According to Hunter, Twine and Johnson (2011:1), the purpose of the article is to explore and give a detailed understanding of how various coping strategies are applied by poor rural households in South Africa when it comes to the use of natural resources, the consumption of natural resources, the acquisition of natural resources as well as the selection of natural resources. It further looks into the application of these strategies in the case of the death of a key household member who is an income-generator or the collector of these natural resources. Hunter et al (2011: 2), in conducting this research aim to create a possible opportunity into the study of natural resource use, consumption, selection and acquisition strategies and how the mortality of a key household member due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic affect households.
The article pays special attention to the consumption, selection, acquisition and use of fuelwood and water in the MRC/Wits Rural Public Health Transition Research Unit. The availability of data was made from the Agincourt Surveillance Health site based in Mpumalanga, which is a rural community in which households are largely dependent on fuelwood, water and the collection of natural resources to generate an income and to ensure livelihood for most households in the area (Hunter et al 2011:4). Additionally, the article also aims to explore whether the impact of households that have been affected by the death of a key contributor of natural resources differs in any way from a household that has not experienced the death of such a contributor (Hunter et al 2011:2).
Descriptive research is the process where research is conducted with the aim of giving a detailed account of a phenomenon, a programme or a situation; it gives more information about a community, household, university or a country (Gounder 2013:6). Descriptive research can be conducted through conducting case studies as well as through statistical methods (Struwig and Stead 2001:8). According to Du Plessis (2018: 9), this method of conducting research aims to study the relationship between constructs and variables, and how they interlink with each other - it unpacks the statistical features of a situation. An example of a descriptive question would be; how many people in Rustenburg use public transport to commute to work?
Struwig and Stead (2001:7), define exploratory research as research that aims to study concepts and areas that have not been studied before. This type of research often involves gathering large amounts of data from a small sample in order to create a platform for more research to be conducted on specific concepts. The process of exploratory research involves the clarification of existing ideas, developing hypotheses and questions to existing problems that can be investigated in more detail at a later stage. An example of an exploratory research question would be; what are the factors that contribute to the rising sea level in the Arctic? Explanatory Research Gounder (2013:6) defines explanatory research as research that aims to study and provide reason for an existing relationship between certain concepts and phenomenon. An example of an explanatory research question would be; why is it important to save water? Hunter et al (2011:2) have used a combination of descriptive and exploratory research questions to conduct their research.
Hunter et al’s (2011) research is descriptive in nature because it gives detailed descriptions and explanations about the households in the Agincourt Unit. The first research question used by the authors to guide the data collection process is descriptive in nature because it aims to describe the connection between the natural resource strategies, mainly fuelwood and water and how these are affected by the death of a collector of these resources or the death of an income generator. There is a concept that is being investigated with an objective and outcome that guides the research question and therefore will also influence the method of data generation. The research findings indicate that the income generator enables the household to purchase fuelwood and water instead of having to collect these resources which allows the household time to focus on other household tasks. The research further gives a detailed description of the region where the study was conducted such as the demographic information, structure of households and the socio economic status which in turn affect the way in which these natural resources are distributed within households (Hunter et al 2011:2). This therefore gives an understanding of the subjects of study. According to the above description of descriptive research questions, these questions can be recorded through statistical format, in the case of Hunter et al (2011:7), the use of surveys were used as a data collection method for recording the statistical data. Surveys enable the researcher to gather responses from individuals and tend to measure the direct responses of individuals without the interference of the rest of the group (Struwig & Stead 2001:6).
The second research question in Hunter et al (2011) is exploratory in nature as it explores how mortality within households affects the collection, consumption and use of natural resources in poor households. The focus of mortality in this study is not specific to any disease and is thus very broad. The research was conducted because there was limited evidence from previous research that indicated the relationship between natural resource consumption and the mortality experience linked to HIV/AIDS. The research therefore offers a basis for further study on what the impact of HIV/AIDS related deaths in households affect the coping resource strategies for poor households in rural South Africa or any part of Africa in a time where the pandemic has affected many households (Hunter et al 2011:5).