When data and evidence become currency

Most of the information disseminated to African smallholder farmers and rural marginalized entrepreneurs is barely enough for progressive decision making. In most cases where price information for a particular commodity is provided, critical details are missing and these include diverse sources of the commodity, levels of competition, demand cycles and the type of people who consume or use that commodity.  For instance, in Zimbabwe and other developing countries, the production and consumption of butternut squash (cucurbita moschata) is on the increase. However, due to the absence of data and evidence, reasons for this trend are often hidden from producers and policy makers.


Butternut squash belongs to the same family with the pumpkin, cucumber, gourd, watermelon and cantaloupe. These plants grow on a vine and are relatively easy to produce, especially in the right environment.  Production information is simple to find and standardize. What is often missing is the  picture for each commodity in terms of who is consuming the commodity, whether supply to the market is increasing or decreasing and reasons behind those dynamics. Data becomes currency when such details are generated and consolidated. eMKambo has made it its calling to align data with decisions.

Butternut Squash supply to Mbare market, Harare: January – October 2017

In Mbare agricultural market, the butternut squash is usually packed in bags known as Sassekas. Don’t ask what that name means, the agricultural market has its own lingua franca. A standard size of a Sasseka of butternut squash is 60kg. Traders who buy from farmers prefer to use the Sasseka as a standard unit of measurement for their transactions. It is becomes convenient to repack the butternut into smaller pockets. A total of 98 083.7 pockets of butternut squash were supplied to the market between January and October 2017. A standard pocket of butternut squash weighs 7.22kgs. Converted to sassekas, a total of 11 802.74 Sassekas were supplied to Mbare Market from January to October 2017.

Charles dhewa

Major sources of the commodity

As shown in the chart below, Mutoko district was the biggest supplier of the butternut squash. The Harare figure is a combination of peri-urban production and volumes held by traders in Harare over a given period in which case Harare is presented as a supplier to the market. There are many cases where Harare traders buy squash butternut seed and other inputs which they extend to farmers. Such decisions are largely informed by data showing areas with potential for producing more and those that have reached their ceiling in terms of production capacity.  In the absence of such granular evidence, funding the production of butternut and other commodities is based on guess-work and wastes scarce resources.

clever mukove

Price trends


Butternut squash can be stored for a period of six months or longer and the taste is often superior when it is stored for a long period as compared to being consumed just after harvesting. Research and evidence gathered by eMKambo over the past five years has shown that the demand for butternut squash is high during the festive period. If you are producer or financier, it is important to know all these economic nuances associated with squash butternut before making an investment decision. This information can easily be compared with 2015 and 2016 in order to demonstrate trends.

The law of demand and supply states that all things being equal, when supply is low there is an increase in price and that when supply is high, there is a decrease in price. Evidence provided in the above graphics show that this law applied in 2017 except in April where both supply and price went down. In 2016 the same law applied in April, May, July and October only. Price was constant from January through to March where supply was fairly high. This demonstrates the extent to which, like all other markets, agricultural markets can be unpredictable. However, mastering other factors like consumer behavior, income levels and how food commodities compete and substitute each other can generate better insights.  Given the scarcity of resources, decisions have to be based on strong evidence.

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 the market can convert agricultural commodities into career pipelines

Besides climate change and environmental degradation, a major challenge facing many African rural communities is migration of skills and talent to urban centres. There is no price for guessing who wins in the competition for talent between rural and urban communities. Building rural agricultural markets is one way of converting agricultural commodities and value chains into sustainable career pipelines for the young generation. Such a vision can be fuelled by rapid urbanization and the expansion of ICTs into formerly marginalized areas.


Raising the banner of working together

The new era of big data and machine learning is inspiring a new culture of gathering evidence that can help in redistributing agricultural talent from urban to rural communities.  Through informal agricultural markets, value chain actors are being compelled to collaborate on a new scale and to work more closely with consumers.  It no longer pays for private companies to jealously guard their secrets, for fear of being beaten in the market.  Gone are the days it made sense for academic researchers to act like sole proprietors obsessed with individual achievements. Some of the best ideas and innovations can come from rural areas if the right conditions and incentives are availed. Policy makers and development agencies cannot expect to achieve rural development when technological knowledge and progressive ideas are locked in urban areas.

The role of data in nurturing trust and shifting incentives

Creating career pipelines and economic growth opportunities in rural farming areas may not happen without a culture of collecting data and turning it into reliable insights. While data can provide the much needed reality check on a continuous basis, such data cannot be found in a single organization or institution.  There is need for new methods, talent, capabilities and infrastructure for translating data into useful evidence. Without investment in talent and important capabilities, only a few people, mostly based in urban centres, will be able to manipulate data in ways that satisfy their own career persuasions.

People as the main knowledge assets

In addition to data, the fluid expertise of traders, consumers, retired farmers and other professionals is critical in ensuring rural communities become part of knowledge societies. However, experiences from working with diverse farming communities over the past few years have confirmed to eMKambo that people have different motivations for sharing or withholding knowledge. While there is a long-held assumption that field days are the best way through which farmers can share knowledge, many farmers are interested in what knowledge means to their own contexts and competitiveness as opposed to what it means to everyone. Many value chain actors share knowledge when sharing is the best thing to do.

A small proportion of farmers and traders share knowledge because sharing is part of their nature and so they can share proactively. There is another second group of farmers, traders and consumers who share knowledge when asked to share. This group can keep knowledge to itself until there is a clear demand for it. The last group comprises those who share when benefits of sharing are clear. As the entrepreneurship spirit catches up in many rural communities, is category is increasing. Paying attention to all these issues and categories is important, especially when trying to use agriculture and natural resources in helping communities to life themselves out of poverty and become consistent economic actors who see knowledge as a commodity for the future.

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

Moving decision making closer to points of impact and knowledge

In most developing countries, decisions that affect farmers and rural communities are often made by policy makers and development agencies who do not reside in those communities. However, digital technologies are revealing the benefits and possibilities of improving the quality of services by moving decision-making to where impact is felt. For instance, using mobile phones to provide information that allows informal markets to make their own decisions has created the right conditions for agricultural success unlike trying to impose formal operational and communication procedures


Toward an evidence-based local economy

Sporadic agricultural assessments and research initiatives by different organizations with no central repositories of findings and outcomes hinders informed decision making. This also leads to waste of resources and losing track of important trends, for instance from one crop harvest to another.  There is a tendency to conduct one assessment before the planting season and another assessment after harvesting. In such cases, the most important trends that are missed include consumption patterns between these two assessments as well as losses between one harvest and the other.   It seems data collection focuses on quantities of the major crops harvested with no regard for different uses and losses associated with those commodities.  Yet a community can harvest a lot of commodities like maize or sorghum but become food insecure quickly due to absence of other income sources. Households are forced to trade all their commodities to meet school fees and other critical needs.

Enabling communities to identify their priorities

African rural and farming communities are not always waiting for outsiders to come and help them. They are always innovating and coming up with solutions to their own challenges. That is why development organizations should not just bring their own ideas but start by identifying each community’s development priorities. eMKambo has realized that a critical capacity building component is assisting communities to value their own local resources before looking for external resources. A monetary value for local commodities and resources can be easily determined through a culture of gathering evidence over time.  Each community can be able to know how many tons of grain or number of livestock it is trading per month or per year.

While African national revenue authorities are more interested in private companies declaring their annual sales, a lot can be gained by compelling local communities to do the same.  If properly collated and consolidated, local data can show the extent to which some communities are much bigger than some famous private companies listed on the stock exchange.   In the new knowledge economy, a national balance of payment should not just be expressed through volumes of imports and exports at the exclusion of socio-economic activities at community levels where enormous value is exchanged. Some communities bring in more external resources than others while those which continue to lose resources or commodities may signal the need for nearer communities to assist their neighbors before selling everything to far-flung areas like urban centres.  Without a culture of data collection and analysis, it becomes difficult to pick all these trends.

Local copying strategies and new rules of engagement

Development interventions should be built around each community’s existing copying strategies. That is why a centralized community data collection system is very important. Such an important role cannot be left to national statistical agencies which, apart from taking long to process and avail data, find it difficult to disaggregate evidence down to community levels in ways that resonate with local people and their contexts.  Tracking data along value chains can make it possible for communities to see differences between volumes of commodities going to the market and those remaining in households for local consumption.  How much is consumed locally, how much is lost along the way and how else are some of the volumes being utilized?

Data and evidence can also be used to inform new rules of engagement.  Existing laws and by-laws in most African countries are no longer relevant in the new hybrid economy comprising formal and informal ways of working. On the other hand, new value chain actors are more willing to participate in the formation of new rules and legislations. This implies crafting new socio-economic legislations can no longer be a preserve of members of parliament, most of whom are far removed from the new economy and related wisdom.  If you see the majority of economic actors breaking and bending rules that signals limitations of conventional rules.

 Welcome to new literacies

Although formal education continues to receive all the attention, the new hybrid economy is demanding new literacies that include emotional intelligence, socio-economic literacy, digital literacy and bio-empathy, which involves learning the principles of nature to develop leadership styles. Nature works in cycles like seasons, not straight lines like logical frameworks. Farmers who are quickly mastering the principles of nature can cope better with a changing climate.  They can also build more reliable early warning instincts than those who depend on limited sources of knowledge. Unfortunately, policy makers and development agencies are struggling to recognize structures within the new hybrid economy characterized by unique executives and Communities of Practice.

While formal Chief Executive Officers, whose companies now constitute less than 10% of whole national economies, continue to receive training in governance and other formal practices, new executives and leaders in the new hybrid economy are not receiving any training commensurate with their new roles. In the past decades, cultural literacies used to anchor most African communities from which there was a transition to formal work-related literacies such as apprenticeship.  These taught a person one trade until s/he retired to start surviving on the proceeds of his/her pension.  Currently, most Africans are retiring into agriculture but there have not been efforts to develop literacies that can transition people from one career to another, for instance, nursing to agriculture. New literacies have to be developed based on local contexts. In addition, financial institutions in developing countries also need new literacies if they are to continuously upgrade their relevance in the new economy.

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 everyone should pay attention to knowledge life cycles

If you did not know that knowledge has a life cycle you are not alone.  However, that should not be a consolation. Effectively managing knowledge begins with realizing that knowledge has a life cycle. Just as each valuable commodity has a life cycle, knowledge has a life cycle especially in the current knowledge economy. To the extent that knowledge changes form as it diffuses through a community or an ecosystem such as an agricultural market, it has several life cycles.  Value chain actors who understand the dynamics of knowledge life cycles are better able to determine their knowledge needs and develop the right methods or tools to manage such knowledge.


Making sense of knowledge life cycles in African agriculture

While African agriculture and local socio-economic development is anchored on knowledge, skills and  ability to apply (practical wisdom), trust and relationships remain fundamental in acquiring and applying knowledge.  Farmers can have knowledge but lack skills to convert it into practical outcomes like crops, meat, milk and honey.  The ability to mobilize resources, methods and navigate environmental challenges may be lacking due to poor understanding of existing knowledge life cycles.

On the other hand, instead of starting with knowledge, most development interventions start at the skills level. This is revealed through excessive emphasis on skills training which does not adequately consider farmers’ ability to apply what they learn from outsiders. Emphasis on outputs by development interventions also tend to ignore the application of knowledge, skills and abilities to produce better outcomes such as improved livelihoods, income, better decision making processes, wealth creation and employment creation, among others. Agricultural markets are mainly interested in the outcome of combining knowledge, skills and abilities, expressed through volumes of commodities, profit, growth-orientation, etc.,.

Knowledge life cycles drive project life cycles

Behind every project that has a life cycle is a knowledge cycle that functions as a mental software for the project. The knowledge life cycle can be surfaced through identifying knowledge gaps, mobilizing relevant knowledge, storing and classifying the knowledge appropriately. Most local knowledge in developing country communities is fragmented due to lack of storage systems where it can layered according to commodity orientation, farmer-level orientation, consumer-orientation and origin, among other parameters.  This calls for the need to pay particular attention to developing knowledge life cycles.

Commoditizing through utilization

When they understand knowledge life cycles in their community and sector, farmers should be able to determine for which customers to convert skills into knowledge and commodities that satisfy market niches. This is where revenue generation starts through sharing, exchanging and filtering knowledge into  different contexts.  As local people and farming communities utilize knowledge they commoditize it in ways that continuously generate knew knowledge.  Tangible value can be seen through commodities in the market.

Storing knowledge means using it over time and when it reaches its peak it becomes common knowledge or common sense.  For instance knowledge required to produce staple crops like maize, small grains and vegetables has become common sense and stagnant.  It can now either be enriched, updated or discarded completely, depending on different users. When hunting ceased to be an economic activity, related knowledge also disappeared.  Some pesticides have reached their sell-by date and can no longer kill insects. It means new pesticides come with new knowledge that replaces old knowledge that was associated with pesticides that have moved out of circulation. The more users the more knowledge becomes common. When it reaches its peak, its competitiveness goes down. For instance, tomato production competitiveness has almost gone down. The market can tell you the point at which you should start considering export markets and related knowledge.

 Managing climate change requires new knowledge life cycles

Many African communities, policy makers and development agencies realize the absence of new knowledge life cycles that can manage a changing climate. A decrease in crop yields and quality has caught most knowledge workers off-guard. There is urgent need to accurately identify knowledge gaps and arrange such knowledge appropriately before utilizing it.  Continuous updating can enable knowledge curves to stay up until they reach a common sense level.  This effort can start as upgrading the same commodities through value addition.  For instance, producing new varieties or new products. Consumers can assist in identifying, sharing, classifying and utilizing knowledge related to different commodities.

Where do we start when identifying and building a knowledge life cycle?

A sensible starting point is data gathering. Such data has to be contextualized and converted into information which answers questions like who, what, where and when? Answering such questions generates usable knowledge (how and why?).  Some of the insights can show why agricultural commodities behave the way they do on the market. When this awareness reaches its peak, it becomes wisdom and actors can either go back to start looking for more knowledge elements.

It is also important to figure out the source of building a knowledge cycle. If it’s about the consumer, the process boils down to creating awareness and knowledge about commodities.  This is where it becomes critical to classify knowledge by consumer class and niche markets. The next step is satisfying knowledge needs embedded in commodities such as crop varieties, fruit type & quality, etc.. Ultimately this translates into customer loyalty or specific niche markets.  Given that consumer tastes and preferences continue to change, they can signal the need for new knowledge life cycles based on new tastes, preferences, levels of income, etc.  As a result, the need to develop new knowledge cycles become apparent.  It means carefully monitoring the changing consumer needs and consumption patterns.

Mapping knowledge life cycles along agricultural value chains such as production, marketing, processing and consumption is very important.  This will avoid cases where knowledge life cycles at production level get to their peak level while consumption level knowledge life cycles are still very low and unstructured. In such situations, you don’t just remove a crop variety out of circulation without consulting consumers or the market. On the other hand, processors can end up having their own variety which has nothing to do with knowledge existing at production levels. The prevalence of different knowledge life cycles compels farmers, informal markets, formal markets and processors to work together in order to harmonize their different knowledge life cycles.

Helping people, communities and organizations to identify and build knowledge life cycles

eMKambo has started rolling out master-classes whose themes include helping farmers, communities and organizations to identify and create their knowledge life cycles. For a long time, eMKambo has observed that most enterprises in developing countries focus on the production life cycle (revenue and volumes traded) yet behind the production life cycle is the knowledge life cycle that should be updated continuously. What happens on the consumer side signals competitiveness and shows the extent to which knowledge is now common sense and no longer unique. That influences the production life cycle.

The capacity to identify key elements of an effective knowledge-management strategy can no longer be over-emphasized. Most blue chip enterprises are collapsing because their knowledge cycles have reached their ceiling and cannot adjust to the new agile knowledge economy. Too many copy-cats are increasing competition.  Likewise, extension models have reached their ceiling. Farmers need new knowledge life cycles. In the African education field, the curriculum has remained the same for decades. Attempts to tweak it are not adequately informed by the principles of effective knowledge generation, management and development of meaningful knowledge life cycles. Too much repetition of the same content with nothing really new to be considered value addition is the main reason why many ordinary level students can now achieve 20As at ordinary level. But this does not make the students practically knowledgeable.

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 niche markets influence agricultural commodity prices

One of the most persistent myths in African agriculture is that commodity prices are set by traders, negatively referred to as ‘middlemen’. Paying lip service to understanding market dynamics has seen most interventions designed to get rid of ‘middlemen’ failing dismally. Working with agriculture markets for the past years has opened eMKambo’s eyes to the role of niche markets and different classes of consumers in setting prices of diverse commodities.  The power of consumers and niche markets to set commodity prices is based on taste, levels of income, background, age, gender as well as professional and health considerations.


Producers need to know who has the power to determine prices and how.  For instance, low income consumers set prices of basic necessities like leafy vegetables and tomatoes while high income households set prices of high value commodities like peas, carrots and others.  On the other hand, the extent to which a commodity is frequently consumed or used determines whether it remains a necessity or becomes a luxury. Income levels also control consumer tastes. Rarely do consumers develop tastes for commodities beyond their income levels. To the extent that some low income households are often bigger than their incomes, household size is another key influencing factor.

Significance of customer characterization

While different categories of customers are key determinants of commodity pricing and the behavior of commodities on the market, the development of a niche market begins with the origins of particular commodities. Most commodities do well in particular natural regions where they become staples for local people and tastes are honed. When people from different communities migrate to cities, they move with their food systems and associated tastes.  Where the market uses its convening power to pull commodities from different natural regions, urban consumers from those regions are the first port of call for commodities from their original areas.  Those who grew up eating tubers like cassava or yams are quick to fetch these commodities from the market and those who grew up eating small grains provide the first demand zone for commodities from their home areas.

How commodities cultivate their own niche markets

Once commodities are in the public market, they start building their own niche markets through characterizing customers by gender, age, level of income, etc.,.  The development of niche markets is driven by knowledge sharing. Consumers are exposed to knowledge on how to use particular commodities they see in the market for the first time. Through informal markets, there is sharing of knowledge on the benefits, preparation methods and all unique features attached to commodities. As tastes improve within a particular niche, the commodity stabilizes and this strengthens its sustainability in the market together with price elasticity.  Any changes in supply will not affect price elasticity. In fact, the commodity price stabilizes in ways that solidifies consistent supply.  This is unlike once-off commodities that are bought only during festive seasons like Christmas or when consumers earn a bonus.  Such commodities are not good at sustaining business.  They can only be good for particular niche markets like high income households. Niche markets drive the promotion of a commodity in the markets.  It is important for producers to understand niche markets.

Changes in staple food status

Due to continuous presence in the market, some commodities carve a staple food status for themselves.  For instance, in most African cities, western leafy vegetables and Irish potatoes have become part of staple foods.  These commodities have developed their own niche markets defined by household income and household sizes.  As long as producers are able to meet standards and specifications, agribusiness viability is assured.

Some of the consumption patterns are being driven by age, status and health consciousness. From an age perspective, the young generation’s diets are largely influenced by external diets.  Young people’s choice of commodities is slowly taking the route of western diets.  That is why they flood food chain stores.  It means producers and value chain actors keen to tap into this young consumer base have to mimic food chain stores in everything including packaging and transactions methods. However, they have to also be on the look-out for the band wagon effect among youths who influence each other through peer pressure to consume commodities that are not good for their health.

Status and health consciousness

Some consumers are being forced to eat specific commodities due to health recommendations.  Those who have become conscious of healthy eating are deliberately and carefully choosing health diets. Some choices could be influenced by level of income and status in the community.  The gender dimension of consumption decisions is also worthy examining.  For instance, pregnant women can consume certain foods as informed by healthy practitioners and institutions.  What remains to be explored is the role of health consciousness in triggering taste, especially among low income households where choices are mainly controlled by income.  If done properly, this could address malnutrition which has a bearing on national budgets of many developing countries.  Prevention is better than curing. From a status angle, some consumers do not want to be associated with public markets, preferring to buy in food chain stores.  This is more a status thing than rational nutritional consideration.  In most cases, the market ends up following this customer niche to meet its demands.  However, there is price discrimination which is why up market prices tend to be at least 30% higher.

Tracking progress at meaningful levels of detail

Having looked at many factors from a market perspective, producers can be adequately informed to decide for whom to produce specific commodities and in what quantities. Without customer segmentation, characterization and preference mapping, price alone is no longer informative for decision-making. Data and evidence can show how much each niche market is absorbing.  If all farmers produce peas who will take them?  High value commodities may not meet the interests of more than 70% of the consumer base.  From eMKambo’s experience, customers tend to build blocks by diversifying taste – first into their budget and then adjust the ladder either upwards or downwards according to circumstances.  Within customer segments there is transition from one class to another depending on changes in circumstances like new income streams.  That is why real-time evidence cannot be over-emphasized in generating trends. Policy makers and financial institutions should be able to accurately tell whether the consumption of potatoes or any commodity is increasing or decreasing so that production can adjust accordingly.


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

Translating common sense into agribusiness models

Knowledge generation and sharing has been happening in every community since time immemorial. However, there has not been enough recognition of the way knowledge is structured from individual knowledge to household knowledge to community knowledge and to inter-community knowledge sharing. The way most African communities engage with knowledge is different from academic learning where one can read and write and one plus one equals two. Local community knowledge is a mixture of real time experiences and wisdom such that one plus one can equal to three or four.


Reciprocal knowledge sharing

At community level, knowledge is dispersed among many people and situations in ways that make it challenging to measure the amount of knowledge held by individuals or communities. Someone knowledgeable about something is not sure whether people in need of knowledge are in grade one or at secondary level in terms of their knowledge requirements. Usually community knowledge sharing is driven by common interests, trust and relationships. That is why some knowledge is left alone and not shared while some is shared under restrictions. In most African agrarian communities, knowledge sharing has a reciprocity tendency characterized by receiving and giving.  Some of the knowledge is locked in existing Communities of Practice (CoPs) due to absence mechanisms and systems through which trust and relationships can be built for anchoring a system of reciprocity.

When does knowledge become common sense? 

In most cases, this process begins as hidden or private knowledge generation and gets to a stage where it is shared through trust and relationships.  In some cases it starts as gossip, shared through a trusted grapevine before it is accepted as reality.  It also begins as individual knowledge and eventually moves to become community knowledge on the way to becoming common sense.  The longer it circulates in a community the more it is validated and improved. The knowledge assumes a common sense identity because it is a community resource used by everyone in the community. However, the notion of common sense versus knowledge is subjective because what is common sense to someone is knowledge to someone else. That is why understanding knowledge gaps is very important.

What is common to a livestock community can be valuable knowledge to a community that thrives on crops. That is why a knowledge broker is important in addressing cases where a community may undervalue its knowledge on the pretext that such knowledge has become common sense to community members. Many people do not see their common sense or knowledge as a strength. In these situations, the role of the broker is to identify knowledge gaps and be on the lookout for cases where communities ignore their own knowledge in search of outside knowledge whose efficacy has not been tested locally.

Common sense building blocks

Each community has its knowledge reserves which determines how local people grow crops, rear livestock, co-exist with nature and cope with a changing climate. Much of the knowledge is intuitive and cannot be explained academically. Unfortunately, current community development models start by searching for hidden community aspects when they should start from what is common in a community, for instance, relationships and collective wisdom. External knowledge should be sought when local knowledge has been used to lay the foundation.  When building a house, you start with mobilizing local resources such as rocks, sand, water and other resources before looking for tiles which are not found locally. One of the main challenges is lack of structured knowledge sharing conduits from grassroots to policy levels.  As a result, useful hidden knowledge remains invisible to many actors.

Agricultural common sense

The production of some agricultural commodities in many developing countries is now based on common sense. Such commodities include necessities and staple foods like grains (maize, sorghum, millet, rice, etc.,.), vegetables (leafy vegetables and tomatoes), tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, cassava and taro), livestock (goats, cattle, pigs, rabbits, poultry and others). Producing these commodities has become common knowledge such that producers can now learn from each other. Anyone interested in producing any of these can find more information in less than 30 minutes.  From a marketing perspective, most farmers know price ranges of these commodities and can make choices in line with available resources. Given the ubiquitous nature of the knowledge, producers should be allowed to see knowledge for themselves rather continue to be spoon-fed. The only difficulty requiring some bit of sophisticated knowledge can be timing of production and marketing, especially peak market periods because these are often externally-driven and require knowledge replenishment.

Where knowledge could still be lacking is in the production, utilization and marketing of high value commodities such as peas, squash butternuts, apples, gooseberries, mushroom and other knowledge-intensive commodities. Some producers could still be unsure about the differences between butternuts and pumpkins or the nutritional value of peas, among others. What also determines the commonness of knowledge is the fact that some high value crops are not produced everywhere but in specific regions or conditions like greenhouses that are not common to every producer. It means knowledge associated with these commodities will remain uncommon. Yet tomatoes, poultry and beef can almost be found everywhere, making their knowledge common sense.

The power of knowledge-driven classification

eMKambo has figured out that one way of differentiating public agricultural knowledge from commercial knowledge is fully understanding the demand side. From eMKambo experiences, a farmer looking for price information is new to the game. The one who asks for market trends is at another level.  At another level is the one who asks for business plans. Another category is interested in export markets.  This categorization reveals the extent to which the notion of common knowledge or common sense is subjective and depends on context.

Taking matters to the next level, eMKambo has designed a classification system that gives knowledge weights based on a number of factors including: (a) startups (those actors entering the value chain for the first time); (b) those who need information for decision-making, either for entering or leaving a value chain, (c) those focusing on the growth of their businesses, (d) those who need knowledge for policy review, (e) those who need knowledge for buttressing their competitiveness in a particular niche, and (f) professionals who want to improve their expertise in the business instead of leaving everything to workers. The classification goes on to seek answers to questions such as: For whom are you seeking knowledge? Have you recently retired and now seeking knowledge that will strengthen your agricultural practice as a new career path?  Do you want knowledge that will position you as a versatile budding entrepreneur?  Are you keen on knowledge that you can use for advocacy purposes?  More answers will be generated through the forthcoming master-classes – http://www.emkambo.co.zw/?p=1377

The value of consolidating common sense and knowledge at community level

Traditionally, African communities had ways of classifying knowledge that informed criteria for measuring knowledge in the community. Roles and responsibilities were based on understanding knowledge classes and patterns. That is why someone good with livestock was known in the whole community. In the current digital era, digitizing local knowledge without building local common sense and knowledge blocks is half the solution. Besides risking the privatization of local knowledge, digitizing community knowledge into mobile application may de-contextualize it if the human factor is removed from the process. Common sense has to be contextualized through knowledge centres where it can move fast to where it is needed.

For community knowledge to remain common sense, digitization has to be based on common sense blocks which determine different knowledge levels. Having built its own knowledge base, a community can seek external knowledge to complement what exists. Climate change should not be introduced as a community project because outsiders cannot bring solutions. It is better to help communities to manage their own climate knowledge in ways that build their capacity to select what is useful. African communities are losing a lot of their common sense which comes back as new knowledge. This is happening mainly because knowledge champions in each generation disappear before their experiences are captured, archived our turned into community rituals and practices.

In a community of 6000 people, it is important to classify existing knowledge in order to avoid sending the same electronic message or piece of knowledge to everyone. Each community comprises people at different knowledge stages. Some are retired headmasters and professionals who need different knowledge from ordinary farmers whose literacy levels may be low. Unfortunately, African mobile service providers and technologists are not investing in proper segmentation so that content and knowledge sharing can be properly tailored. Everyone continues to be subjected to the same short message service irrespective of cognitive level and needs, merely because they have a mobile number.

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

eMKambo MasterClasses


Date:             7th September 2017

Time             9am to 12 noon

 Venue:         Banatai Mall, 1st Floor, B2C Coworking,

Cnr First Street & Jason Moyo


 Attendance Fee: $30 per participant

NB:  Bank details and other means of payment can be provided upon request.

Download Registration form….

For more information and bookings, get in touch through the following channels:

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  – +263 772 137 717

clever@knowledgetransafrica.com  – +263 772 137 768

tafadzwa@knowledgetransafrica.com – + 263 779732279