How baseline data can inform agriculture development and community empowerment

Almost 70% of districts in Zimbabwe are subjected to baseline studies from different organizations every year. Most rural people have become fatigued because organizations and institutions are not building on previous baselines, preferring to compete in producing disjointed information. As if this is not enough, baseline surveys and project evaluations by development partners are not shared with communities so that they can see how to continue doing things for themselves. When baseline data is shared with communities they can contribute to longitudinal assessments and periodic improvement of their own context. Through baseline data, communities should be able to tell if the concept of field days is contributing to poverty alleviation and wealth creation. Without data it is impossible for communities to translate field days into agribusiness. At one point someone is a master farmer and in a few years the same person cannot harvest a ton of maize.

Where the department of Agricultural Extension (AREX) is active and capacitated, there is no point for organizations doing their own separate baseline studies when AREX can provide valuable status quo information.   Alternatively, development partners can pay AREX for baseline information as a way of empowering this important local institution towards sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, most development partners hurriedly conduct baseline surveys for their interventions hoping to see trends in two to three years. Two years is too short to see important agricultural trends. Tools used by most Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E ) systems designed by development partners do not impart skills to local resource persons so that they continue gathering data and monitoring their progress following the phasing out of projects. M&E remains a highly technical field whose knowledge doesn’t spill-over into communities in visible and practical ways.

Had they capacitated farmers and local champions, government institutions and development partners should by now be doing less crop and livestock assessment work. The process would actually be happening much quicker. Due to failure by these institutions to craft appropriate information gathering tools that take advantage of Zimbabweans’ high literacy levels, the burden for crop and livestock assessment falls on one or two institutions every season. A lot of the skills around baseline studies as well as crop and livestock assessments can be broken down into small chunks that can be effectively carried out by local people with minimum guidance. Rather than focusing on crop and livestock assessments only, some of these activities should be holistic enough to cover what makes a total household, village or ward (income inflows, outflows; basic livelihood, remittances, etc). Knowledge has to be stepped down and up & digested before farmers can apply it to their context. Otherwise we end up with technical reports that ordinary farmers can’t use because they are notstatisticians. For instance, very few farmers access weather information shared through television, newspapers and radio whose target audiences are mostly based in urban areas.

Towards community knowledge centres

Given the proliferation of ICTs each village or ward can gather, digitize and store its own baseline data. Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA) recently walked with people in four wards of Gokwe South district, gathering and interpreting baseline data which is now part of critical local content for the wards. Without local content, ICTs are just gadgets which will not benefit many people. The four wards who participated in and owned the whole baseline study process are:- Njelele 1:– Ward 16; Njelele 2:- Ward 15 and Njelele 3:- Ward 14 and the furthest being Ward 19 – Dhlalambi 1. Below are examples of baseline knowledge that now informs decision making in the wards:


This information is critical for planning and resource allocation in each ward.


It is important to know gender dynamics in each ward so that decisions about issues that affect men and women differently can be addressed.


The level of education speaks to many issues such as local people’s capacity to understand and absorb knowledge. Introducing a project without understanding people’s level of education results in poor implementation and low adoption of new ideas. Collectively, the percentage of respondents who have been to school in all the four wards is 95.02 % inclusive of primary to higher tertiary level.


On average 14.285 % of the households interviewed had received training on various projects. New interventions often assume that communities have never been training and continue introducing and duplicating training programmes that waste people’s time and leave them more confused. The table below shows different kinds of training received by people in the four wards.



For 95% of the respondents, agriculture is a major source of income. Sources of income indicate business opportunities and people’s capacity to afford certain services.


Generally the majority of people in all the wards have income streams below $200. This has a bearing on rural finance modelling.


The majority of people in all the four wards have monthly expenses below$50.00.




Using data to see what is hidden

Institutions like AREX and development organisations can introduce knowledge on conducting baseline studies and then build the capacity of local people to do longitudinal studies while gathering and monitoring changes according to the baselines. Now with the proliferation of ICTs this should be easy and fast. Information about drought cannot just be generalized. Information should be broken down by household, village, ward, district, province and then national. Each community should be able to hold this kind of information in its knowledge centre. Communities have their own structures ready to receive and integrate knowledge. If you ride on existing structures, you don’t need to continue building the capacity of people to do the same thing. More local experiences will emerge from sharing information at local levels on a daily basis. Rain gauges can be interpreted through social learning without a need for highly technical interpretation. Through community knowledge centres, communities can be exposed to the importance of soil sampling in ways that prompt them to acquire their own soil sampling kits. When soil sampling becomes common knowledge more farmers will be motivated to acquire their own kits and develop enterprises around soil sampling for other farmers.


Using baselines can help in distinguishing factors that affect pockets of communities from those affecting whole communities. It’s wrong to conclude that all communities are affected by climate change the same way when some farmers in the same area are harvesting ten tons per hectare. Without baseline data you can’t figure out what makes these exceptional cases stand out. Even in Chivi district, some wards close to natural features like mountains, forests and streams are affected differently by climate change than those dominated by bare ground. Baseline data can show the effects of climate change right from villages, wards, districts and provinces before generalizing at national level. A baseline can also show differences in the intensity of climate change and this can inform mitigation strategies. It is not helpful to embark on a blanket national climate change awareness programme, in most case through television, radio and newspapers. All these channels are not accessible to local farmers where everyday sense-making and communication is more meaningful. If communities are encouraged to measure the width of their streams annually, experts can be roped in to interpret the meaning of any changes. You can’t just start a gulley reclamation programme without solid information on the history of the gulley. Every gulley, stream and forest has its history ensconced in local people’s collective memory.

Most baseline survey reports as well as crop & livestock assessment reports lack ordinary farmers’ analytical views. The final reports are usually a string of numbers and graphs and shaded maps which mean nothing to non- statisticians such as farmers. More useful knowledge can be co-created during baseline studies and agricultural assessments than from reading final reports. In a changing climate, crop and livestock assessments should be based on continuous dialogue rather than technical reports full of figures. People at all levels (household, village, ward and district) should be empowered to gather baseline information and knowledge. Information on water and sanitation should be gathered at local level rather than waiting for different development partners to come and introduce their own baseline studies in line with their proposed interventions and number of years. For communities, a baseline should be done once and then information fed continuously in line with new findings and fresh evidence. At the moment in Zimbabwe, a company wanting to introduce tobacco farming does its own baseline. An NGO interesting in introducing a food aid programme does its own baseline based on a two or five year programme. The ministry of health does its own baseline to justify a 6 month immunization programme. An NGO interested in water and sanitation also does its own thing.  When a community is capacitated, all this information should be found at one community knowledge centre.

From informants to Knowledge Workers

Development organisations and academics should stop looking at communities as Informants but Knowledge Workers. Building community knowledge centres is a sure way of harnessing community knowledge for development. Government should have a solid template for such information so that not much time is wasted on baseline after baseline by different organisations in the same community. Due to lack of community knowledge centres where community baseline knowledge can be found easily, it takes time to start and implement a project in Zimbabwe. In a three year project, implementation can only happen in six months with much of the time consumed in activities like pre-planning, training, stakeholder engagement, launching, database creation, baseline survey, training and procurement, followed by evaluation. Moreover, starting, evaluating and designing an exit strategy all happen without hand-over of knowledge gained to local people. That is why there is so much frustration in development organisations with officers desperate to get more money to continueor start a new phase of the same project. They write a good case study which they want to replicate or scale up in other districts, starting with (guess what?) a baseline again. There is no moving forward since everything and everyone is trapped in this cycle of processes. You move from A to B to C and repeat the process again. Important lessons are not shared with communities which need them most. Even in districts with almost the same characteristics, new projects often start with a new baseline. Using baseline data, each community is able to take a long term view and decide its level of effort in each project that comes along.

Ways to involve local people in baseline surveys include tools like mapping, training, poverty ranking, issues affecting communities, coping mechanisms and areas where support is really needed. Youth, women, men, traditional leaders and many other groups can all contribute to the baseline. A simple tool can be designed for the community so that it can input data. An exercise book from where information can be transferred into a computer can be a good starting point for a knowledge based community where tacit knowledge is made explicit step by step. Local young people can enthusiastically enter, process and keep this data.

Aligning baseline data with market intelligence

Working from the agriculture markets has made eMKambo realize that no organisation has ever carried out a baseline survey in any of the people’s markets. eMKambo decided to conduct a baseline of each market starting with Mbare in 2013 to map the whole market ecosystem including actors and sources of commodities. If someone comes 10 years from now, they should be able to see what the situation was like in 2013 and then see if any changes are happening. Data from the market should be linked with production in various areas so that we can see gaps before deciding to import food. Without data you cannot effectively align agricultural activities with local people’s nutritional needs. Local data should be linked with market data, showing the volume of commodities from particular areas to particular markets. The information below shows how different communities exchanged food with Mbare farmers’ market in February 2015.

Feb 2015 Mbare farmers’ market analysis

A total of 2251 farmers supplied 40 different commodities to Mbare farmers’ market during the month of February 2015 generating a collective Expected Revenue (ER) of $ 1,364,441.93, an increase from January’s figure by 2 %. The vegetable class had the highest number of produce supplied and ER for the month of February 2015.


The above table shows all the produce supplied to the market, quantity (in respective units of measurement and tonnage) and ER for each product type.


Table 15: E R by District


Although far from Harare, Gokwe South managed to contribute commodities to Harare in February 2015 with the bulk of commodities from the district going to Bulawayo, Gweru and Kwekwe. The bigger the town the more volume of commodities farmers take to the town on the assumption that there are more buyers in bigger towns. By participating in baseline studies, communities become more empowered to use evidence in their production and marketing decisions. Communities can learn more from the process of creating a report than from implementing recommendations from a report in whose codification they didn’t participate. They can remember how the process of codifying their experiences felt than reading someone’s explanation of their circumstances.

Experts (like agronomists and animal scientists) have deep knowledge on a subject but many lack the skills to synthesize what they know in order to share it with a broader audience. As a result they end up sharing knowledge with like-minded people. In an increasingly complex world where climate is changing unpredictably, it is critical that experts share their knowledge so organizations, institutions and local communities can make better decisions. Unfortunately, most experts are very deep into their field and may be less interested in the general trends. Involving communities in baseline studies and ensuring some information remains at community level is a powerful way of developing a new knowledge sharing culture that is badly needed in African countries like Zimbabwe.

More information: / / / / / / / / /

Website: /

eMkambo Call Centre:

0771 859000-5

0716 331140-5

0739 866 343-6

Why Indigenous Commerce deserves its own Credit Bureau

Farmers and traders have to juggle more than three variables to be successful which is why adaptation challenges are more current than technical challenges. Unfortunately formal institutions like banks do not understand all these variables and farmers’ coping mechanisms. Consequently, farmers and traders continue to be subjected to the same credit bureau rules meant for the formal sector. It looks like forcing formal institutions to understand the indigenous commerce (‘informal sector’) is like forcing a large plane to land on an airport designed for Helicopters and small planes.

While formal institutions tend to focus on topical knowledge spewed from educational institutions, this knowledge has problems adjusting to local practical contexts that are typical of indigenous commerce. Instructive teaching and learning are useless in indigenous commerce. A credit bureau for indigenous commerce should take into account how traders and farmers deconstruct and reconstruct knowledge in complex markets where cash and barter deals co-exist. By not capturing barter deals and relationships, a formal credit bureau fails to capture a critical component of indigenous commerce. Whether farmers and traders follow recommendations from formal banks is a hit-or-miss scenario because they are chasing many variables as indicated above. In indigenous commerce, there is no guarantee that banking manuals, financial research reports and recommendations will be translated into real financial solutions. Knowledge should be more analytical than operational financial institutions are to understand indigenous commerce. This is because knowledge is just one essential ingredient of competency in indigenous commerce with trust and relationships being some of the most important ingredients. What is important is not knowing about the world of banking but knowing what is required to actually go out and make a difference in the real world.

In indigenous commerce, learning happens fast within networks of traders and farmers who bypass the classical reporting loop. When traders and farmers learn from each other according to their lines of business, they immediately put knowledge into practice without waiting for someone to document what is going on in the market. ICTs are enhancing learning that happens through direct knowledge exchange in the market without going through some hierarchical filter. In this case, traders and farmers in the market front line of markets constitute deep sources of practical wisdom.

However, there are limits to how farmers and traders can learn from other people’s experience. Social social learning processes like those happening in indigenous commerce cannot be mandated formally from the top or cut short before going through their full cycles. Adaptive challenges faced by traders and farmers in agriculture markets require co-creating of solutions, whether financial or economic. Trader and farmer experiences cannot be photocopied and dumped in Zimbabwe. Otherwise we end up with well- articulated and analyzed business models which do not speak to the reality on the market. Understanding what farmers and traders are struggling with on the ground is the basis for a relevant credit bureau.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwean institutions like banks and development partners are failing to grasp and distinguish adaptive from technical issues confronting the agriculture sector. While the technical angle emphasizes knowledge from experts such as bankers, the agriculture sector is in the throes of adaptive challenges where solutions are not known and have to be co-created by farmers, traders, academics, consumers, transporters, development partners and policy makers. A strong credit bureau will have to evolve from perspectives from all these clusters. It can’t emerge from throwing technical solutions at the issues. Turning adaptive challenges into technical problems and solutions is a big mistake that has to be avoided.


The idea behind a Credit Bureau for Market Traders

eMKambo has set out to mobilize ideas and institutions toward creating a Credit Bureau for traders and farmers operating in indigenous commerce. This initiative will build the confidence of financial institutions so that they start taking traders as borrowers rather than just anticipated savers. Negative perceptions about people’s markets like Mbare, Malaleni, Sakubva and many others have prevailed for a long time, cementing some level of reluctance by financial institutions to lend money to traders. Existing formal credit bureaus that are used to assess individuals’ creditworthiness are not entirely relevant because they focus on employment-based borrowing histories. On the other hand, the people’s market is populated by people who have never been formally employed. This means there business or transaction history will be missing from the formal credit bureau.

Traders are responsible for moving more than 60 % of the food that flows into urban areas from production zones. In fact, markets like Mbare are the first ports of call for all the food that ends up in many urban markets and small markets run by vendors in high density areas. Money and relationships are responsible for moving all this food. A credit bureau that captures all these dynamics is needed.

Features of an ideal indigenous commerce credit bureau

The Indigenous Commerce Credit Bureau that eMKambo is crafting provides vital and up to the minute information about each trader and farmer. This information will be available for serious financiers keen to advance loans to traders. Towards consolidating the credit bureau, eMKambo has already compiled the following details for each of the close to 10 000 traders that deal in food and other commodities in 20 markets across Zimbabwe:

  1. Name and Surname.
  2. Gender
  3. Date of birth.
  4. Contact address.
  5. Stall address.
  6. Trading years.
  7. Commodity specialization.
  8. Average volumes traded per day/week/month/year.
  9. Average revenue per day/week/month/year.
  10. Profits realized per day/week/year.
  11. Loans (formal or informal) applied before.
  12. Repayment history.
  13. Current loan (formal or informal) status.
  14. Social capital (relationships)

A scale of scores is being designed for each trader or farmer. The level of default determines the score. The higher the score the better. If a trader changes from poor performance to a better performance the score is increased. Before writing off a trader, many aspects are considered. Some traders prefer holding their cash as stock not as physical cash so they are never liquid. The business cycle differs with the type of produce traded. Vegetables usually do not take up more than three days on the stall and this implies within three days the trader would have realized a profit. In instances where a trader is selling dried grains the stock might take about a week or more. This means traders specializing in different commodities have to be treated differently. The Indigenous Commerce Credit Bureau sets scores in ways that differentiates traders and farmers in line with the nature of their businesses.

The main advantages of having a Credit Bureau for the Agriculture market traders include:

  • Traders become aware of the importance of discipline in business. Recording all their transactions will make them see if they are making a profit, loss or if they are breaking even hence giving them room for business growth.
  • Increasing traders’ chances of obtaining loans and support from other stakeholders interested in agriculture because the credit bureau enhances confidence in the trader’s business.
  • The credit bureau shows business trends for each trader or farmer – an indicator of progress and what needs improving from operational or policy angles.

Developing scorecards appropriate for traders and farmers working in indigenous commerce requires a combination of technical modeling skills and practical knowledge of how people’s markets function on a daily basis. However, since the scorecard in the credit bureau does not replace human judgment but complements human intelligence, eMKambo has financial literacy officers whose roles include providing the humane judgement that is critical for sustaining relationships in indigenous commerce.

More information: / / / / / / / / /

Website: /

eMkambo Call Centre:

0771 859000-5

0716 331140-5

0739 866 343-6

Indigenous Commerce shows we cannot declare a drought based on maize alone !!

While policy makers and formal institutions are quick to pronounce a drought on the basis of poor seasonal maize production, indigenous commerce looks at the performance of a wide range of commodities in people’s markets like Mbare, Malaleni, Sakubva, Kudzanayi and Garikayi, among others. The majority of smallholder farmers who provide commodities to people’s markets are now aware that in order to remain viable, they have to juggle more than three variables.   While policy makers and formal institutions are still promoting technical solutions, farmers and traders are embracing adaptive solutions.

Like other developing countries, Zimbabwe faces more adaptive challenges than technical challenges. Adapting various forms of knowledge into the local context is the biggest headache for policy makers and development partners. Farmers, traders, consumers and ordinary people who patronize indigenous commerce have some of the answers. According to these actors, Zimbabwean agriculture is many times more than a single crop like maize. Unless a collective approach to agriculture development is taken, most commodities will continue failing to meet their full potential.

Farmers and traders know that although learning from your own experience has its own challenges, it is far much better than learning from other people’s stories that are difficult to localize. Farmers and traders are always looking at ways through which formal and informal knowledge can creatively interact. One key realization from the indigenous commerce sphere is that our education system is producing graduates that are not able to function in complex situations where one has to juggle more than three variables to be successful. To grapple with the prevailing changing climate, farmers and traders are becoming good at deconstructing their experiences into various aspects. In order to be reliable, these experiences are reconstructed differently so that they succeed in indigenous commerce. This deconstruction and reconstruction requires a creative and exploration exchange in the market between all value chain actors (farmers, traders, transporters and consumers).

Policy makers and financial institutions have to realize that there are limits to technical solutions, particularly in a complex and changing climate. Indigenous commerce spheres like people’s markets allow farmers, traders, consumers and other actors to deconstruct what works in one place and reconstruct it in another place. Ideas for coping with drought in Masvingo are exchanged with those from Mashonaland East. Knowledge exchange processes are intensive and intuitive. Value chain actors in indigenous commerce have also learnt to bypass and ignore some of the classical reporting loops that are favoured by banks and other formal institutions.

Farmers and traders learn through direct exchange from periphery to periphery without taking a loop through formal institutions. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are exacerbating these learning processes so much that farmers and traders are far much ahead in predicting climate change than formal technical institutions. Learning from each other’s experiences is best organized through peer-exchange learning. This is the sort of learning that will build the Zimbabwean economy.

Adaptive challenges currently confronting Zimbabwe require us to work hard in co-creating solutions. Stories from Asia and other countries can only inspire us so that we see what is possible. But the process of learning has to happen in the social system where the challenge occurs and that is not learning from books but learning by doing. We should move away from thinking of innovation in terms of technical solutions (known by experts only) to adaptive solutions where solutions have to be co-created by those feeling the heat and dealing with consequences of their actions.

blog post

How else agriculture markets are more than just maize.

eMKambo recently examined menus of a variety of restaurants in Bulawayo to get an idea of the food in circulation. The table below shows how maize is just one of many ingredients that also deserve attention in agriculture development.

Restaurants serving diverse foods in Bulawayo.

Table 1: Restaurants serving diverse foods in Bulawayo

Restaurant Orders
SIS BEE’S RESTAURANT Tripe – 20kg per day.
Beef – 30kg per day.
Beef Biltong – 15kg per week.
Oxtail – 10kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runners) – 10 birds per day.
Mabele (sorghum) 10kg per day.
Nyawuthi (pearl millet) – 10kg per day.
Maize Meal – 20kg per day
AFRO-FOODS RESTAURANT Broiler Chickens 15 birds per day.
Stewing Beef 15kg per day.
Beef Bones 25kg per day.
Potatoes 4 pockets per day.
Mealie -meal 15kg per day.
Rice- 5kg per day.
Sugar beans- 2kg per day.
Vegetables: Tomatoes, Tsunga, Cabbage, Chomoulia and Spinach.
Chicken Necks.
Amanqina (Mazondo).
T- Bone.
Chomoulia, Tomatoes and Cabbage.
Chicken Makaya (road runner).
Beef .
Vegetables – Cabbage, Spinach, Rape, Chomoulia and Ulude(nyeve).
EZIMNANDI RESTAURANT Amanqina (Mazondo) – 10 hooves per day.
Inhloko/ Nyama ye Musoro (Meaty Parts of a Cow’s head).
Ezangaphakathi / Zvemkathi / Tripe – 5kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runner) – 7 birds per day.
Vegetables – Rape, Chomoulia and Spinach.
CHICKEN TASTE RESTAURANT Makaya Chicken (road runner) – 3 birds per day.
Broiler Chicken – 4 birds per day.
Stewing beef – 3kg per day.
Whole fish – 10kg per day.
Chicken Feet and Gizzards – 2kg per day.
Liver and Heart – 2kg per day.
GREY’S INN RESTAURANT Stewing Beef – 3kg per day.
Broiler Chicken Pieces – 2kg per day.
Tripe – 2kg per day.
SELBOURNE HOTEL RESTAURANT Stewing beef – 4kg per day.
Broiler Chicken Pieces – 2kg per day.
Tripe – 2kg per day.
Nyawuti (Millet).
Maize meal.
Chicken Makaya (road runner).
Stewing Beef.
KAHAWA RESTAURANT Stewing beef – 3kg per day.
Tripe/Zvemukati – 2kg per day.
Chicken Makaya (road runner) -3 birds per day.

The above table indicates more opportunities for farmers than relying on maize-based agribusiness. In addition, the following brief analysis on Mbare wholesale market also testifies to the breadth of agriculture opportunities in Zimbabwe.

Mbare wholesale market analysis – February 2015.
Although economic hardships are negatively affecting consumer buying power, people’s markets like Mbare continue shining. A total of eleven products traded in Mbare Wholesale market commanded an Estimated Revenue of nine hundred and eighty seven thousand, four hundred and sixty dollars ($ 987,460.00) in February 2015.

Table 2: E R by Produce type, tonnage and percentage share of total ER.


The price of potatoes per ton increased by 9 % from January’s $ 733.33 to trade at $ 800.00 in February 2015. There has generally been a shortage of potatoes, driving prices up.

Graph2: Estimated revenue by produce type.

Table 3: E R by province


Graph 3: Expected Revenue (E R) by province

More information: / / / / / / / / /
Website: /

eMkambo Call Centre:

0771 859000-5
0716 331140-5
0739 866 343-6

Mobile Application for Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Sector

Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector has, over the past few years, become more dynamic in ways that demand equally dynamic ways of sharing information and knowledge. In addition to conventional media comprising radio, television, newspapers and agriculture shows, mobile technology has tried to plug information sharing loopholes in the form of voice, short message service (sms) and social media like Whatsapp. However, most of these channels seem to have reached their limits with agriculture content remaining disintegrated in farmer organisations, NGOs, government departments and, among farming communities themselves. The prevalence of diverse sources of inadequate agriculture content has translated into poor decision-making by agriculture stakeholders. Farmers have been the most affected by this information asymmetry as they have found it difficult to move from data to good agriculture decisions. As result many answers have remained partial.

It is against this background that eMKambo is launching an agricultural mobile application to complement its short message service, call centre and face to face knowledge sharing through knowledge centres and information instigators. Known as eMKambo Nest, ( ), the mobile application is a software and mechanism for availing agriculture information and knowledge (content) through mobile phones. It is no longer a secret that almost every farmer, trader or transporter now has a mobile phone. What is lacking is appropriate decision-making information & knowledge (content) on time. The mainstream media will also benefit from the application as a source of well filtered information.

Focusing on market-driven agriculture, the mobile application is set to provide real-time agriculture information and updates. Rather than relying on second hand or third hand information on what is happening in agriculture markets, a farmer in Bubi or Honde Valley can receive and send information as things happen. Now that there is unlimited internet connection (data bundles) through mobile network operators, it is ideal for farmers, traders and other value chain actors to cheaply receive and send real time agriculture content on their mobile phones from wherever they are located.

Through the mobile application, agriculture content will be trendy, enabling farmers to compare and contrast information by week, month and year. The application can also provide unlimited text, images and videos, enabling agriculture value chain actors to surmount the limitations of short message services (160 characters). As a service-oriented architecture and communication protocol, the application enables data to flow fluidly while remaining fresh. Farmers don’t have to stop whatever they are doing for fear of missing the news because the value-added news is always right there in their mobile phones.

The application is much superior to social media channels like Whatsapp where it’s difficult to differentiate serious information from playful gossip. Besides, Whatsapp does not share co-knowledge but a string of conversations that are sometimes difficult for farmers and traders to filter into useful business intelligence. From eMKambo experiences, information from smallholder farmers and agriculture markets comes in drips and drapes, requiring someone to aggregate it into business intelligence. This application builds on eMKambo’s capacity to mobilise agriculture content from disparate sources into coherent agriculture knowledge. Unlike social media platforms like Whatsapp where a few people dominate conversations and influence outcomes, the mobile application will tap into individuals’ emotional intelligence and power to reflect and make sense quietly before sharing information as needed.

Through the application farmers or traders pull and push information related to their lines of business. They also try to find people with the same interest with whom they can share and deepen information rather than remaining at general information level. Farmers are no longer content with news but decision-making intelligence that can’t be shared through short message service or other forms of conventional media. The app will evolve into a one-stop platform where farmers get advisory services like budgets, news, market signals/trends as well as making inquiries and contributions. Frequent communication on matters of interest through the application will enhance relationships and trust building among agriculture value chain actors.

The fluid nature and velocity of transactions within agriculture markets now requires technology that connects all nodes within the shortest period – connecting farmers, traders, transporters and consumers quickly. For farmers, decisions to take commodities to the market, which market, when and to whom will be easier to make. By consolidating content, the application will also influence agricultural extension models which are currently one directional.

Surfacing the transformative power of Indigenous Commerce

As a knowledge entrepreneur in Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector, eMKambo ( / ) has found itself dancing between two worlds. We don’t have a real name for such a dance but it’s definitely not Kongonya. It is what we have chosen to call Indigenous Commerce. It is a combination of formal and informal economic activities and worldviews. Not entirely formal or completely informal. Depending on commodities being exchanged, it is sometimes 75% informal and 25% formal. From this observation you can see that thinking in terms of clear boundaries between the formal and informal economies is a myth and highly naive. The indigenous commerce space represents a healthy fusion of formal and informal economies.

Principles of Indigenous Commerce
As a practice, Indigenous Commerce has a set of principles and values which include: Barter Trade; Trust & Relationship Building; and, Local Knowledge Pathways.

Barter Trade – It is clear to everyone that you can’t find sufficient United States dollars or South African Rands in every corner of Zimbabwe. Yet agriculture commodities continue to flow from those areas to urban people’s markets which now control 60% of the food traded in the country. Given cash shortages, the bulk of this food travels on the rails of barter deals and embedded relationships. Barter deals are at the centre of how the value of agriculture commodities is exchanged from farmers to traders and finally to consumers. Some direct relationships between farmers and final end-users are also anchored on elements of barter trade. Besides addressing cash shortages, barter shortens the transaction process. Through barter deals, a commodity looks for another commodity that matches its value within the market, for example, a crate of tomatoes for a bucket of groundnuts or three buckets of maize for a goat.

Trust and Relationship Building – Through Indigenous Commerce, farmers and traders know that the quality of your relationships determines the depth and amount of opportunities you get. Relationship building starts with the value an individual attaches to his or her commodity. Whoever buys that commodity should pay an equivalent of the trust and value the seller has on his/her commodity. The seller’s trust in his/her commodity is transferred to the buyer. From the other end, consumers and traders transfer their expectations to the producer. In this way, Indigenous Commerce is able to match values and expectations from both ends. The situation is different in an entirely formal agriculture economic mindset where a farmer is encouraged to calculate his profit or price before going to the market and when s/he faces competition in the market, s/he remains stuck in those figures, leading to enormous frustration. For instance, a farmer can say, “I want 25% profit even when the situation doesn’t accept that figure”.

Most traders specializing in tomatoes, potatoes, goats, eggs, chicken or butternuts have built a niche market based on relationships and trust. Although this knowledge is not documented, it informs them how to stock or re-stock (re-order levels) at different times. While formal companies and NGOs tend to draw static suppliers’ lists, a trader’s list of suppliers is woven with relationships. Relationships explain why someone continues to specialize in groundnuts for decades even if there are opportunities in high value commodities like cabbages or butternuts.

In one way or another, farmers, customers and traders go further to discuss how they are related through totems, e.g., Moyo or Shumba. People who are sensitive about totems tend to buy from those with whom they share surnames – Mhofu to Chihera. There is also something about place of origin, e.g a trader from Masvingo’s pen name in the market can be Masvingo which means people from Masvingo may want to give him first preference. Before talking about money, farmers and traders talk about relationships and places of origin. Sometimes accent can help such that if a consumer identifies with the accent of a trader, s/he may be swayed to buy from that particular trade, for instance, Wasu to Wasu.

Local Knowledge Pathways – When acquiring commodities, traders use their personal knowledge and instincts to determine volumes that can be bought by their consumers. They don’t rely too much on cash flow projections but resort to their instincts and knowledge of business. In the words of one trader: “If you don’t know how to do a cash flow, don’t try because you will fool yourself into believing you are making a profit when you are not.”

On- the- job apprenticeship is a fundamental component of Indigenous Commerce. Most tomato traders were once tomato farmers who have perfected their art through learning from production up to the market. Conversely, in the formal economic frame, formal qualifications are considered more important than practical wisdom gained through action. Someone can enrol at University to study agronomy even if s/he grew up in urban areas with no exposure to practical farming. It becomes worse when this person becomes a policy maker when s/he doesn’t have practical agriculture wisdom. A trader who grew up farming can be a better policy maker than this person. Zimbabwean businesses and parastatals are collapsing because they do not take some of these issues into account.

The majority of traders in the people’s market have inherited their businesses from their parents and are now practically teaching their children how to run these businesses. One of the values these children are acquiring is how to give a discount. They now know that when a customer buys tomatoes worth more than a dollar you give a discount in the form of one extra tomato. This Mbasera principle common in indigenous commerce is a form of discount prevalent in all people’s markets. A customer who buys 10 oranges for a dollar and gets one extra as Mbasera to make them 11 has a10% discount, meaning he buys orange for less than one rand. Mbasera as a way of thanking originates from Indigenous Commerce.

While the formal economic mindset wants to see evidence of businesses growing in a certain direction, Indigenous Commerce emphasizes both growth and sustainability as well as meeting social needs. Modern investment analysts have not been trained to see how an indigenous business is growing. For instance, they have no capacity to value investments in social things like education. A trader practicing Indigenous Commerce can finance two children up to university, making an investment worth more than US$20 000. Returns can be seen through the children’s well-being. A trader can make this investment for decades but, in the eyes of modern commerce, his/her business is not growing since it can’t be measured through number of employees and physical assets.

Indigenous Commerce has sustained itself for years because knowledge sharing is open and free unlike in modern commerce where private companies in the same line of business can have entirely different fortunes. While one company is folding, another one in same line of business is thriving. This problem is caused by unwillingness to share knowledge and success secrets. Due to robust knowledge sharing, you don’t see a whole Indigenous Commerce industry collapsing like what has happened to Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector. A strong knowledge sharing culture based on trust and relationships enables Indigenous Commerce to absorb severe economic shocks. What one trader knows the other doesn’t know. However, success comes from combining what they all know. What is not known has been completely discarded. Traders don’t just do things to impress formal financial institutions and their associated ways of validating knowledge just for the sake of trying to obtain a loan. The formal economy’s emphasis on receipts, company registrations, PAYE and other blockages is a big sign that nobody trusts anybody in the formal economy. Therefore it can’t function alone.
In Indigenous Commerce, knowledge is returned with knowledge. No use of cash to buy knowledge. Everyone learns from others resulting in a rich knowledge ecosystem which does not involve monetary compensation or formal training. Indigenous commerce fosters authentic Communities of Practice where everyone is interested in the continued existence of knowledge as a common resource. Creative judgement is based on storytelling.

Towards a collective view of nutrition
The strength and inspiration of Indigenous Commerce doesn’t just end with practical knowledge but also extends to a collective view of food and nutrition. The following visual shows a sympathetic and reflective way of understanding food in the people’s market.