Who? Anna Maria Visscher (26), MSc student of Plant Sciences and International Land and Water Management
What? Thesis at Centro Internacional del Agricultura (CIAT) & Escuela Superior Politécnica del Littoral (ESPOL)
Where? Ecuador and Colombia
Wageningen Master’s students do internships and thesis research all around the world. Here they talk about their adventures – with special attention in this Valentine’s edition for long-distance love.
‘I’ve always been interested in other cultures. Because I had already done a few international projects before I went to South America, I was already fluent in Spanish. It is important to me to be able to communicate with local people when I go somewhere to work or study.
For my field research in Ecuador, I worked closely with people from the Coca area in the middle of the Amazon. I could do research there on an experimental cocoa plantation to improve our understanding of the production, soil quality and plant-soil interactions in agroforestry systems in cocoa farming. High levels of cadmium in cocao beans are the main problem at the moment. This is because many places in South America are cadmium hotspots, and stricter European regulations about permissible levels of cadmium in chocolate are leaving a lot of small farmers with a surplus of contaminated cocoa beans.
Much of my fieldwork was demarcating sections of soil of 25 by 25 centimetres and counting and identifying all the insects and other macrofauna in them. A massive task, and not always very motivating for myself or the locals who helped me. But they stayed positive and we worked hard together. That was one of the things that struck me the most: how hard people work here, and how little they are paid. No one has a nine-to-five mentality. That fills me with respect.
Besides Coca, I also went to Guayacil, where the laboratory is where I could process my samples. I wrote my report at CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture), an hour’s drive from Cali (Colombia). At the weekend I often went hiking in the mountains with the owners of the house where I lived in Cali. We didn’t walk on footpaths but cut a trail through the wilderness with a machete. What with the many microclimates we walked through, it often felt like we were explorers on an expedition. The nature here is beautiful and I really got to see it because I went to so many different places. The Andes, the Amazon and the coast all have their own climate and culture. The enormous biodiversity, the tropical heat and the landscape that is so different to the Netherlands are things I will never forget.
I have an Italian boyfriend who is doing a PhD in Italy. It is not always easy to figure out where and when we can see each other. Luckily he had two weeks holiday at Christmas and came to see me, but before that we hadn’t seen each other for three months. During the two-week Christmas holiday we travelled on the Caribbean coast together and camped in the wild on white sandy beaches. A long-distance relationship is not always easy but it is worth it for the moments you have together.’