The curse of forgetting useful information and knowledge

eMKambo recently heard a story of how a veterinary doctor surprised livestock farmers when he told them he did not have the expertise to artificially inseminate their cattle. The farmers had travelled from distant areas to come and witness the first scientific experiment in the history of their rural farming community.

There is no shortage of similar stories in many developing countries. Agricultural experts who do not practice after training tend to lose the most important knowledge gained through years of academic training. If sophisticated people can forget knowledge they will have acquired painstakingly, what about illiterate people with little exposure. One of the dirty secrets of farmer training is that farmers forget more than 80 percent of what they are taught within 24 hours of the training experience. Unfortunately, many training organizations and initiatives spend billions of dollars every year on training knowing full well that most of that knowledge will quickly disappear.

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A case for building local memory

One way of addressing this challenge is establishing and strengthening community structures and processes that can scaffold information and knowledge so that even if people move out of communities and organizations some of the knowledge remains. In the absence of such structures through which knowledge can be socialized, communities will continue to lose a lot of knowledge while more resources will continued to be poured into training initiatives that do not make a difference.

Farmers and other value chain actors that are immersed into farming as a business and other training processes tend to be not sure about which bits of information will be useful in the long-run. Even if they can try to keep records, when faced with an immediate challenge, it is difficult to call up relevant information from their records and memory. Organizations that regularly bombard farmers with different advertising messages worsen the situation. For instance, while providing farmers with information about more than 30 different maize varieties is considered a good idea in terms of broadening choices, farmers end up confused and make subjective choices. On the other hand, while there is a tendency to think that farmers can learn through events like field days and agricultural shows, knowledge sharing is a process embedded in how farming communities work and not an event. As a result, most field days and agricultural shows are characterized by stage-managing reality.

 Return on Investment in training

Without clear formulae for determining return on investing in training, there is a danger of continuously misallocating scarce resources on training programmes that do not change lives. Instead of surfacing unarticulated needs, some of the tools traditionally used to conduct training needs assessments confirm biases of those funding the training. Focusing on long-term information and knowledge retention as well as well behavior change means there is need to pay more attention to what happens after training than during training.  Unfortunately, there are often no resources devoted to activities after a three to four year programme by development partners of government interventions.  That means information and knowledge acquired during a particular programme also disappears with the phasing out of the programme.

Is keeping records a panacea?

There is an increasing tendency to blame farmers for not keeping records, yet record keeping requires different levels of literacy beyond the capacity to read and write. In addition, forcing smallholder farmers with a few goats and cattle to keep records is expecting too much from busy people trying to eke a living using meagre resources. They might keep records for a short period but soon get absorbed into the demands of daily living. It makes sense to have individual farmer records centrally collected, consolidated and frequently updated by an institution like the local extension department which can assume the role of a knowledge centre. Scattered records among individual farmers become valuable when consolidated for a particular purpose like luring investors into the community so that they match size of investment with potential for growth.  Otherwise, keeping records without a clear purpose is a meaningless exercise.
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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Market information and knowledge as therapy

When farmers who have spent years looking for satisfactory answers to their challenges finally get a solution, such a moment of truth becomes a moment of healing. A different feeling often embraces farmers when they finally discover that agriculture markets are always in a random walk such that price is just one part of a complex ecosystem influenced by several factors. They begin to realize that financial and non-financial resources as well as production volumes, surplus and frequency of participation in markets have a bearing on the behavior of agriculture markets.

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Capacity assessment as the foundation for coordination

In addition to assessing availability of natural resources such as land and water, the ability of farmers to consistently supply a particular market has to consider their different capacities. If you want to enhance farmers’ skills in using available resources, you need to know their individual and collective capacities. Few initiatives are as difficult as trying to coordinate people with different capacities. Some farmers can become faster knowledge processors when they move to a different commodity while some can behave differently.

eMKambo has repeatedly noticed that many African farmers no longer want basic advisory information but now require assistance in building networks, knowledge sharing platforms as well as conversing with the market, interpreting market trends and making sense of different market expectations. Farmers are now also keen to know about changing consumer patterns. They also now need support in processing data into budgets and other insights that can demonstrate returns on investing an agriculture. For such farmers, meaningful budgets should be accompanied by cash flows showing how much a farmer will remain with after using different inputs and selling commodities to particular markets.  This is where a market becomes critical in providing information about revenue.

Academic budgets which leave out a lot of important contextual issues are becoming useless. For instance, a cabbage budget cannot be the same for farmers in different climatic conditions and proximity to markets. Some of the critical questions farmers are now keen to answer include:

  • What should I consider when framing a budget?
  • How do I know I am making a profit from my commodities?
  • How can I charge for family labor?
  • What has changed in the way I produce and market commodities over the past few years? This speaks to farming history.

 Are farmer issues similar everywhere?

The only common thing among farmers everywhere is that they all need knowledge in order to produce better results. However, they cannot be the same everywhere due to different socio-economic drivers. For instance, farmers in border towns tend to have totally different stories about farming. Those in livestock areas also have different stories from predominantly crop farmers. Those in valleys that receive rainfall throughout the year also have different stories about agriculture.  Even within the same area, there can be different stories from three to four farmers:

  • Some have a lot of resources but do not want to farm, preferring to be a market for others.
  • Others provide labor although they have their own land and other resources.
  • Some use the land for subsistence just to keep the land working.
  • Others farm to supplement income.
  • Some do farming as a business and this group can constitute less than 10% of the people in a community. Although this group can grow cash crops, the first preference is meeting household needs. That is why some farmers end up locked in contracts.

In irrigation schemes, not everyone has capacity. Some may want to continue producing for household consumption, while other want to combine subsistence production with food reserves. Another cluster can comprise subsistence production with surplus for the market, although surplus for the market may be unplanned. The first preference is producing what they consume, for instance, leafy vegetables. On the other hand, transition to peas, sugar beans and potatoes demonstrates a change of mind set and germination of a commercial mindset.  Assessing the capacity of farmers can increase chances of noticing those who are ready for commercialization.

 

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

Slow knowledge and fast knowledge in African Agriculture

While African countries neglect their informal economies in planning and policy development, the informal sector provides several avenues of looking at knowledge. One of these avenues is the relationship between slow and fast knowledge. Commodities flowing into informal markets from farming areas reveal the extent to which slow and fast knowledge have distinct characteristics.

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Slow knowledge

This knowledge is associated with commodities like beef, eggs, maize, groundnuts and small grains, among others whose characteristics do not change fast. Once you have acquired knowledge on beef or maize production, that knowledge stays with you for a long time without drastic change. These commodities also tend to have fewer, manageable varieties and breeds. Their behavior in the market does not change suddenly. For instance, consumer tastes for maize meal and beef have stayed the same for decades in many African countries where maize and beef are considered staples.

It seems there are barriers to exiting the consumption of these consumption just as barriers to entry could be prevalent. People who grew up eating Sadza/pap or Ugali do not just stop consuming it. Starting to eat small grains when they have not been your staple can also be challenge, especially to young urban consumers. As a result getting out of regular staples and moving into new food systems is a slow knowledge system. You do not just start eating finger millet but you will take some time to develop some taste. Production knowledge for these commodities also stays the same for a while. There are no 10 different ways of growing maize or keeping beef cattle.

 Fast knowledge

On the contrary, horticulture is about fast knowledge. Most horticultural commodities are characterized by frequent change of tastes among diverse consumers. There are also wide varieties of vegetables and fruits whose tastes also vary significantly. Potatoes, for instance, have several varieties -not to mention tomatoes. Consumer preferences also vary remarkably.  Some consumers prefer large potatoes for chips, some prefer potatoes from red soils while others want small sizes for different reasons. Commodities like onion, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbages all have a wide range of varieties. Variety, quality, taste and ripening stage, all influence the speed of knowledge acquisition. This forces producers to embrace fast ways of seeking and absorbing knowledge in order to satisfy market needs on time. Perishable knowledge is also a key feature of these commodities. Prices are highly perishable and what you knew yesterday may not be relevant today.

Staying up to date with fast knowledge

Fast, perishable knowledge calls for systems that can gather and track information in real time. That is why a coordinated system from planting to the market is very important. Without such a system, production knowledge will always lag behind the market.  Unfortunately, most African countries seem to have a skewed knowledge generation system, biased mainly towards production. The agricultural production side tends to have more actors than other parts of the value chain such as logistics, marketing and value addition. Since it is often not clear who is responsible for collecting and sharing information and knowledge along the entire value chain, privatization of information and knowledge is common particularly on the market side.

While traders are usually blamed and labelled middlemen, farmers who already have relationships with traders are satisfied and do not complain. As an institution, each informal market has found ways of consolidating its knowledge and relationships between producers, traders and consumers. Farmers and other actors who complain about middlemen have not invested in building relationships with the market. Fast-moving informal markets do not want to work with people who do not consistently supply commodities.  The market has its own plans. By showing up randomly, farmers bring unsolicited commodities which they try to foist onto the market. Traders end up taking what they had not planned to take because farmers will be desperately in need of money to go back home. This scenario reduces farmers’ negotiating power compared to farmers who will have cultivated a relationship with the market.

The multiplier effect of revenue circulation in informal markets

A significant feature of informal markets is that revenue has enormous multiplier effects due to the speed at which money exchanges hands. Where a supermarket would sell commodities and keep money in the safe for a week, a dollar can exchange hands among 500 people a day in informal markets, purchasing commodities $500 per day. A dollar that will have been locked in a safe will not generate such value. Since Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is based on the multiplier effect of money in circulation, the informal market can be said to be the biggest contributor to GDP than organizations that tie down money in ways that make it impossible to circulate. The economy is about money exchanging hands. If everyone constrains money from circulating there is no economy to talk about.

While formalization is being touted as a solution, it introduces bureaucratic systems that slow down the movement of money. Systems are usually associated with mistrust. The informal market has built its own trust-based system, which is why it is always moving fast.  Formal systems like banking are handicapped by excessive systems because they are run on the basis of mistrust. Where there is trust there is no need for excessive paper work.

 

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 differences between evidence and experience

While there is an increase in emphasis on evidence-based policy, evidence-based medicine and evidence-based this and that, people’s collective experiences may be more powerful than evidence alone. If African agriculture and rural development relied solely on evidence without people’s tangible experiences, most development initiatives would not achieve much. Evidence in the form of facts and figures is critical for decision-making and resource allocation. But also important are people’s experiences expressed through opinions, feelings and diverse forms of body language including seating posture and facial expressions.

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Seesaw between evidence and experience

In most cases, once farmers master and experience the power of some skills or fall in love with some inputs, it becomes difficult to persuade them to unlearn and accept new skills and inputs. For instance, cotton farmers in Zimbabwe have for years become used to a pesticide called Fernvaralete such that they think any other chemical does not deal with pests better than this chemical. Some farmers have also fallen in love with a maize variety called SC513 so much that when the responsible seed company tried to take it out on the pretext that the variety had run its course, farmers continued to demand it.

Under these circumstances, how do we ensure excessive focus on evidence documentation does not diminish the value of people’s experience?  In most cases, documentation only captures a percentage of what is happening on the ground. These scenarios demonstrate that it is through experience that farmers notice things happening around them and creatively adapt to change. There are many cases where farmers practice intelligent disobedience by listening to their experiences and intuitions. 

Knowledge as the voice of experience

Years of promoting evidence-based agriculture has awakened eMKambo to some ‘truths’ that may remain hidden farming communities and informal agriculture marketsFor most farmers and traders, knowledge is the voice of experience which is the great teacher. They trust knowledge which they know is based on lessons from real experience.  Experience compels traders to break market rules and reset consumer expectations. That is how informal markets become faster and more reliable supply chains which do not depend on a single source of insights and knowledge. On the other hand, when farmers do not take matters into their own hands, they allow traders and other value chain actors to set the agenda using access to multiple sources of knowledge. That is why new and innovative methods of collecting and synthesizing evidence from multiple sources of experience is becoming very important for all value chain actors.

While there is a proliferation of ICTs, organizations lack skills in customizing existing information into usable content and key messages that can inspire immediate action. Also lacking is capacity to facilitate productive dialogue among value chain actors whose diverse experiences are rich pools of knowledge. In most cases, agriculture triggers non-farming activities that create jobs. This means efforts to harvest knowledge have to go beyond focusing on trading alone where relationships are between producers, traders and consumers but consider adjacent value chains like mining, food processing and others.  If markets are more about trading agricultural commodities, which commodity has more strength with other sectors? Most informal agricultural markets across Africa are surrounded by a lot of other non-farming activities. They are hubs where diverse opportunities are triggered and nested. Relationships between different communities create unique employment opportunities.

Potential role of universities in building an evidence-informed economy

African agricultural markets tend to be more about knowledge, skills and experience as opposed to academic literacy which is about the ability to read and write. In informal markets, many forms of literacies are called to action – personal traits and passion, among others. If universities are able to harvest timely feedback and experiences from local communities, they will succeed in stabilizing growth and expanding opportunities. A university situated in a particular province should be the first port of call for investors looking for evidence and data to invest in that particular province. This can only happen when universities are able to craft fluid curricular, anchored on systems that enable longitudinal data to flow into communities and back unlike getting stuck in theoretical concepts and artificial laboratories.

Once they are able to identify and streamline their roles, African universities can become integral parts of a knowledge economy, able to link local with global knowledge.  They can even turn this initiative into a business which attracts investors interested to acquire knowledge and business models about particular provinces. Some of the critical elements of a provincial university’s fundamental roles will be synchronizing multiple production calendars, connecting logistics, fixing local transportation systems and tracking commodity volumes flowing in and out of the province. By tracking local people’s knowledge-seeking behavior and turning data into customer engagement, a university can immensely contribute to building a coherent experience economy. Ultimately these universities can explore quantified experience design through collecting qualitative evidence from millions of farmers, traders and other value chain actors as they generate millions of decisions every day.  They can use ICTs to scale these rich experiences in ways that reveal opportunities and impact.

 

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 evidence to articulate grassroots concerns and opportunities

If concerns and opportunities of people living at the grassroots of developing countries are to be fully understood, evidence gathering tools have to go beyond questionnaires and other techniques designed in the English language. To the extent that facts and figures represent the hardware, in most grassroots communities, feelings and opinions represent the software which is often ignored although it provides a more realistic contextual picture.  While there is a tendency for developments agencies and government interventions to think they can change local people’s mindsets and livelihoods within the lifespan of a three to five year project, the reality is that some people may take longer to change their perspectives.  That is where fluid evidence gathering for continuous feedback becomes a powerful resource.

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Need for coordinated production

For most African agricultural communities, the challenge is no longer whether people are able to produce crops and livestock but how they can do so in coordinated ways so that gaps can be visible to the market and policy makers. It is taking long for some farmers to realize the futility of doing commercial bean production in small gardens whose outputs may not even be enough to feed a single household.  Evidence is critical in revealing some of these issues including demonstrating how smart agriculture should be informed by the performance of different commodities on the market.

Rural development cannot be achieved without a system for pulling and aggregating evidence.  A culture of collecting and interpreting evidence enables investors interested in the agriculture sector to make investment decisions through looking at the capacity of different areas to produce and supply certain commodities consistently. The main reason outside investors can see opportunities ahead of local entrepreneurs is because locals are often too close to the situation to imagine how else local resources can be exploited. Evidence is also essential in coordinating different actors in the same district.  This will prevent duplication of effort and misallocation of resources.   Data can also reveal consistency in supply from one area to different markets. This will inform investors on where to set up processing machinery and the size of the machinery.  If there is no data, a processor can set up a processing plant that requires more than 50 tons of tomatoes per day when local production can barely afford 10 tons a week.

More reasons for fluid data collection methods and tools

Methods and tools currently used for baseline surveys and other forms of inquiry are useful to some extent.  A major limitation is that these tools tend to be static such that they collect once-off information. In the fast-moving African agricultural and SME sectors, there is need for fluid data gathering tools, linked to ICTs in ways that enable real-time learning and adjustment. While once-off data collection tools may work for seasonal crops like maize, tobacco, groundnuts, cotton and coffee, they are not suitable for most horticulture commodities that are now produced all year round and sequentially.  This is where tools that support fluid data gathering and consolidation are badly needed. Most horticultural food crops comprise a collective nutrition basket which consumers do not want to miss.  As one horticulture commodity is harvested, another one is being planted.  One crop is getting out of the season, another one is entering the market.  Without evidence it becomes difficult to track the behavior of these commodities that form a nutrition basket so that it becomes possible to see periods when nutrition is not balanced for different consumers and communities.

How data is key in dealing with different perishability levels

Due to different levels of perishability, horticultural commodities have to be prepared for the market in different ways.  Small grains and maize can be stored in granaries for a while until the market improves but the same cannot be done with horticultural commodities like tomatoes which, when ready for harvesting, it cannot be postponed.  Negotiations with the market has to be a continuous process and this means evidence has to be continuously gathered and shared with the market.

While there might not be too much variety in terms of standards and specifications in field crops like maize, horticultural commodities are subject to diverse quality parameters, standards and specifications.  Some consumers prefer a specific variety of pepper.  A group of consumers may prefer under-ripened tomatoes and bananas while some may prefer over-ripened.  Managing all these different preferences may not be successfully done without disciplined evidence gathering and sharing. All these feedback mechanisms and advisory services require a rapid response system based on fluid evidence.

Rationalizing resource utilization

Better economic returns can be achieved if there is continuous data showing how water, soils and labor are being used in producing diverse commodities by different areas.  This will also show how better prices translate to better incomes.  Smart and continuous data collection can also reveal volumes of commodities consumed locally and any space for foreign markets.  This will prevent cases where an export drive deprives local people of better nutrition.  A resilient culture of collecting evidence can also show how horticulture complements other interventions like national maize production schemes.  Once evidence is available, it will show how absence of maize may not mean starvation because many families will be resorting to tubers and different kinds of vegetables as coping mechanisms unlike depending on maize alone.

Marginalized communities have diverse and complex information and knowledge needs as well as existing knowledge and understanding that can positively contribute to the development sector. Systematic ways of collecting and using evidence can show the extent to which programmes with an excessive focus on women and youth are not merely using women and youths as instruments for achieving broader national socio-economic objectives. To this end, data gathering methods and tools should reflect the diversity of issues affecting the status of farmers, women, youths, elderly people and others in communities.

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 feedback to stabilize growth and expand opportunities

For every US$500 million that has goes into agricultural production in Africa, another US$500 million is not injected into the market in order to stimulate demand for what is produced.  As a results, gluts continue to alternate with shortages of commodities. A major reason is lack of investment in gathering and re-using fluid evidence. Monitoring and evaluation activities are usually for accountability to the funder instead of informing programmes in ways that fuel continuous adaptation.  It is through strong feedback loops that agriculture and rural development interventions can stabilize growth and expand opportunities. A consistent focus on feedback would have seen most of the knowledge generated by development actors in Africa over the past decades leading to business partnerships between business people from donor countries and local African communities.  This can be more sustainable than continuously compelling poor people to work hard for hand-outs.

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Building a solid identity

Feedback provides an opportunity for value chain actors to establish a solid identity and generate unique customer engagement. Fragmentation of feedback is one of the reasons why smallholder production is still considered risky by most financial institutions. Feedback is critical in building and strengthening value chains through which detailed profiles of producers and traders can be continuously updated. Without investing in feedback, financial institutions will not be able to put in place systems for making agriculture less risk and boost producers’ capacity to repay loans.  Financiers will continue to foist contract arrangements on farmers irrespective of effectiveness set the same interest rates for different agricultural commodities regardless of market dynamics like seasonality.

 The role of feedback in building relationships

As demonstrated by most African informal markets, feedback can build confidence, trust and relationships, leading strong business cases among traders and farmers.  Due to relationships built over years of sharing feedback, some farmers continue to get the market. Spending time to cultivate resilient feedback pathways results in better understanding of the market.  For new entrants, it is easy to exist the market but difficult to enter due to a thicket of relationships that have been built through feedback sharing.

In African people’s markets, pillars of growth include knowledge, feedback, confidence and relationships.  When farmers and traders realize that their knowledge is reaching its ceiling, they use feedback to generate new knowledge so that they stay current. There is also a realization that locking knowledge in a few Communities of Practice often leads to a reduction in impact. New knowledge is built through feedback nodes from different communities.  This is where ICTs have started playing a significant role by strengthening feedback loops.

If they did not invest in building strong feedback loops, cut-throat competition would be the order of the day in most informal markets. Due to relationships and trust fueled by feedback, informal markets comprising more than 2000 traders are able to set and agree on prices for more than 100 different commodities in which they trade. A form of standardization happens on prices such that price information becomes a public good. A customer can walk along the market seeing almost similar prices for the same commodity. While some consumers may look at this as collusion, it is not but actors would have agreed to set a standardized system of quickly sharing information and knowledge.

On the other hand, most farmers give the market different prices because they will not have created a standardized system of sharing knowledge among themselves before going to the market.  Rather than enable farmers to negotiate and set prices, formal markets force farmers to react to prices that the market will have offered in line with its absorptive capacity.  In informal markets, knowledge is not highly privatized. Customers can learn through observing and asking questions. Many consumers frequent informal markets because there is a system connecting farmers, traders, consumers and the market in ways that facilitate knowledge transfer through human relationship building.  Traders have set systems and rules of engagement based on feedback and this enables knowledge to travel through commodities.

Making community knowledge findable

African communities have all facets of knowledge which cannot be defined in one word.  If you need knowledge about seed, goats and other things you can find it through asking.  A knowledge seeker should first define what s/he wants.  Communities do not display knowledge like in supermarkets because the knowledge has to be continuously updated. It has to be kept fluid and that means such knowledge cannot be wholly stored in libraries but built in fluid ways that are part of the community where it is kept alive and some practices discarded.  Community knowledge does not have a syllabus and it takes time to acquire or discard it.

Resilience should be defined in terms of knowledge as an intangible asset. Unfortunately, most development interventions start with tangible assets like irrigation equipment, seed and other inputs. They end up confusing skills with knowledge. One can easily acquire skills on using certain tools but may not quickly acquire knowledge which is more durable and provides capacity to survive when equipment no longer exists and inputs have long been exhausted.

The contribution of feedback to mindset change

Mindset change is one of the most common phrases being thrown around as if it can be done overnight. Without investment in feedback it is impossible to change people’s mindsets. Feedback loops require participation by communities, specialists and individuals. Mindset change and feedback is about information and knowledge.  Some people prefer sending information anonymously without drawing attention to themselves. They should be allowed to do so and need confidence that their preferences are respected. It can be the role of the broker to foster such freedom of expression and non-expression without some people feeling victimized for exposing what other people want to remain hidden due to different incentives.  Through a robust feedback mechanism, people can be encouraged to proffer problems and solutions.

Continuous feedback can lead to mind-set change. It is not an event whose results can be achieved through a three to four year project.  After 30 years in agriculture using their own shared resources and coping strategies, farmers cannot suddenly decide to take an agricultural loan. Unfortunately, banks are not investing in understanding pathways to mindset change. If you suddenly start advertising financial services, most farmers start questioning your motives especially if you have ignored their concerns for decades. Due to lack of a feedback culture there is an increasing tendency to start, close and re-start projects under different labels and names.

 

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

Recognizing the role of feminine traits in local economies

Another way of increasing the relevance of International Women’s Day which is celebrated on the 8th of March every year is to notice and reflect on how female traits and values play out at grassroots level. If it wasn’t for the presence of feminine traits like empathy, humility, intuition, flexibility, inclusiveness, generosity, balance and patience, most societies, farming communities and markets would be history.

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To the extent they do not have empathy, patience, flexibility and other feminine traits, financial institutions and some formal organizations in developing countries are struggling to continue existing. It is now clear that feminine traits and values are a new source of innovation and competitive advantage. Progressive economies are moving away from command and control to embrace feminine values that prioritize connection and nurturing.

The power of interdependence

In many African communities and local markets, some men are often said to behave like women and some women are also said to behave like men. According to most African cultures, there is a woman in every man just as there is also a man in every woman. An aunt is a husband to her brother’s wife while an uncle can have features exactly like his sister’s children. This shows how traits are embedded in people and their cultures in ways that contribute to social resilience.  Once International Women’s Day recognizes some of these silent aspects, it will have broadened its meaning and stop being about gender which is being largely confused with an obsession with women’s issues at the expense of men.

Combining positive male and female traits, the way many African traditions have done for generations can result in resilient economies and societies. While values are becoming more important than profit-maximization, masculine traits like decisiveness and confidence are no longer enough in promoting physical, emotional and social well-being. African informal markets are demonstrating the power of combining male and female traits, leading to interdependence and sustainability. For instance, the prevailing socio-economic environment is forcing agricultural value chain actors to co-create commodities and services with customers and work with competitors in order to leverage entire ecosystems. Interdependence and a quest for sustainability are largely female traits. While initially sustainability was associated with the preservation of natural resources and the environment, informal markets and smallholder farmers have shown how it can be expanded to include giving back to communities.

Limitations of ICTs

Evidence gathered by eMKambo over the past six years shows that ICTs like mobile phones and platforms such as Twitter and all kinds of mobile applications have an unconscious bias towards masculinity and patriarchy. The majority of feminine values and traits cannot be fully expressed through these technologies. Most feminine traits can be expressed orally and through images. Grassroots women would rather demonstrate their knowledge through weaving baskets that can be used for carrying fruits and vegetables than creating a twitter account.  They would rather prepare a nutrition basket than focus on one commercial crop.  As a combination of diverse crops and foods, a nutrition basket expresses more empathy, flexibility and intuition than a single commodity like tobacco whose main thrust is income, profit and foreign currency.

Depending on how they are used, digital platforms can both enable and hinder a diversity of opinion, especially from women. Besides reinforcing male-dominated organizational silos, digital technology seems to encourage a male style. For instance, a mobile phone or a tweet strips emotion from communication, creating an impersonal global marketplace where people are compelled to work in isolation. An individual has to have a skype identity, mobile number and twitter handle which lack a collective resonance.  Yet, women are naturally wired to make better decisions because they naturally act in the best interest of the community. Women are able to step outside their own frames of reference to understand what their peers and customers truly want and need. That is how they end up nurturing new customers in how to prepare different kinds of foods. All this knowledge cannot be fully shared through existing technologies. When women stories are documented digitally, their conversational value diminishes because documentation captures a small percentage of what is actually happening.

However, one of the benefits of digital technology is that women’s issues and pain points can no longer be ignored. How can African communities benefit more from using technology to build a future with strong feminine values and female leaders whose interest is not usurping men but working together to build on men’s general decisiveness and resilience. As demonstrated through their oral communication and knowledge sharing, some of the critical leadership skills inherent in women include listening, observation, intuition, caring, patience, long-term thinking and community orientation.  In order to develop the necessary emergent practices for dealing with complex issues like climate change and poverty, both male and female traits should come together into meaningful conversations. Gender bias should not be allowed to continue preventing fluid knowledge exchange.

 

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