One of the unique selling points for India is its affordable agricultural innovations and technology. On the other hand, abundant land and natural resources constitute a significant selling proposition for many African countries. However, African countries can learn a lot from how India has been able to domesticate technologies from developed countries. While Africans who go to London or New York dream of converting African cities into London or New York, India has shown that it’s not just about one way transfer of technology but intelligent testing and adapting. You can’t just adapt agricultural equipment from the West through downloading manuals.
Indian companies have been very good at adapting technologies in ways that can empower African entrepreneurs to do the same. What makes India an ideal learning companion for most African countries is that they can see adaptation processes in practice. It is difficult to learn from developed countries most of whom have forgotten pathways through which they became what they are. They can’t even remember the pain of learning from your own mistakes. For developing countries, India is more like a learning partner still in the processing of testing and re-purposing technologies from other parts of the world. Learning from developed countries is like trying to learn soccer skills from Lionel Messi. Because Messi is way too good for you, you quickly get frustrated. Rather you can learn better from someone who is still struggling with mastering the game. India is that partner for Africa.
However, India can also learn a lot from African land use patterns that can prevent soil and water contamination. One of the negative effects of India’s Green Revolution has been soil and water pollution caused by excessive use of fertilizers, chemicals and mechanisation. In Punjab province of India, some Indian researchers told eMKambo that water is contaminated at 500 feet and the soil is literally dead. Developing countries have many choices towards achieving their Green Revolutions without destroying the soil and natural environment. India is currently working hard to rehabilitate its soils.
The role of deliberate practice in adapting technology
Another important lesson from India is that developing technological expertise is a deliberate and conscious effort which cannot be learnt in the classroom. It is only through deliberate practice that new agribusiness mental models are developed. African farmers and processors badly need appealing alternative models. Unfortunately, the majority of farmers associations and chambers of commerce which should act as Communities of Practice do not have the capacity to process all the information required by their members. They are still to harness the global kinship being enabled by ICTs towards stronger agribusiness networks.
Information as the oil of agribusiness
While there is still confusion between news and information, African farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs are discovering that not all news is useful information and not all information has to be newsworthy in order to be used for decision making. In fact, some of the most useful information for day to day decision making does not find its way to mainstream news agencies. In addition, most farmers and agribusinesses cannot find the knowledge they need. While many agricultural NGOs have collected case studies, finding a relevant study is a night mare for farmers and entrepreneurs.
In order to partner with India from a strong position, African farmers and agribusinesses should be capacitated to keep their valuable knowledge in shared knowledge resources. Knowledge is of no use unless it can be found and re-used. While learning from experience is over-emphasized, there is an assumption that all experiences are valuable yet some are completely useless. Some experiences are more valuable than others for achieving agricultural goals. How can we help create the right experiences so that farmers, traders and agribusiness entrepreneurs can skilfully partner with Indian entrepreneurs?
It is important to build the capacity of farmers and agribusinesses so that they are able to challenge their current performance and seek feedback from their environment. This deliberate approach to learning from experience is what currently separates Indian entrepreneurs and those from African developing countries. Without continuously challenging current skills, African entrepreneurs will not exploit their full potential, resulting in arrested development. Performance does not improve simply through cumulative everyday experience gained face to face, using social media or otherwise. It requires targeted effortful practice and an environment rich in accurate and timely feedback.
African farmer associations and chambers of commerce should use supermarket principles in arranging their information and knowledge. Supermarkets rely on people finding the content they need, so they can buy it. They also give a lot of thought to pointing the customers towards other products, which they might not have known they needed. Flowers, fruit and vegetables at the entrance make the store smell and look good. Products are grouped by type – beef, vegetables, tins, cheese, etc. – to make them easier to find. Cool colours inside encourage more contemplation and higher sales. If knowledge bases are presented like supermarkets, many people will be attracted to find knowledge that they didn’t even know they needed.
What developing countries should watch out for
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