The only crop that is either horticulture or field crop depending on when you grow it

The only crop that is either horticulture or field crop depending on when you grow it

Many African countries consider maize a staple grain crop.  What is not mentioned is that in some quarters such as hotels, maize cobs are actually served as a vegetable and this suggests  it can be classified under horticulture. In most farming communities of Zimbabwe that are endowed with water and the right climate, maize is produced as green mealies for sale alongside horticulture commodities. Given the poor performance of maize grain market, the horticulture side of maize has gained an upper hand over the past few decades in Zimbabwe.  The two following graphics show quantities of green mealies supplied to Mbare market in Harare during the whole of 2014 and January to July 2015.  The second graphic depicts areas where the commodity came from.

Graphic 1: Green mealies supplied (tons) – Mbare Farmers Market: Jan – Dec 2014 and Jan- July 2015

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It is interesting to note that December had the highest supply of green mealies in 2014 while in 2015 July has been the peak supply period so far.  January, February, August, Septembers and October 2014 had an almost constant supply.  These are often time characterized with insufficient maize grain in most households but green mealies will be quite active as shown by the above graphic.

Total quantities supplied (in tons) by source:  Jan – Dec 2014 and Jan – July 2015

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During the period under review, green mealies came from 23 areas into Mbare farmers market. The bulk of green mealies came from Goromonzi district with the least coming from Mberengwa.  However, it is interesting to note that, although classified as a dry region, Mberengwa was able to supply green mealies. The commodity is mainly produced in irrigation schemes and wetlands.

Maize as horticulture

Depending on when you plant it, maize can be either horticulture or a field crop.  When planted in July/August for marketing in October/November as well as in February March for marketing in July/August/September, it is entirely a horticulture  crop. However, if it is planted through rainfall in October/November/December it is a field crop.  Since a lot of maize is harvested in April and May, green mealies are not a viable business when grown through rain-fed production.

What is increasingly becoming apparent in Zimbabwe is that farmers make more money when growing maize as a horticulture (green mealies) than for grain.  This past winter, one farmer was able to sell 20 hectares of green mealies in two weeks.  In the coming season he is aiming for 30 hectares.  When growing maize for green mealies, the spacing between plants is wider in order to produce bigger cobs that are preferred by the market.  Plant population can be 40 000 plants whereas in summer plant population can be 50 000 because even smaller cobs can be consumed as grain.  From 40 000 maize plants per hectare, 30 000 are marketable while 10 000 are small and go towards drying for mealie meal.

Green mealies are usually sold in dozens with a standard dozen weighing approximately 7kg.  The 30 000 plants are equivalent to 2 500 dozens and, when sold at $2 per dozen, the farmer earns $5000 per hectare.  On the other hand, when producing maize in summer, a very good farmer can harvest 6 tons per hectare and when sold at $275/ton, offered by some commercial maize buyers, the farmer gets $1 600/hectare – way below what is earned through green mealies.  In addition, left- overs from green mealies (10 000 cobs) are dried into mealie meal. You need 80 small cobs to fill a bucket of maize and this translates to two tons for own consumption as mealie meal.  If you convert six tons into buckets you get 360 bucket @ $10/bucket in some areas where maize grain is scarce, you get $3 600. Still this is lower than what one earns from green mealies.

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Farmers in wetlands can use their land to produce green mealies and be on the market when no one else has the commodity. Growing green mealies, groundnuts, Bambara nuts and okra has become a commodity viable practice in wetlands.  Farmers can produce enough maize as green mealies and also for drying into grain.  Green mealies are easy to harvest because a buyer just pulls out the cobs unlike producing for grain where maize stalks are cut and stoked – demanding a lot of labour as well as losing some maize to weevils.  Selling green mealies on-farm has a strong element of conditional sale because the seller chooses what s/he wants and cannot leave it for anyone when s/he has removed the cob for the stalk. / /

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Diversifying consumption patterns can stimulate African agriculture

Diversifying consumption patterns can stimulate African agriculture

While the older African generation grew up eating indigenous food, the young generation are spoilt for choice in terms of what to eat. The majority of young people are still to appreciate indigenous food like wild fruits, small grains, indigenous chickens and different types of indigenous vegetables. In many African countries, class structures introduced by colonialism still influence food choices and consumption patterns. The majority of black Africans continue to associate oranges, rice, bread and cooking oil with the middle and upper classes.  Inspite of their superior nutritional attributes, dried vegetables like mufushwa are largely associated with poverty.

Using food to express social class and upward social mobility has done enormous harm to indigenous food systems and local diets. Many black people have ditched their local food systems in preference for a western diet in order to be accepted into the middle and upper classes.  A lot still needs to be done to break this colonial bondage.  In Zimbabwe efforts to move indigenous food from the periphery to mainstream local diets have gathered steam as shown here:  Climate change is revealing the benefits of indigenous food systems which are mostly drought tolerant.

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Need for related production and processing technology

While millet and sorghum were staple foods for our ancestors before the introduction of maize from Southern America in the 1500s, there has not been meaningful achievements in designing appropriate equipment for processing these crops into various products.  As an extension of modernisation, hybrids have been promoted together with technology for scaling up adoption.  For example maize hybrid varieties have been promoted together with ploughs, planters, dehullers and combine harvesters.  We even now have a maputi gun for processing maize into maputi.  On the other hand, we are still using traditional ways of harvesting sorghum and millet (cutting with knives).  The processing part is still limited to pounding (kutsva /ukugiga) and hand roasting.  A simple roaster for small grains should have been designed by now. There is also no technology for extracting pulp from indigenous fruits like matamba and others yet there is a wide range of equipment that can extract juice from oranges.

Most African communities have not been innovative enough to develop their own technologies for processing our food beyond drying.  This has limited possibilities of what we can do with our food systems.  Thus we can’t create significant employment in the absence of enabling technology.  While there is equipment for turning sunflower and soya bean into cooking oil, for groundnuts the far we can go is producing peanut butter as well as cooked and roasted nuts for sale.  It is said groundnuts contain some of the best essential oils but most African countries are still to extract these oils. Rather than trying to produce a uniquely Zimbabwean car, the most important task is developing equipment that can enable exploitation of our abundant food systems which are apparently under threat from western diets.  Technology (processing and packaging) will increase shelf life, demand and ultimately the producer base.

Limited scientific base

Our education system is also to blame for this predicament.  Those studying agriculture at college focus on a narrow range of commodities for their research.  In some cases, companies promoting hybrids can sponsor some research in line with their seed varieties.  This doesn’t happen to most of our traditional foods like small grains where we have less published work compared to hybrids.  Young people from rural areas seem to take pride in earning a Masters Degree studying wheat than millet or nyevhe.  One of the reasons for these choices is that there is little published literature which is a pre-requisite in any research.  Knowledge in communities is considered anecdotal and it is as if you don’t know anything until your knowledge is published.  Unfortunately this constitutes a poor understanding of what knowledge means and can do.

Although formal education has been in African countries for decades, our scientists have limited understanding of the science behind our traditional food. While formal seed companies obtain their improved genetic material from their parent companies located in developed countries, we can’t say the same for our small grains and other foods that are threatened by extinction.  By now we should have developed different types of improved genetic material for small grains, wild fruits, indigenous poultry and indigenous vegetables which are central to our local food baskets.  Since we continue to rely on the imported notion of science, it seems we have failed to domesticate science and adapt it to our local conditions.  We should be having a lot of research results on nhunguru, matohwe, masawu, mawuyu, madhumbe and many other food elements.  Failure to domesticate science explains why broiler chickens have started dominating our indigenous poultry even in rural areas.  Most farmers who produce broilers have no idea of the science behind broiler chicks production.  Also hidden knowledge is why eggs from layers can’t be hatched into chicks.  On the other hand, the way our indigenous chickens are produced is not secretive. The knowledge is very easy to borrow.

Given a tradition of not documenting knowledge, it means the future African generation may never know how their ancestors used to select and improve varieties of maize and other crops as well as livestock breeds.  Lack of knowledge on what is involved in fertilizer and seed production makes our food systems vulnerable.  We have the same dilemma in the medical field where despite the availability of different kinds of medicinal herbs, we still depend on imported medicines.  Our western educated doctors are trained to become drug pushers rather than healers.  Someone feels more important when s/he swallows a tablet from a Pharmacy than drinking Zumbani.

Lack of nutritional knowledge

Another key challenge is lack of general nutritional knowledge around our food systems.  We seem to know more about what is nutritionally contained in oranges and carrots in terms of vitamins but nothing about vitamins in our indigenous fruits.  We should be aware of substitutes of oranges and carrots in our indigenous food.  A consumer should know that when s/he eats baobab fruit s/he gets the same nutrients that would be obtained in berries, for instance.  This will enable local people to bring tsvubvu to the market, not because they grew up eating them but because of their nutritional content.  Price should also be tied to nutritional content as opposed to demand and supply only.

Ideally 70% of the food in hotels and restaurants should be purely indigenous as opposed to western diets.  People coming to Zimbabwe should know that when in Zimbabwe they eat Zimbabwean food unlike now where someone from UK finds British food in Zimbabwe. On the other hand, a Chinese restaurant saves Chinese food and an Italian restaurant saves Italian food.  Japanese Suchi is popular for being entirely Japanese while Italian pizzas are known for expressing the Italian identity.  We can’t say the same about our food systems.  Conversely our fast food chains seem to take pride in saving western diets. Another genesis for this dilemma is that those who started hotels and restaurants in most African countries were focusing on outside markets and consumers of their own kind.  Having taken over these hotels our people have failed to give them a new complexion and identity in the form of providing uniquely local food.

Role of the market

The majority of smallholder farmers are controlled by their micro climates. This limits the number and amount of commodities they can produce.    If they are able to produce ten different commodities, they can increase the area planted in response to favourable conditions.  Using its convening power, the market can then bring all these commodities together for either exchanging their value or market participation. Through a commodity exchange, small grains from Chivi can be swapped with horticulture commodities from Murewa.

Local farmers and people can’t constitute a market because they all have the same product.  High demand for some products like millet meal means processing centres should be located in urban areas where there is a market.  This makes it easy for food outlets to fetch millet meal and prepare it for consumers on time just as maize meal and bread processing enterprises are located in urban areas near consumers.  Knowledge tends to travel through products and by-products. The prevalence of a commodity on the market all year round creates appetite for it all year round resulting in consumers not removing it from their budgets.  Unfortunately, most of our traditional food is on the market for three months of the year and consumers forget about it for nine months.  When these foods come back onto the market, they do so in gluts.  Consumers have to have a taste of mawuyu every month and that means it should be available all year round as well as in other areas where it is not produced. / /

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eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6.

Farmers trust word of mouth more than other forms of communication

Farmers trust word of mouth more than other forms of communication

From a recent research conducted by eMKambo and the Zimbabwe Economic Analysis Research Unit (ZEPARU), a surprising discovery was that although there has been so much investment in ICTs, farmers still trust word of mouth as their main means of communication. They find word of mouth  less costly especially when used within a dialogue. For most farmers, communication is still more about dialogue which is a combination of face to face and word of mouth.

As shown in figure 1 (below), 41% of farmer respondents indicated their preference for word of mouth. At 24 %, calling traders also shows the significance of word of mouth. Through calling, farmers engage in deep dialogue with traders.  Use of word of mouth was higher in Bulawayo markets (37.3%), followed by Harare (29.9%), Mutare (19.4%) and Gweru (11.9%) respectively.  Also significant was the proportion of farmers who just went to the market without sufficient information on market dynamics.  This showed that farmers still rely on their instincts to make marketing decisions.

Figure 1: Access to market information by farmers

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Feedback from the eMKambo Call Centre also show that if a word of mouth goes through a mobile phone, a farmer more information within 30 seconds than using short message services which, besides limited content, is not engaging enough.  The dominance of dialogue and word of mouth among farmers proves the power of interpersonal relationships which cannot be replaced by ICTs.  Every communication loop among farmers is satisfactorily completed by meeting face to face where body language and illustrations say more about an individual’s feelings about a particular issue.

“ICTs are important in providing immediate input but detailed accounting requires face to face.  ICTs can provide insights on particular commodity trends. But participating in the market where discussions range from quality, weather, taste and customer preferences requires face to face.  For quick decision making ICTs are useful but detailed dialogue requires face to face.  You can’t be satisfied with a 10 minute dialogue over the phone where there are no visual features and comparisons.  While short message services emphasize the shortness and quickness of messages, useful agricultural conversations are often long.  Even if a farmer receives information about market prices for tomatoes over the phone, s/he will still need to find out more from the buyer why some tomatoes cost more.  ICTs become useful after face to face relationship building.  Most relationships built over mobile phones still need to be authenticated through face to face with ICTs fulfilling follow-up activities,” said one farmer.

Farmers’ power to look for customers

The research also revealed that methods used by farmers to obtain reliable customers is a key determinant of a farmer’s bargaining power. Unfortunately, the majority of farmers just carry their produce to the main market and hope to get customers as shown in figure 2 (below).  This practice renders farmers vulnerable to market conditions.

Figure 2: Methods used to look for customers

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Methods used to market products

The research also showed that farmers have limited options for market their produce at the main markets, which also limits their bargaining power. Most of the farmers sell their produce through the auction floor, while others sell directly to farmers in the wholesale market on their own. However, about 27% said they relied on middlemen before the opening of the auction floors. This generally shows farmers’ vulnerability, especially since they cannot control the auction floor and neither do they have much bargaining power over auctioneers. Only 10% of the farmers indicated that they pursue independent selling methods such as cash, dealing with wholesalers and retailers, dealing directly with the end customers and putting products in the shops.  About 73.4% of the farmers did not have contracts with retailers, traders or manufacturers. About 14.2% of the farmers did not respond to the question. The 12.4% who indicated that they have contracts mentioned retailers, schools, hospitals and other traders rather than manufacturing firms.

Although contracts seem to present opportunities for farmers, some farmers had reservations on the effectiveness of contracts with retailers. Some indicated that it is difficult to plan production with retailers because they order small quantities of produce and seek replenishment orders only when they have finished selling. Sometimes retailers reduce the price for replenishment orders yet on the side of the farmer the input prices would not have gone down, hence affecting the viability of farmers. In addition, some farmers highlighted that contracts were partial and not fair in the sense that contractors had greater bargaining power relative to the farmer. It was also mentioned that some contractors do not release inputs on time and this affects production.  The need for flexible contracts was also highlighted.

Markets used by farmers to sell their products

About 53.2% of the farmers highlighted that they use the main agriculture markets like Mbare, Sakubva and Shasha (Bulawayo) while 20.4% preferred selling at farm gates and local markets. Roadside markets were used by about 15 % of the respondents as shown in figure 3 (below). However, it was important to note that more respondents from Bulawayo indicated that they use the roadside market. This could mainly be because the main market in Bulawayo is by the road side.

Figure 3: Type of Markets used by the farmers

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Are farmers participating in their preferred markets?

Only 27.2% of the respondents indicated that they were participating in their preferred markets. The rest (excluding 7.1% who did not respond) indicated that they were not participating in their preferred markets due to a number of constraints which include the following:

  • Transport challenges (costs and accessibility).
  • Financial Constraints.
  • Fierce competition in the markets.
  • Low demand for their products.
  • Long distance to the markets.
  • Unavailability of accommodation close/ at the market places.
  • Lack of information about the market (prices and product demand).
  • Language barriers.
  • Late payment for delivery of goods.
  • Afraid of the middleman (makoronyera).
  • Size of the market is too big for smallholder farmers to participate due to the sheer volumes demanded.

Issues affecting women in agriculture markets


Challenges mentioned as affecting women in the agricultural markets include the following:

  • Family burden makes it difficult for women as they have to attend to children and commodities at the same time;
  • Bringing produce to the market is difficult for women. For instance, travelling at night makes women vulnerable to theft and harassment;
  • It is more expensive for women to participate in the market as they have to hire additional labour for loading and offloading of goods;
  • Middlemen mainly target women;
  • Men are given first preference in allocation of market stalls;
  • There are no safety clothing for women;
  • Abusive language by men;
  • Harassment by male counterparts and touts;
  • Child minding at the market makes it difficult for women to focus on selling as well as watching their children;
  • No decent places to sleep; and,
  • Poor sanitation facilities affect women more than men.

Given that loading and offloading takes a lot of energy, women farmers often incur extra costs compared to their male counterparts. For example, they have to pay more for labour for loading and offloading, which implies that they have to fork out money for every process involved in delivering their produce to the market. Men avoid these costs by doing the work themselves. Properly organizing and regulating the market would eliminate some of these challenges. / /

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eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6.

Figure 1: Access to market information by farmers

How the people’s market deals with embedded inequalities in market structures and knowledge systems

How the people’s market deals with embedded inequalities in market structures and knowledge systems

The informal market has a smart way of dealing with embedded inequalities in existing market structures and mainstream knowledge systems.  It has its own perspectives on sense-making, persuasion, influence and identity formation in ways that may not be captured by conventional ways of gathering and sharing information. Research by eMKambo shows that improving the supply of information through lowering the cost of airtime does not farmers’ information needs or lead to farmers receiving appropriate information.  Given that they are also tossed from one information source to another, farmers are saying a fragmented knowledge process cannot be relied upon to address their knowledge deficits.  Organisations which double up as associations and processors tend to have privileged access to information which they can hoard and not allow it to trickle down to farmers the way it should.  This puts farmers in a disadvantage because they will have low negotiation powers.

How the informal market addresses some of this knowledge asymmetry

Informal markets are an open knowledge sharing system where, at any given time, actors have comparative advantages in terms of knowledge.  If this knowledge is shared among smallholder farmers, medium & large scale producers, traders, transporters and consumers, knowledge gaps and loopholes are reduced.  Because producers come from different areas, they are more knowledgeable about commodities grown in their own areas.  By allowing farmers from different areas to meet and exchange value, the informal market enables dialogue which reduces knowledge asymmetry.

Some market participants are not financially literate on pricing and costing models but because in the informal market, demand and supply mechanism determines prices not individual farmers or traders, a financially illiterate farmer can earn a better price than the one who is able to calculate costs and profit margins.  For those farmers not sure about what price they can charge for their commodities, the informal market can unlock the true value of a commodity on a given day. A financially literate farmer can do all the costing but can earn less than the farmer who does not do all the calculations.  This is partly explained by the fact that in the informal market, competition between products carries the day as opposed to competition between farmers.  However, there is great scope for developing market systems, otherwise financially illiterate farmers can be exploited and face barriers to participation in the market.

Participating in the people’s market enables farmers to develop intuitive knowledge such that they can make projections and organise their supplies appropriately.  Relationships in the market also make up for lack of knowledge in costing by some smallholder farmers.  In addition, getting organised for coordinated supply is another way of dealing with embedded inequalities in information.  While some farmers may be good in production, others are good in marketing.  This addresses knowledge asymmetry and creates a balance.  Utilising ICTs for information sharing also enhances farmers’ exposure to the market.

Consumer tastes also play a powerful role in addressing embedded inequalities.  Most big producers who produce commodities in bulk are not particular about quality.  As a result, most consumers want to buy from small producers who bring small quantities because they know that these producers pay attention to detail. Where a big producer earns profit on volume and small margin, smallholder producer gets more profit on small quantities, good quality but a bigger profit margin.  Smallholder producers are also good at correcting taste because they are also consumers of their products.  They get vegetables for household consumption from their small gardens and sell surplus to earn income.    This means they are much closer in satisfying consumer tastes and expectations.  A large number of big producers do not have time to taste their own commodities.  Smallholder producers are also good at articulating the Unique Selling Proposition of their products.

While for a passer-by, roadside markets may not make sense, these markets play a very important role. Besides satisfying immediate needs, roadside markets can be a barometer of economic drivers in a particular area. These markets point to the diversity and volume of agricultural commodities in an area. Roadside traders can be some of the most reliable informants in terms of sources of produce as well as the seasonal character of most commodities.

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It should not just be about price

At the moment, price information is considered the most important information by farmers, as shown through enquiries received by eMKambo all the time.  However, in essence, it should not only be about price but factors that determine price, e.g., price trends, supply and demand trends, competing commodities, available markets, standards, etc.  Farmers should invest in processes that influence price, for example, market-related production.  All these factors which tell a story of why the price is what it is should be understood.  Some of this information can be accessed through tips via ICTs gadgets but it becomes more effective when other players can organize farmers for training programmes that have to be paid for.  This is where knowledge brokers, government departments and development organisations can work together to move farmers from social entrepreneurship to profit-oriented business models.  In as far as some of the information is provided by some organisations, it doesn’t show how much profit a farmer will earn.  Much of the training focuses on crop varieties, livestock breeds, yields per hectare, fertilizer application, weeding, harvesting, etc.  Such information or knowledge is not enough for a farmer to analyse profit and loss unless the farmer has information from the market end.

The importance of both weak and strong ties

The people’s market shows the significance of both strong and weak ties in the market. Where big players will engage in cut-throat competition, weak and small players help to neutralize the game by exposing vulnerabilities of each player. Weak ties in the market represent a learning curve which is a voice of caution for strong ties.  Where weak ties chicken out, big ties ensure food security and can stabilize the market.  In the case of a drought, strong ties can stabilize the market and ensure market supply.  However, strong guys are few and when they collapse there is a disaster.  For example in Zimbabwe the collapse of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has had devastating effects at national level. Small players like the millers association have become a fall-back position for the market, farmers and consumers.  On the other hand, because it doesn’t have a local fall-back position, the cotton value chain is negatively affected when prices collapse on the international market.  The situation would be different if there was a string of small scale cotton processors who could act as a fall-back position.  At least 40 – 50% of weak ties are resilient during drought and their role is becoming very important in a changing climate. / /

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eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6.

Three types of farmers and how they innovate

Three types of farmers and how they innovate

It is now very clear that farmers and households are not homogeneous.  This has enormous implications on agricultural-related programmes.  While boundaries are mostly invisible, farmers and traders can be classified as follows:

Early adopters25% of the farmers or traders.  These quickly adopt new ideas and create their own shallow or deep knowledge.  Identifying early adopters in agricultural and inclusive development interventions is very important to avoid wasting resources on the wrong type of people. Rather than just counting the number of households or farmers to be part of a particular programme, development partners, financial institutions and government interventions should critically review their selection criteria. In most cases, identifying and working with early adopters as leaders and champions will have a pull effect on the wait and see group. This will also pile pressure on the resistors towards positively changing their mind set.

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Wait and see group50% of farmers and traders who often closely watching what early adopters are doing so they can either follow or make decisions.  This group is not in a hurry to take risks. A big number have a ‘follow the leader’ mind set.  They are more of copy cats than participants and, are not keen to model risk taking behaviour.  However, this group has useful lessons which can inform the early adopters.  For example, many farmers and traders who had bad experiences with Zimbabwe’s banking crisis in 2008 are in the wait and see category.  Others are coming up with new innovations and ideas which, unfortunately, most financial institutions consider to be green field.


Resistors (25%) – This group is resistant to change whether that change is good or not. An example is those who completely don’t want to do business on the phone.  This group may have knowledge and experience acquired in the past.  Such knowledge should be synthesized so that it informs and add value to early adopters. Farmers and traders who resist belonging to a farmer group have had bad experiences with groups and cooperatives.  Some have legitimate reasons for resisting contract farming although there are positive aspects in contract farming. While there are many examples of farmers and traders benefiting from working with banks, we still find a big number of resistors who need to be skilfully convinced.

A key strategy for knowledge brokers is working with early adopters (25%) while trying to influence the wait and see (50%) and resistors (25%).

How this extends to innovation

The same way of looking at people can be extended to innovators. From a recent discussion with a friend based on Australia, we identified following categories, irrespective of colour or race:

  1. Two and half per cent of every population comprises innovators (these are the crazy ones considered mad by policy makers and other members of society).
  2. Twelve and half per cent are the clever ones.  These don’t quickly take the risk but travel around looking for ideas to copy, mostly from the crazy ones.
  1. Eighty five per cent (85%) – This group will change when things become fashionable.  They don’t want to be left behind.

The first and second group should be targeted for influence in any intervention. The third group will eventually get involved through self-adoption.  In a world where resources are dwindling, understanding people has a bearing on resource allocation and success or failure.  In almost all institutions, it is better to spend time identifying adopters (two and half per cent), the clever ones and resistors.  It takes time to discover that you have bumped into resistors and, in most cases you will have wasted a lot of resources. Most of the clever people in institutions have devised ways of working around their bosses – tell the boss what s/he wants to hear.  Developing countries are at a stage where they need more ‘crazy’ ones or early adopters who are ready to take risks. / /

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eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6.