Using experimentation to balance short term agricultural gains with long term value creation

Climate change and unstable agricultural markets in developing countries are forcing agricultural actors to rely on constant experimentation. Historical knowledge is no longer enough for decision-making as contexts are always shifting. The level of complexity is such that farmers, traders and financial institutions cannot fully depend on individual meticulous planning. There are so many copycats waiting on their wings to enter the market and disrupt cash flows. While planning remains very important, it is the consolidation of all individual plans that matters most. For instance, long-term national policy planning misses the point if not informed by short and medium-term plans of actors such as farmers.

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The main challenge in most developing countries is that agricultural value chain actors such as farmers, processors, financiers and development partners do not share plans and targets. As long as plans are locked in silos, it is impossible to achieve national policy goals.  Farmers tend to depend on short-term plans, mostly seasonal as opposed to a framework laying out three to four year plans. The majority of seasonal plans are designed to meet household needs first with the surplus going to the market. Since information about surplus is barely consolidated, markets are kept guessing and therefore unable to plan.

Dangers and drivers of short-term plans

While short-term plans are good at meeting emergent needs like food security, there is no room for learning from short-term plans. It is insufficient to learn from short-term initiatives that take three to six months. In addition, short-term initiatives fuel premature conclusions, misleading people to believe that there has been success, leading to replication of ineffective short-term outcomes. However, what is driving short-term planning are factors beyond farmers’ control like climate change and lack of a guaranteed market. In a changing climate, farmers cannot plan for five years because things can quickly change. On the other hand, without a guaranteed market, good farmers end up minimizing their surplus to 10 bags of maize when they could actually produce 100 bags if the market is available. The absence of reliable markets compels farmers to make short-term decisions. In addition, short-term planning discourages   consultation between value chain actors, leading to a mismatch between market needs and supplies.

 The situation is the same with short-term loans. There is very little to learn from two to six months loan cycles compared to two to five year or season cycles.  Focusing on short-term and medium-term plans is mostly recycling of the same plans. It is difficult to plan your budget or predict your growth patterns without a strong evidence base in such a scenario. That is why the relationship between banks and farmers end up getting sour because the market suddenly becomes flooded with unexpected commodities. It means a farmer or trader’s three year cash flow is suddenly disrupted as more farmers start getting into the same commodities.  This reinforces a tendency to rely on short-term planning.

The power of experimentation in building adaptation capacity

The fast moving and competitive environment requires value chain actors who can generate and test hundreds of strategic options. Many farmers and traders are already progressing through trial and error which is certainly experimentation, characterized by cycling through many ideas quickly, testing commodity assumptions, getting feedback and building on what is. They are embracing experimentation as a strategy for maximizing their ratio of insights over time and money spent. While experimentation makes sense to farmers and traders, it is not yet natural behavior for other value chain actors such as formal buyers and financial institutions. These prefer the comfort zone of business as usual. Running an experiment is not their first instinct.  Any new opportunity is considered green field, which means it is an unexplored territory and high risk.

While a few formal institutions try to gather data, such data is isolated from the whole agricultural ecosystem and fails to generate sustainable business models. The data does no enable agribusinesses to discern the potential impact of innovative agricultural ideas. On the other hand, experimentation in farming communities and informal markets has the virtue of being both evidence-based and emergent. A well-designed value chain experiment quickly tests the merits of available ideas, generates new and relevant insight into the deep needs and behaviors of farmers, consumers and other actors. It also opens up new avenues that may not be apparent when information is continuously recycled.

Keeping pace keep pace with change

African value chain actors such as informal traders are keeping pace with the current relentless change through experimentation and quick learning. They are always training themselves to tune into deep customer needs and work hard to fulfill those needs. It is through experimentation that high quality information and knowledge is generated. The difference between a tangible commodity like a tomato and knowledge is that you can produce soup from a poor quality tomato and be satisfied with the poor quality of the soup but poor quality information and knowledge will lead to poor decisions which will cause the business to collapse. In most cases, smallholder farmers need high quality information and knowledge in order to compete in the fast-moving market. There is no gain in receiving the same information and knowledge twice. It is becoming very important to equip and empower every value chain actor to test and advance new ideas based on deep customer insight and real-world feedback.

Most African organizations prefer to learn from mistakes made by organizations in a different context like the West. That is why they are failing to produce extraordinary and original work. Getting fluent in failure requires a certain amount of grit and perseverance which our institutions do not want to experience. Unfortunately, the organizational life of all financial institutions is built around avoiding failure and stamping out risk. Unfortunately playing it safe, refusing to venture down blind alleys and sticking to what they know, locks them in the same models such as contract farming.

How can experimentation be taken to the next level?

Policy makers and formal institutions have to stop defending models that are no longer working. Rather than continue emphasizing indiscriminate formalization, they should fully understand local business dynamics. What is the point of a CR14 when every trader ends up doing the same thing or can swiftly change to other commodities?  It’s not about location but swift changes in business. You may know where a trader does business but how does that help a trader to grow if s/he decides to change from specializing in fruits to furniture or community tourism?

All value chain actors in agriculture and rural development should be empowered to build their capacity for experimentation. While some farmers and traders are always experimenting, those lessons are not being codified for everyone to learn. The last time African graduates conduct experiments is at secondary school and few at tertiary education level. Community experimentation is taken for granted although it may not require hi-tech laboratories.  In fact most fields, pastures, local markets and water sources constitute laboratories which could be used to advance community knowledge without waiting for external knowledge. There is no reason why African graduates should not be as open and as curious as possible for as long as possible—to the evidence, feedback and signals coming into their communities. At the moment, most people in African countries go through primary school, secondary school and tertiary education without making a career decision. That is why we end up with graduates looking for any job, for example, engineers teaching at primary school. Besides constituting short-term planning, this education system and mindset translates into lost years in terms of contributing to the economy.  By the time graduates find their true calling or career, they are already about to retire.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Which country has achieved economic growth through micro finance?

If you answer the above question correctly, a ton of pearl millet is waiting for you at eMKambo. When many organisations across the globe are merging in order to sustain some level of competitiveness, why are developing economies finding it sensible to take the micro finance route? There is enormous evidence showing that companies that can drive economic growth do not use micro loans to fuel their activities. Instead of transforming the formal financial sector so that it can fully support exploitation of natural resources, African policy makers are registering more micro finance institutions.

For example, Zimbabwe had 143 registered Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) in March 2015 and by 30 June 2016, the number had risen to 164 registered MFIs (15% increase within a year).  On the other hand, the country has 14 commercial banks, most of which have an SME division which deals in micro loans and therefore competes with MFIs. Taking into account the existence of SME departments within commercial banks and many unregistered MFIs, it means micro finance is much larger than what is visible.

For agricultural-based economies, it is serious mistake to finance agriculture through MFIs, especially when MFIs do not understand agricultural markets. Saving is about opportunity costs which formal financial institutions prefer to ignore. Borrowers such as farmers and traders are rational decision makers who can weigh how much it costs them to save money in a financial institution three months when they could spin such money more than five times in their agribusiness during the same period.

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How far can African economies run on micro wheels?

African reserve banks should answer many searching questions. Why are they promoting more micro finance institutions when banking sectors are already congested and economies are not growing fast?  Since some MFIs are now taking deposits, should people do away with banks and deal with MFIs? You can only do so much with a micro loan. By going micro, we are limiting people’s entrepreneurial imagination and innovation. Besides confusing people by not clarifying these issues, the micro finance fever is encouraging double-dipping in ways that weaken national economies. A micro finance culture locks targeted clients such as women and youth into vending and a survivalist mindset when they should be aiming for growth. The more micro your focus the more you take your eyes off the big picture.

A micro finance culture is also incentivizing rent-seeking and unethical financial practices.  For instance, when banks see that their licenses do not allow then to charge certain interest rates, they go into bed with MFIs in order to milk clients. That way, they end up benefitting from interest rates as high as 20% when the law says they should not charge above 10% interest. Rather than certify dozens of MFIs, why are African reserve banks and ministries of finance not promoting the organic growth of savings clubs into village banks? Such organic growth is more sustainable unlike the current scenario where MFIs are taking over community savings clubs models and introducing bureaucratic structures that contravene the original social cohesion at community level. As a result we are losing valuable knowledge on how communities have financially sustained themselves for generations. As if that is not enough, many MFIs are riding on livelihood projects by development partners.  As soon as the projects comes to an end, MFIs pack their bags and leave.  As a result, communities start rebuilding their local savings clubs from scratch.

 What is the difference between MFI and Commercial Bank in terms of services?  

To ordinary people, commercial banks and MFIs offer the same services although MFIs are famous for high interest rates. SME departments in commercial banks compete with MFIs for clients.  The situation would be better if there was a recognized pathway along which clients like SMEs can graduate from MFIs to commercial banks on the basis of business performance and growth. Since such pathways are missing, most MFIs convert business loans into consumer loans. Cases where 30 -40% of MFI loans end up going to school fees are very common.

Business potential and viability as superior collateral

Besides limitations explained above, the banking sector in every African country is failing to develop appropriate financial products which recognize the fact that a business’s potential and viability is superior collateral than immovable property.  By not recognizing such an important resource, financial institutions get obsessed on saving at the expense of wealth creation. Saving money is not useful if that money cannot create meaningful wealth. Business viability, including associated relationships and communities of practice, should be in the fore-front as fundamental components of collateral. One should get a loan on the basis of business potential and growth. However, due to reluctance by banks to fully consider business contexts, many SMEs end up resorting to micro loans as an emergency or desperate measure. When loans are more of emergencies and stop gap measures, the rate of default increases.  The onus is on banks to completely understand businesses they support.  At the moment, many SMEs take loans as a last resort because banks have not bothered to creatively know their clients’ business dynamics.

The myth of separating business from family

Most African banks and MFIs are still hooked onto the notion of supporting profit-driven enterprises instead of embracing the social entrepreneurship component which ensures a win-win outcome. No business person can survive without taking care of family needs. Banks should not continue to kid themselves thinking that there is a clear boundary between business and family. That is a big myth. Considering the socio-economic nature of African businesses, especially SMEs, banks should extend loans that have two parts – 70% business needs and 30% household or livelihood needs.  This can be accompanied by two repayment strands (business and family).  It doesn’t help to continue pretending that a borrower whose child has been chased away from school for lack of school fees will ignore that urgent issue when s/he has borrowed money for business.  The reality is that s/he will pay school fees with part of the loan and work hard to repay it. It is therefore important to introduce a two tier loan facility which caters for business needs and household needs.  That way, clients will fully open up about their circumstances.

Limitations of the agency banking model

While the agency banking model has made some in-roads into African economies, it has started revealing serious loopholes, one of which is the big brother mindset by banks. An agent such as an agro-dealer will have invested a lot in building a niche market and,  here comes a bank interested in working with the agent but not keen to recognize and compensate prior investments. As a result, the agency banking model becomes a burden to the agent. Financial institutions should ensure the principle of agency banking is informed by reliable evidence. Banks should conduct research to find out how much it would cost them to set up a new branch and develop a market niche as opposed to riding on what the agent has already done.

Evidence from such research should inform the crafting of appropriate revenue sharing models based on special skills and experiences brought by each agent rather than introducing a one-size-fits-all revenue sharing model skewed in favour of the bank. Many banks and MFIs are just getting into agriculture markets and start issuing out loans without supporting the market as institution.  Their assumption is that money is the only most important business factor. That is why many models are suffering still-births.  Supporting a very small part of the value chain does not entitle banks to claim a larger share of the profit. How can you expect to reap everything when you have just provided resources for harvesting yet the farmer put all the other resources including seed?

Towards alternative models

Financiers are not assisting their clients such as traders to develop their markets.  On the other hand, they still insist on group lending which does not give enough room for individual brilliance to shine. Why should champions be yoked with slow movers? Policy makers should desist from locking small businesses into micro-financism. Rather than impose financing models, development partners and governments should help economic drivers such as irrigation schemes establish their own needs-based and contextual credit facilities. Loans for horticulture should be different from those intended for livestock.  Such segmentation is fundamental for success. Meanwhile, the potential and limitations of micro finance in driving authentic economic growth remains an unproven theory in many African countries.

 

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMKambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Why we need a healthy handshake between numbers and intuitions

Due to the hype surrounding Big Data, there is a temptation for economic planners in developing countries to over-depend on quantitative data (numbers) at the expense of qualitative data (stories). There are many valid reasons why economic planners should not ignore local intuitions that offer a better interpretation of what is beyond the data (numbers). Working on the forefront of informal agricultural markets has made it clear to eMKambo that what is measurable is sometimes not the most valuable. Local intuitions and emotions can be more valuable than numbers. There is a hidden story behind each commodity price.

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Unfortunately, in a world that is becoming seriously data-driven, qualitative data is being seen as anecdotal, unreliable, small and insignificant. As if that is not enough, researchers who specialize in qualitative data are being swept aside by the big data revolution which is more interested in quantitative evidence that can be manipulated by machines. Yet there is no doubt that qualitative data is better at revealing people’s emotions, intuitions, experiences and worldviews. Although qualitative evidence is the sticky stuff that is difficult to quantify, it is good at generating incredible depth of meanings and values.

With the rise of Big Data, it seems development organizations and private companies are also now valuing quantitative more than qualitative data. For instance, the introduction of drones in agriculture is expected to generate a lot of real time data on what is actually happening in farming areas. Investments in technologies such as drones are threatening the future of qualitative data which cannot be captured by drones. One of the reasons why organizations over-rely on numbers (quantitative data) is that qualitative data is not easy to measure. Yet, what is not easy to measure can represent a community’s competitive intelligence and advantage. Most quantitative data gathering and processing methods strip information of its context, meaning and stories so that it can be standardized and clustered.

Integrating numbers and stories

A complete picture of the reality on the ground in most African communities can only emerge from integrating quantitative and qualitative evidence. For agricultural value chain actors to form a complete picture of the agriculture market, they need both numbers and stories because each of them produce different types of insights at varying scales and depths.  While numbers can reveal quantified data points, stories can reveal the social context accounting for those data points.

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On the other hand, more numbers do not necessarily translate to more insights. Several organizations have huge data bases which are difficult to convert into meaningful insights. When organizations value quantitative results more than qualitative results, they reinforce an assumption that statistically normalized and standardized data is more useful and objective than qualitative data. Yet it is more meaningful to balance the quantity (number of farmers or volumes of commodities) with the quality of agricultural insights and commodities.

 The importance of not losing people’s experiences

When organizations start making decisions based on numbers only, they end up losing people’s stories and actual experiences. Without human decision-making, farmers and other value chain actors lose their capacity to reflect on the morality of their actions and that is not ideal in a changing climate.  Qualitative data generates emotions and inspiration that enable communities to know what they need to know. That is why collecting and analyzing stories produces rich insights more than can be generated through quantitative surveys. Through stories, communities stumble on surprises that can inspire innovation and imagination. You cannot say the same about a string of numbers.

Numbers alone do not respond to the emotions of everyday life such as trust, vulnerability, fear, lust, security, love and intimacy. It is hard to use numbers to represent the strength of an individual farmer’s affiliation to his crops or animals and how such affiliation changes over time. On the other hand, qualitative data approaches reach deep into people’s hearts. That is why a relationship between a farming community and a contract company’s brand becomes more emotional than rational. When policy makers want to build stronger ties with agricultural value chain actors, they should embrace both numbers and authentic stories. That is because stories contain emotions which cannot be found in a normalized dataset.

Why we need to balance a data-centric approach with a human-centred approach

Solving global challenges such as climate change, malnutrition and poverty certainly requires a health combination of numbers and stories.  Data-driven approaches are already asking many questions that can only be answered through stories (qualitative data).  One such intriguing question is: What does the behavior of farmers and traders tell us about the role of big data (numbers) and qualitative data (stories) in agricultural markets and farming communities?  The process of answering this question can show why quantitative data alone is not able to reveal all the influences of socio-economic development. Quantitative data alone will not tell you what consumers really want but stories that resonate with consumers can shed more light.

Many communities in developing countries are already experiencing uncertainty, unpredictability and information load as a result of digital technology and related influences. In order to keep up with uncertainties such as climate change and poverty, they need both numbers and stories. Big data is not going to replace traditional forms of intuitive learning and making sense of the world. Although quantitative data may suggest necessary changes in a particular community, qualitative researchers are going to remain critical in surfacing the impact and context of those changes from a socio-cultural perspective.  However, since stories have their own limitations, quantitative data is an important avenue for enabling communities to experiment with alternative ways of thinking about learning and knowledge sharing in the 21st century.

 

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Making sense of invisible advantages in rural African communities

Many rural African communities have seen development programmes and business models come and go. What has kept these communities alive is their invisible advantages in the form of local culture. A community’s culture is basically a collection of unwritten rules, norms and values that influence people’s behavior. The fact that these are unwritten rules makes them remarkable in a world that is becoming obsessed with documents.

From encounters with rural communities in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, eMKambo has discovered a distinct feature connecting all these communities. Their notion of saving has nothing to do with modern financial institutions but livestock and other local assets in their control. They do not even see the role of a national Reserve Bank in their lives. That partly explains why more than 90% of Micro Finance Institutions that are supposed to be in rural areas end up moving to urban and peri-urban areas where their models are accepted.

 Need to rethink development models

Based on the above observations, there is definite need for development organizations and policy makers to revisit and align their development models with local realities. If properly understood and harnessed, local culture can be the basis for sustainable value creation. Conversely, many communities are unaware of the value and power of their cultures. Sometimes it takes an outsider for a community to see that its culture is more valuable than gold. With so much copying and duplication of development models by many organizations, culture has remained the only invisible secret sauce that is impossible to copy from one community and paste in another.

Rather than introduce innovations that try to turn communities upside down, development organizations and policy makers need to carefully look at cultural aspects that fuel incremental innovation in every community. All rural communities use their culture to replace what no longer works with new ideas and products.  That is how some livestock breeds and crop varieties end up getting into new communities. Unfortunately, development partners working according to certain assumptions and strict timelines do not have the patience and time to learn from incremental innovative steps in communities they work.

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Community engagement has to be grounded in felt needs and take into account complexities in each community. On the contrary, conventional participatory approaches often obscure divergent community interests in ways that end up legitimizing existing power imbalances. When community members participate without critically thinking, there is no meaningful impact at community level.

The promise of data and evidence

Community youth in developing countries can take advantage of digital technology to accelerate incremental innovation and assist their communities in implementing evidence-based practices. However, digital approaches should avoid the temptation to act in a top-down manner but engage community members directly in recognition of the role of local culture in socio-economic change.  The chart below shows an example of data-driven evidence that can be relevant at community level.

 Estimated revenue by source from Mbare Agriculture market, Harare – November 2016

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Using the above data, it is possible for agricultural and rural development policy makers to see that smallholder farmers are not just interested in producing commodities for formal value chains. Building relationships with their kith and kin residing in urban areas motivates farming communities to continue producing for the open market. Data and evidence can reveal the extent to which farmers from particular rural districts are more driven by social cohesion, by boosting local food security or by building a strong ecosystem than improving yields alone.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

ANALYSIS:What has gone wrong with the groundnut market in Zimbabwe?

Groundnut has traditionally been a famous cash cow in Zimbabwe. Many Cabinet ministers, captains of industry, academics and bankers can testify to have gone to school because their parents were able to raise school fees through groundnut production and marketing.

From those who knew him, the founder of Zimbabwe’s largest poultry company Irvine’s Day Old Chicks, is said to have built his poultry enterprise on the back of groundnut marketing. Over the years, seed companies used to produce diverse varieties of groundnut seed. Many agro-dealers used to participate in groundnut aggregation, grading, packaging, selling and processing into peanut butter or cooking oil. The role of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was clearly defined as a major buyer of groundnut.

Since the above is now almost history, smallholder farmers, traders and consumers have devised numerous coping mechanisms to sustain groundnut production and marketing. Since seed companies have shunned groundnut seed production in preference for hybrid maize, farmers have resorted to producing their own seed on-farm and recycling some of the seed.

However, where it is not done properly, recycling of groundnut seed results in low yields and poor quality. According to groundnut producers in Murewa, groundnut loses its purity and seed qualities when inter-cropped indiscriminately. Farmers have to plant groundnut for seed in separate plots. The farmers blame Gypsum for polluting the purity of some local groundnut varieties.

The cost of production has also not worked in favour of local farmers resulting in commercial processors resorting to importing groundnuts from Malawi which lends in Zimbabwe at $700 – $800/ton. Given high cost of inputs, local farmers would find it viable when they sale at $1000/ton.

A positive aspect for farmers is that processors and consumers prefer local groundnut varieties such as Kasawaya whose taste and oil content is said to be far much superior. Given these positive aspects, one would expect development organisations that provide food aid in the form of cooking oil to promote local production of high oil content groundnuts rather than importing.

A key challenge in groundnut production has remained lack of proper identification, resulting in too much cross-breeding. For instance, a large groundnut variety which came from Zambia through Mbare market is now grown in Mwenezi district of Masvingo Province. Farmers plant different varieties on the same piece of land, resulting in massive cross-pollination. The tradition of exchanging seed remains very strong among farmers. Many farmers do not know much about Gypsum while on the other hand, fertiliser suppliers promote use of Compound D and C in groundnuts, even in dry areas where fertilisers rarely desolve in the soil due to lack of rainfall or water.

This is worsened by lack of extension support on groundnuts as a cash crop. Farmers lack sufficient knowledge on expected yield by variety, types of varieties, market demand and scientific names of varieties.

The majority of groundnut varieties are identified by local names. A groundnut called Kasawaya in one area is called Tumbe or Chimhandara in other communities. Sometimes names are used

interchangeably. In Masvingo Kasawaya is called Chinzungwana. There is also confusion on whether Natal Common is what farmers call Kasawaya. In the absence of clear identification, new people entering into groundnut production and marketing may have problems understanding the value chain.

As with other crops, farmers who produce groundnuts are making sense of a changing climate.

Traditionally, groundnuts are planted by mid – October. Now that it is mid- November, farmers are using their local knowledge to decide which variety to plant given that the season has become shorter.

Since commercial seed houses are no longer producing many groundnut varieties, the informal market has become a major source of seed. Perhaps irrigation schemes can play a big role in groundnut production particularly those with reliable supply of water. Fresh groundnuts start coming to the market end of October from irrigation schemes. Winter production of groundnut may go beyond just supplying seed but also income for dry land production.

The role of the informal market

The informal market has become a major player in the groundnut value chain because it presents a ready market with farmers paid cash. This market has also become a reliable source of groundnuts for small and medium scale peanut butter processors and farmers who want to buy groundnut for seed.

This development has presented a paradigm shift in the role of traders who are no longer just selling groundnuts but also advising farmers on what variety to plant as per consumer demand. With at least 90 percent of households in Zimbabwe consuming groundnuts, they need knowledge on the effects of aflatoxins. Traders have some bit of knowledge on aflatoxins.

Major local sources are Murewa, Mutoko and Buhera. External suppliers are Malawi and Zambia.

Common varieties found in Mbare market are Tumbe and Kasawaya. This season, there is a rare variety called White Bob which comes from Buhera. The demand for groundnuts in the market varies from time to time, and on whether they are shelled or unshelled. From September to May, demand surpasses supply and this has seen a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts fetching $22 compared to the on-season when a bucket goes for $15. Fresh groundnuts show up on the market end of October to early November, going for $8 per bucket. During this period, the demand for fresh groundnuts exceeds supply.

Major sources of fresh groundnuts are irrigation schemes in Mutoko and Murewa. When demand is high, some farmers buy groundnuts from fellow farmers using barter trade with clothes, groceries, school uniforms and stationery among other items. This is how high volumes are obtained for the market where large quantities are required. According to Mai Tariro a farmer from Murewa, through barter trade, a pair of school shoes is equivalent to a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts.

Consumers buy groundnuts for peanut butter processing, for eating (whether boiled, raw or roasted) and for seed. The main customers for Mbare are the general public, vendors and traders from other markets. Some farmers who used to sell to big companies have since stopped due to disagreement on payment terms, grading system and other issues.

Companies prefer buying in kilogrammes while farmers prefer selling in buckets. Farmers also tend to mistrust weighing scales which they think are manipulated by buying companies. According to some traders, groundnuts from areas like Rusape tend to have more aflatoxins. However, those from major supplying areas such as Mutoko, Murewa, Buhera and Mt Darwin are afro-toxin free. Another observation from traders is that groundnuts that are treated for storage, the way GMB does it, end up becoming toxic if they stay with the chemical for too long.

Farmers and traders have agreed on their own grading. Three grades are used mainly in the form of counts. The counts are count 5, 6 and 7. Count 5 is the biggest in size and often used for making peanut butter, as well as count 6. Count 7 is the least in size and often used as seed. Traders usually sale count 5 and count 6. Interestingly the prices are just the same when selling per bucket.

Traders who bring groundnuts from Buhera, Murewa, Mutoko and Mt Darwin in bulk store in the market and in local houses. Preservatives like insecticides are used to prevent attack from weevils. A few traders who have tried to import groundnuts said imported groundnuts are usually of poor quality as shown by the price. For instance, a bucket of Malawian groundnuts was fetching $15/bucket against $21 for local groundnuts in October 2014. Peanut butter produced by local small scale processors is sold at $1/bottle while commercial processors, some purchasing groundnuts from outside, charge $1.50/bottle.

Although it has lost some of its glamour, groundnut remains both a cash crop and a wholesome food.

It substitutes a lot of foods – relish, cooking oil, lotion. The full potential of groundnut is yet to be exploited. If targeting high oil content, Kasawaya is far much superior but has low yield on the land.

Once groundnut is fully exploited, consumers can divert money they are currently using for purchasing cooking oil to other needs. Value addition initiatives have to be supported. Some processors have started creating blends such as Maputi nuts. There is also increase in cooking and drying fresh nuts which are then sold. A big question from groundnut value chain actors is: How can breeders come up with a high yielding high content groundnut? – eMkambo

*eMkambo is a market-driven agricultural solution platform. You can contact the writer on the following emails: Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com OR charles@emkambo.co.zw

The joys and benefits of learning directly from plants and animals

In spite of the current obsession with formal learning approaches where people are encouraged to learn from each other, many African farmers remain convinced they can learn more from plants and animals. That is how, over generations, they have acquired knowledge from plant and animal medicines. Every rainy season provides farmers and every curious person an opportunity to learn from the secret teachings of plants and animals. Rather than continue relying on fellow human beings for knowledge, direct perception and knowledge acquisition from Nature is powerful beyond measure.

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Learning directly from plants and animals is an age-old tradition in many African communities.  Unfortunately, due to reluctance by policy makers to fully integrate this natural way of learning into formal educational systems, many people are losing their capacity to learn naturally from Nature. Children are shoved into formal schools where they are supposed to learn through reading books where information has been de-contextualized and frozen. Learning directly from plants and animals can complement learning from reading stories and novels like Things Fall Apart, Waiting for The Rain and many others.

How technology can help in developing best learning practices from nature

Digital technology can assist in exploring natural techniques used by indigenous people to learn directly from their plants, animals and Nature. It should be possible to harvest intuitions and perceptions of numerous remarkable farmers who cultivate the majority of plants and keep diverse animals in your community or country. Capturing steps through which ordinary farmers learn from plants and animals will make it possible for the world to generate new knowledge and learning pathways. Ultimately, the young generation will be able to obtain tools necessary to gather information directly from Nature.  Instead of using experiments, they can directly learn the medicinal uses of plants and animal parts, engage in diagnosis of various disease, and intimately understand how Nature functions.

Learning through crops and animals gives you an opportunity to focus on the whole game, not just the score; the whole field or pastures, not just the yield. It also reinforces behaviors that produce positive results – for example an increase in environmental consciousness. By looking closely at crops and livestock, you can build productive relationships between human beings, crops, livestock and the whole ecosystem.  Do not squander an amazing opportunity to learn from Nature this farming season.

Giving local knowledge a new shelf life

Using technology to enhance personal knowledge mastery among individual farmers can build long-term memory in ways that give local knowledge a meaningful shelf life. Most indigenous farmers who have relied on their memory for generations have quietly and patiently honed skills in gathering knowledge from Nature for others to use and internalize. From the way they interact with crops and livestock, most African farmers show the power of curiosity in generating knowledge. It is through careful scrutiny that people can realize their impact on the environment.

Due to the seasonal nature of most African agricultural activities, transferring knowledge between Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring is fraught with forgetting and re-invention of wheels. That is why some form of documentation is important.  Once farmers and ordinary people are empowered to capture knowledge from their crops, livestock and Nature, people in other areas and time-zones can benefit from it. Building institutional memory requires an environment that encourages capturing and sharing knowledge artifacts.  Crops, livestock and Nature can be the basis for such artifacts.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

How to be a catalyst for better agricultural outcomes in 2017

Developing countries which embrace a business – as – usual approach to agricultural development will take more than a century to eradicate food insecurity. Continuing with 2016 patterns implies 2017 will not be an improvement of what happened in the past years. It is no longer enough to be an agricultural change agent. All value chain actor, including consumers, should become full participants in agricultural transformation.

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While there is a temptation to continue conducting workshops and the same style of field days, 2017 should see more emphasis on combining dialogue with documentation.  Some people think that reading is a less efficient way of gaining knowledge than conversations and dialogue. How much of the content from agricultural conversations conducted in 2016 can you remember? That is where documentation becomes critical. There are many cases where documenting agricultural patterns is safer in the long run than storing knowledge in memories.

Many agricultural value chain actors can identify with the following memory flaws:

  • Memories fade over time.  How many farmers or traders can trust ideas that they stored in their memory in June 2016?
  • There are many false memories as shown by how some value chain actors may clearly remember things which never happened.
  • Many agricultural value chain actors selectively remember information which support their existing opinions. Such a bias distorts memory.
  • Farming communities and groups of traders can form their own knowledge bubbles which filter out contrary views and knowledge that may turn out to be correct.

Although human memory is rich and nuanced, it can suffer from numerous false opinions, bias and prejudice. On the other hand, although documented knowledge can lack important contextual details, it can be a powerful memory aid.

The power of documentation

It is through documentation that value chain actors can be able to gather knowledge from the following questions:

  • What was expected to happen in our agricultural initiatives in 2016?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What is the learning for the future?
  • What action should we take to embed these lessons?

In 2017, all lessons should be documented in such a way that each becomes a stand-alone document which can be read and understood in isolation at the end of the year.

 

Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6