Diverse ways of characterizing farmers are beginning to reveal ways in which different farmers engage with knowledge and generate positive outcomes. To the extent knowledge is considered power, there are many farmers and traders who prioritize knowledge protection and will only share knowledge when sharing is the best thing to do. Cultural values, norms and practices also influence knowledge sharing in different communities. In some communities, knowledge sharing is embedded in local norms and values. Some value chain actors share knowledge because they are naturally inclined to sharing. Yet others are hesitant to proffer their ideas unless there is demand and will only share when asked to do so.
Four types of farmers from a knowledge development perspective
Working with different types of farmers and traders over the past few years has enabled, eMKambo to discover and distil the following categories of farmers, irrespective of land size and other resources:
- Perfectionists: This group is obsessed with getting everything right the first time and unless things are clear they will continue playing it safe. For perfectionists, crops have to be completely free of weeds and livestock pens have to be free from mud all the time. Unfortunately, perfectionist farmers tend to get stuck because seasons and markets are not perfect. An important role for knowledge brokers is to nudge these farmers toward tolerating imperfect progress and learn to fine-tune as they go, as a natural learning process. However there are situations where perfectionism is critical. For instance, when dealing with international markets where quality is fundamental, perfection carries the day but there has to be a balance with consistency in supply.
- Know-it-alls: This cluster comprises aggressive knowledge seekers who can answer many questions about any commodity. While this group can be a powerful asset or a reliable library in a farming community, farmers in this category may not be team players, preferring to be considered the only sources of truths. When things go wrong, farmers who claim to know it all will blame everyone except themselves. Such a finger of blame can reflect a closed mind, which can be catastrophic in a dynamic world fuelled by knowledge and fluid ideas. In most cases, know-it-alls become jacks of all trades and masters of none, in a world where more success comes from specializing than embracing everything.
- Silo builders: This group is motivated by hoarding knowledge and building silos which can be shared with a small inner circle. As if to exemplify this category, there has been a growing tendency by large scale commercial farmers in African countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa to monopolize and build silos around export markets. New entrants have found this to be a more serious barrier to entry than conditions on the export market. Farmers in this group may also refuse ideas better than their own, especially if such ideas threaten their advantages.
- Victims always waiting for rescue: Sadly this group of farmers has increased in many African countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe over the past few years. Most of these farmers who are capable of buying their own inputs and invest their own capital into agriculture are now prefer to rely on government for assistance. They claim to be victims of unforeseen circumstances like macro-economic challenges and climate change. These farmers tend to conveniently ignore how they have overcome their own challenges in the past without any assistance. Unfortunately, this victim mentality has also infiltrated business lobby groups like chambers of commerce, retailers associations and privileged commodity association who continue to lobby government for protection against competition yet they should be competing and solving their problems.
In many rural farming communities, the victim mentality is being perpetuated by some development agencies who validate themselves by solving other people’s problems. Instead of allowing communities to solve their water and livestock disease challenges, some NGOs rush to rescue capable “victims”. This is one way in which poverty is being perpetuated through validating helplessness among people who are fit enough to solve their own challenges and assist the government in rebuilding the economy. When communities give themselves permission to solve their own challenges, their solutions are often better than those from outside because outcomes will be locally-owned.
The above issues are some of the many reasons why categorizing farmers in developing countries by land size is no longer enough. Critical considerations include relationships among farmers, the way farmers relate with the market as well as types and quality of commodities. All these are underpinned by different kinds of knowledge, some of which may not be acquired through conventional extension methods.
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