How informal markets increase access to natural food and natural remedies

Rising demand for wild foods and local herbs in most African informal markets demonstrate the desire for the public to return to natural remedies. In addition to food, all kinds of natural herbs and medicines are an integral part of the people’s food market ecosystem. This means African scientists have a lot of work in researching local food systems and medicinal herbs for integration into global food and health systems. To the extent that food and medicine go together, African scientists should ensure traditional herbal medicine is developed to be integrated into the national nutrition and health delivery systems.

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Why herbal medicine deserves a new lease of life

While herbal medicine has now been accepted as a critical component of global health, it is sad to note that in most African countries where over 80% of the population relies on herbs for daily health needs, only few such herbs have been validated using research. In the United Kingdom, Germany and other western countries, herbal medicine has been well integrated into the nation’s health system. Rather than continue to witness poverty through over-prescription of medicinal products from other countries, it is the responsibility of African scientists to use evidence – based science in developing herbal products that are  relevant to the majority of local people.

The diversity of local herbal products is often visible through people’s food markets. It is from this evidence base that African scientists can begin properly defining what traditional medicine is, where it starts and stops as well as codifying the huge spectrum of herbs and medicines. They should then be able to determine how traditional herbs and medicines relate to new terminologies like ‘alternative medicine’, ‘complementary medicine’ and ‘herbal medicine.  This effort can feed into further work on characterizing and building genetic banks in ways that enhance herbal genetic conservation and prevent bio-piracy. Regulators should play a leading role in this work to ensure African countries do not lose on royalties which are normally generated when genetic material gets improved into global brands.

Importance of verifying existing knowledge

Knowledge on traditional medicine continue to be shared through oral and learning by doing without comparison with modern scientific medicine. For instance, depending on African community, almost every indigenous tree is said to be medicinal.

  • How can science like biotechnology be used to verify such claims?
  • How can science show the pros and cons of commercializing traditional medicine and indigenous food systems?
  • How can regulatory platforms create molecular signatures (biobanks) of medicinal importance so that a data base will forever exist and anyone would seek permission to mine from it for research and other purposes?

Regulatory intervention will strengthen access to global benefit sharing agreements which curbs bio-piracy of such genetic resources. Like any other knowledge systems, indigenous knowledge systems have a ceiling beyond which some improvements or additions will be required.  For instance, while herbs can cure some ailments, it is not possible to scan a fractured leg using traditional medicine.  Some of the knowledge dies with its generation.

  • To what extent can absence of science account for low productivity and new disease outbreaks and crop diseases that are being passed on from one crop to another?
  • Since most crops and herbs are seasonal, how can biotechnology help in preserving them without losing nutrients and medicinal properties?

These are some of the key questions waiting to be answered by African scientists and policy makers.

 

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

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Informal food markets as pathways for bringing science closer to society

Food demand and supply systems like informal markets can be powerful pathways for bringing science closer to local communities in developing countries. More than 70% of food consumed in African countries passes through informal markets. While food processing companies may have their own laboratories, there is no laboratory for food that gets to consumers through informal markets. This is an important food safety and regulation concern that farmers and ordinary consumers are waiting for educated scientists to solve.  Scientists should not wait for communities to demand such knowledge.

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In Zimbabwe, for instance, informal markets like Mbare, Malaleni, Sakubva, Mucheke and Kudzanayi handle more than 50 different crops and food varieties from around the country every day. These pull together many value chain actors such as farmers, traders, processors, transporters and consumers. If each of these actors understands some level of science within agricultural commodities, it becomes easy to embed biotechnology and other brands of scientific knowledge along value chains.  There is no reason why simple laboratories cannot be set up at each informal market, enabling farmers, traders and other actors to bring samples of their commodities for testing and receive advice on how they can improve their products.

Toward science-based characterization

Just as cooling facilities and warehousing facilities are critical at agricultural markets, so is establishing  laboratories that can be part of market knowledge systems. This can simplify characterization of commodities and levels of knowledge in each market as an ecosystem.  Such insights can empower   extension officers so that they can advise farmers on appropriate use of chemicals, fertilizer and other inputs in ways that minimize pesticides residues and improve varieties for better storage, handling, tasting and shelf life via feedback from consumers.

Laboratories at agricultural markets can also support awareness raising and tasting of fruits and vegetables on chemical residues and related food safety issues.  Producers can also be empowered with appropriate knowledge on classifying commodities by grade from a scientific perspective. At the moment grading is not informed by science but based on observation and physical outlook.  Many local livestock breeds, grains, tubers, fruits and vegetables remain orphaned due to lack of science in agricultural market.

The western world has been able to embed science into its food like GMOs which are flowing into African countries. Yet African scientists have not been able to use biotechnology to understand and improve local foods for both the domestic and foreign market.  Doing so will not only unlock new sources of innovation but make African food competitive in the knowledge economy characterized by healthy conscious consumers.  In the absence of scientific knowledge, African communities continue to rely on indigenous knowledge systems and human senses like touch, smell, taste, feel and sight which are very subjective. African science cannot afford to remain abstract and not harness local practical intelligence.

Limited value addition due to lack of science

Traditional drying of vegetables and fruits has its own limits. You can only go so far with drying vegetables and fruits. Commodities that are being value added have come from the West with their embedded science, for instance, tomatoes, beans and some exotic fruits. African science cannot remain in classrooms, academics, research institutions and patents which do not solve local challenges.  It should inform production zones and speak to climate issues, especially micro-climates. When established at agricultural markets, a science laboratory can work daily with markets and become a key knowledge component for the agricultural markets.

The scale of knowledge fragmentation

The fragmentation of technological interventions which characterize most African economies has to be addressed urgently. It is clear that there are two technological worlds in African countries. One side comprise academics and researchers in their silos while the other side is made up of communities with their local indigenous knowledge.  People’s agricultural markets can offer better ways of integrating the two.  Within indigenous knowledge systems, technological inventions have traditionally evolved from oral communication, moving to experimentation and learning by doing, for example, producing and tasting food. This is still happening in many rural African communities. Once approved through social confirmation, the emerging knowledge is shared through relationships, networks, clans, tribes and the larger society.  That is how knowledge around seed systems and livestock breeds is still spreading today. As was the case in the past, some technological inventions are still being inspired by coping strategies, for instance communities coping with a drought or outbreak of livestock diseases.

In the academic world, most of the technology is still being imported. There is still over-reliance on western knowledge, with African scientists doing some bit of adaptation and improvement.  Experimentation takes place in classrooms or lecture theatres and then prototypes are produced, some leading to patents.  Technologies produced are usually not directed at benefiting communities.  Instead, if successful, the knowledge is patented and can only be used by other researchers to advance their learning towards achieving PhDs. Such knowledge does not have end-users or consumers whose feedback should ideally demonstrate which technologies are getting traction.

Where products from scientific research eventually reach communities, application is through written instructions such as labels on, for instance, how to apply a certain type of fertilizer or chemicals or how to assemble a certain piece of equipment. No explanation is provided on why the chemical, fertilizer or new piece of machinery will provide a superior remedy to what already exists in the community.  Farmers are left with unanswered questions on the difference between manure from their cattle and inorganic fertilizer being promoted.  They also continue to wonder why science is not helping them improve cattle manure to a level where it matches imported inorganic fertilizers.

Situation of African food systems 

With regard to food science, nutrition and issues like tissue culture, African farmers continue to depend on what they know. Science is completely absent in good agricultural practices and farming as a business training to which many farmers are subjected by extension departments and development organizations. These interventions focus on production, harvesting, storage and record keeping but do not go an extra scientific mile to focus on soil science, food science, tissue culture and artificial insemination. The promotion of cassava, small grains and indigenous livestock does not consider science-based merits of these commodities but consider external issues like resilience to climate variability. Instead of considering climate issues like prevalence of dry areas and low rainfall, it is important for science to be used in articulating scientific benefits of cassava, sweet potatoes, indigenous livestock and other commodities.

An important starting point for science like biotechnology should be commodities and practices that already exist in communities. Where farmers have mastered farming as a business, the quality of their commodities remains sub-standard due to lack of science. Their commodities are uncompetitive on the export market due to aflatoxins, chemical residues and many other impurities that cannot be identified by a naked eye.  A majority of farming communities do not have simple modern scientific technologies for pre-testing the quality of commodities before going to the market. The domestic market is too small for the production capacity of most African farmers. If African countries are to be serious participants on the export market, mastering food science beyond just describing carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins is fundamental. If African scientists remain in their silos, people will continue associating technology with ICTs yet s lot of technologies with potential to improve lives should come from science.

 

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

A dozen shades of middlemenship in African agribusiness

Although it has existed for more than 100 years, middlemenship or intermediation continues to be misunderstood in agro-based African countries. Contrary to what most farmers and policy makers think, it’s not about people acting as middlemen but middlemenship as a practice whose features range from excellent to bad. Depending on type of commodity, market integration and many other factors, there are more than a dozen shades of middlemenship in African agriculture.

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Making sense of middlemenship/intermediation

As a practice, intermediation or middlemenship is a meeting point for demand and supply where expectations of consumers and producers are consolidated. Each side brings a lot of lot onto the table. The supply side is concerned about commodity volumes and prices while the demand side brings consumer tastes and preferences into the conversation. In this situation, middlemenship or intermediation is like presiding over a heated soccer match.  What makes this a tough call is that consumers blame the trader if prices rise while farmers blame the trader if prices go down.  Yet when the two groups meet on their own without an intermediary, progress is often stalled.

Importance of understanding different shades of middlemenship

Every agricultural value chain actor has an element of middlemenship, depending on situations.  For instance, owning a ripening facility enables a big company to reap more rewards from banana farmers than producers. Unless push and pull factors surrounding middlemenship are clearly understood, it is easy for farmers to blame everyone except themselves.  In most cases, smallholder farmers do not have enough volumes or capacity to bring commodities to the market.  This prompts traders to leave their market stalls in urban markets and go to farming areas where they aggregate commodities before bringing to the market.  At what point is this kind of middlemenship bad for farmers and consumers? Is it better for the trader to leave commodities rotting in farming areas because farmers are not able to bring to the market?

Now that almost every farmers has access to information which enables access to diverse buyers, why are farmers and farmer organizations not stamping out middlemenship if they see it as a bad practice? Trading of agricultural commodities is characterized by a couple of risky elements. For instance, most traders speculatively buy commodities early in the morning just as the market opens. Given that the market will not have settled, this is risky because prices can fall a few hours later when the market settles down such that some traders end up selling commodities at much lower prices than anticipated.  By that time, the farmer will have gone.

Who determines supply which is a major determinant of price?

Is it the trader or the farmer?  Since supply is firmly in the hands of farmers, it is difficult for traders to control supply. When commodities flood the market and drive prices down, farmers blame the trader as if the trader is the supplier. On the other hand, when there is a deficit, traders scramble for produce and prices rise in favor of the farmer.  To a greater extent, farmers compete with each other.  The market is just an intermediary.  Poor prices are due to mismatches between supply and demand.  Unfortunately, most farmers do not have marketing skills and thus allow auctioneer types of middlemen to sell for them while they only collect money.

African informal markets are an open system that is not closed to end users such as vendors, companies, restaurants, hotels and housewives. Farmers have choices between selling to a vendor who buys one basket of tomatoes, to a hotel which wants 200 kilogrammes or a trader who buys 50 crates at once. Many traders who are labelled middlemen buy in bulk in anticipation for selling to more customers from other parts of the country.  Obviously, serious farmers who want to be viable would prefer those buying in bulk unlike selling to single customers.

If the demand for commodities comes from other cities located 100 to 500 km away, few farmers have the capacity and patience to wait for buyers from different areas to come and buy in a disorganized fashion.  Effective demand from these areas has to be consolidated and that is the role of middlemen, in addition to distributing commodities where they are needed.  Traders are the ones who pull demand from far-flung areas. Formal institutions like supermarkets are not prepared to do that, preferring customers who walk into their shops.  That is why fruit and vegetable sections tend to be very small in supermarkets.

Agribusiness as unstructured profit pools

The way middlemen are blamed is as if they are standing in the way of farmers who should access predictable profit pools. Yet there is nothing like that. As business models are becoming highly perishable, farmers have to learn to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. Such decisions are increasingly being shaped by factors outside the control of any single value chain actor. There is no guarantee that good choices of commodities to grow can lead to favorable outcomes.  Unless farmers change their mindsets, they will not fully take advantage of their resources.  Individual households do not buy in bulk compared to traders.

Bulky commodities like potatoes and cabbages can only get into the market in a more organized way through middlemen who have taken time to understand demand patterns. Same with peas that are than sorted into different categories and sizes by traders in the market. A farmer cannot do everything including mixing different commodities and accompanying his/her commodities to distant markets.  That is why uncovering hidden roles and responsibilities of value chain actors is very important.  Producers and consumers need each other although they might pretend otherwise.  This loudly speaks to economic justice, governance, empathy, ethics and other soft issues that determine success or failure in agribusiness.

 

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

Using questions to uncover solutions and spark change in 2018

While many people have made resolutions for 2018, eMKambo is devoting this brand new year to questions that open doors, uncover solutions and spark positive change among farmers and other agricultural value chain actors in developing countries.  In our pursuit for tools and techniques to improve our practices, let us not forget that questions are the most powerful weapons in breaking down barriers, discovering hidden secrets, solving puzzles and imagining new ways of doing things.

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The following is a sample of questions eMKambo will be assisting people and institutions to answer in 2018:

  1. How do farmers and poor people turn setbacks into strength?
  2. How do some agricultural value chain actors stay exceptionally positive in difficult periods like drought?
  3. Why should we demonstrate the cost of bad data to policy makers and agricultural value chain actors?
  4. How do we assist ordinary people to tell their compelling stories?
  5. Since marginal communities in developing countries do not have libraries and information repositories, is it possible that rural and poor people store knowledge in their DNA or genes?
  6. Should we continue confusing financial inclusion with mobile money?  While financial inclusion should be a principles-driven financial mindset, mobile money privileges the role of mobile technology in ways that confuse money with information when these are different resources.
  7. How do we use informal markets to influence consumption habits and patterns? What was   confirmed by eMKambo in 2017 is that power in the agriculture sector comes from controlling consumption not from production or distribution. Controlling consumption is about controlling billions of individual consumers, most of whom are fond of choosing the easy option.
  8. To what extent are structured value chains the only ideal way of organizing African agriculture?  There is an assumption that structured value chains like contract farming arrangements are the only viable options yet smallholder farmers and traders have been working efficiently and profitably in their own fluid and unstructured value chains for generations.

Moving beyond agribusiness frustrations in 2018

There is no doubt that many farmers and traders in diverse countries experienced frequent disappointments in the agriculture sector due to market failure and other issues. However, asking and answering the right questions may enable them to move beyond frustrations in 2018.  The right questions are not just an expression of curiosity which strengthens connection, nurtures humility and inspires peers. They unlock access to large pools of data and trends that can inform decision making and improve day-to-day activities towards innovative growth in 2018 and beyond.

 

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

Using the market to cultivate a global mindset among farmers and entrepreneurs

One of the most seductive assumptions in African agriculture is that farmers and aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs can succeed through following a specific set of steps. However, as markets become highly networked and competitive, success no longer just depends on what a farmer or an entrepreneur does but on the actions of rivals or competitors. Unless they cultivate a global mindset, farmers and entrepreneurs in developing countries will continue to over-simplify agriculture by thinking it is a straight forward undertaking with obvious results.

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Dynamics of a free-market economy

Key elements that drive performance in agribusiness are now beyond the control of farmers, traders and other value chain actors. That is why farmers may never achieve success simply by following certain steps prescribed by input companies or extension officers. In the prevalent free-market economy, competition and imitation is leading to a decline in profits. For instance, the more farmers get into producing a commodity, the less income is shared among farmers. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, for instance, tobacco farmers want more money each year irrespective of the effects of more farmers joining the tobacco production band-wagon every season. As more farmers start producing a particular commodity, they copy each other’s winning ways and diffuse best practices.

In many developing countries, domestic horticulture has shown that farmers and value chain actors who enjoy long-term success do so through a number of innovations such as stringing together many short-term successes unlike trying to look for elusive secrets to success.  This is contrary to a tendency by development interventions and formal contractual arrangements to mislead smallholder farmers into believing that following a few key steps will inevitably lead to success without influence from external factors. As a result of these misconceptions, many farmers call eMKambo looking for a formula that can be easily applied in order to earn high income from agricultural activities.  Some of the famous questions include: Which crop can I grow to earn more income?  Our usual answer is that there are no guaranteed keys to success in agriculture because a lot depends of competitors, mostly unknown to farmers until they get into the market.

Limitations of searching for certainty

Rather than search in vain for success formulas, eMKambo always encourages farmers and other value chain actors to adjust their thinking and recognize the fundamental uncertainty of the agribusiness world. A majority of farmers have been schooled into believing that agriculture and related businesses can be made predictable so that specific actions lead to certain outcomes. The reality is that agriculture is now largely about making choices and decisions under uncertainty. For instance, it is difficult to accurately know whether consumers will embrace or reject your commodity. Actions of competing farmers and food producers are often fluid and unknown.

Empowering farmers through evidence and a global mindset

African agriculture is becoming more about odds, chances, and trade-offs than abundance of natural resources. Faced with uncertainties of the agricultural sector, especially markets, wise farmers and value chain actors have to invest in gathering accurate information and subjecting it to careful scrutiny in order to improve their odds of success.  While greater knowledge and understanding is critical, good decisions do not always lead to favorable outcomes, and unfavorable outcomes are not always the result of poor decisions. Agribusiness is no longer a place of clear causal relationships, where a given set of actions leads to predictable results, but one that is more tenuous and uncertain. That is why farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs should gather appropriate information, evaluate it thoughtfully, and make choices that provide the best chance for success, while recognizing the fundamental nature of uncertainties surrounding agricultural economies.

Rather than expecting every smallholder farmer to travel around the globe understanding international markets, it should be the role of educated people in developing countries to cultivate a global mindset in their local communities. How do educated Africans and those toying with technology help farmers so that they don’t continue wasting their capabilities by producing more than the local market can absorb?  How can technology enable marginalized people to reach various parts of the globe without physically going there? The informal market constantly challenges leadership and intellectual skills through presenting models cultivating and utilizing global mindset. Farmers who frequent informal markets always express the following attributes and competencies that exemplify a global mindset:

  • A strong desire and resilience for working cross-culturally.
  • Thorough understanding and knowledge of other cultures.
  • Careful choice of the correct verbal and non-verbal actions in unfamiliar circumstances.

The genesis of a global mindset is when communities celebrate diversity and reward culturally intelligent behavior. While local people embrace both external and local commodities, to become smart consumers, they need capacity building.  When a global mindset geminates, a farmer can be able to connect his resources such as land, curiosity, water and labor with the globe. Empowering farming and rural communities with a global mindset is like giving them a key out of poverty because they will become confident knowledge seekers. Farmers should be wise enough to constantly look for independent evidence rather than merely accepting ideas from their associations or peers as the only gospel truth. Decisions must not be entirely based on data contaminated by their biases.

 

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

 

Increasing odds of success through knowledge-driven farmer characterization

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.

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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:

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

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

Succeeding through a secret mix of competencies and data

The fact that farmers and students exposed to the same capacity building initiatives produce different results suggests training alone does not lead to success. In the majority of developing countries, farmers in the same environment and with access to similar resources achieve different outcomes. On the other hand, agricultural economists and agronomists who did the same course can achieve different results. If it is difficult for sophisticated graduates to translate knowledge they have acquired during four years of university education, why should we expect farmers and semi-literate people to find it easy?

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Limitations of trying to professionalize local indigenous knowledge

Instead of addressing structural and institutional barriers, African policy makers, private companies like seed houses and development agencies are blaming farmers for not adopting new technologies to lift themselves out of poverty. There is no realization that knowledge application is context-sensitive such that for many innovative farmers, it is a secret mix of competencies. That is why most of the farmers who are asked to describe what makes them succeed may not know what really contributes to their success but go on to share surface intuitions. If it is about hard work, every farmer works hard. While farmers and rural entrepreneurs are expected to share knowledge, each actor tends to have a secret set of skills and competencies hidden from the surface. Very few farmers and traders have the ability to apply what they know under pressure in order improve their level of quality. In the absence of clear market channels and processes, farmers can do everything right but face different prohibitive rules on the market.

Failure to account for contextual dynamics is one of the reasons why efforts by development actors to turn local indigenous knowledge into professional communication products like videos, manuals and formal reports is reaching a dead end. To the extent this effort does not take into account the value of the oral and fluid nature of local indigenous knowledge, it remains communication lipstick. For instance, aggregating commodities among smallholder farmers for the market is often very difficult due to different circumstances and needs among farmers. Some want to sell immediately while others may have other options like remittances from their children based in urban centres.

Benefits of a nuanced understanding of consumers

For food producers in developing countries, an important part of secret competencies is understanding consumers at a granular level.  This is where data and analytics become vital. Value chain actors who are beginning to embrace a culture of data collection and analysis are building a nuanced understanding of their customers. For instance, three classes of consumers are emerging in many African countries – those who want to go back to traditional food systems; those trying to balance traditional with modern food choices and; the last group comprising those not sure what they really want (lukewarm by-standers who consume whatever comes).  Efforts to promote organic food should consider these issues.

Knowing the market includes detailed characterization of consumers. Targeted marketing messages can only be developed from drilling down into detailed nuances of different classes of consumers based on their incomes levels and culture, among other indicators. Without digging deeper into the attitudes and behaviours of consumers, it is difficult for traders to plan and build sustainable businesses. Competencies in manipulating data can reveal more meaningful layers of insights into what influences choices by low income consumers who patronize African informal markets.  Although many consumers are becoming health-conscious, sporadic incomes and poverty often force them to consume whatever comes.

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On a more revolutionary note, a new breed of dynamic value chain actors is harnessing ICTs to build data- informed businesses that undermine traditional agribusiness models like contract farming. This trend is transforming the nature of competition in African agriculture such that supermarkets and processors no longer have monopoly on consumers and market segments. Collecting data regularly in fluid informal markets is enabling smart value chain actors to capture patterns at a very detailed level in ways that cultivate a culture of fluid knowledge development. That is why policy makers, financial institutions and development agencies should invest in monitoring of agricultural markets for new insights and best practices.  Best practices in agricultural production are meaningless without insights from the market.

 

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