bottom of the valley to the summer pastures, and from West to East. This is when we started to grasp the different actors, and the differences between the AFP and the FPA (not the same!).
Philippe Sahuc, sociologist and lecturer at the ENSFEA (Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Formation de Enseignement Agricole), provided similar information with a specific focus on Ariège. He shed a light on Ariège cultural heritage and illustrated his saying with many anecdotes and “slices of life”. We left with the phone number of a German-speaking cheesemaker.
Thierry Marfaing of the Fédération Pastorale de l’Ariège (FPA) welcomed us at the Hotel du Département. He detailed the organization of the mountain pastures, the evolution of land use and the challenges breeders are currently facing. I hope this first meeting with him will be the start of a fruitful collaboration between the FPA and the researchers involved in P³, as I feel that we have a convergent interest.
Marc Lavandier and Denis Feuillerat, of the National Forestry Office (ONF) answered all our questions on forest management in Ariège, the link between ONF, AFP, FPA and land-use, the evolution of forestry, tree diseases, and climate change.
It is unfortunately impossible for me to share here all that I have learned on the territory of the Pyrenees so enriching have been all these meetings. However, I have to admit that I was struck by the fact that the question of strengthening the Pyrenean population of the brown bear always comes back on the table, a sensitive subject par excellence in Ariège. I did not know that originally, the territory of the National Park of the Pyrenees was supposed to contain the Ariège, but the Ariégeois were so opposed to that (with reminiscences of memories of the famous “Guerre des Demoiselles” “War of the Maidens”) that finally, the contours of the Park were redrawn and the Ariège is "only" in a Regional Natural Park, much more recently founded.