The hybrid nature of most African economies

Most African economies are often presented as being dual, comprising the formal and informal economy. However, in real practice the two parts function as a hybrid economy which borrows from the two parts. Nowhere is this scenario more visible than in the agriculture sector where there is a fusion of formal and informal approaches all the way from production to the market. While efforts to formalize African economies are based on technical approaches, carefully harnessing lessons from the open and informal market will transform African economies in unique ways. Rather than wholesale formalization, a key starting point should be understanding resilience elements of African informal markets.
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Exploring the intersection between formal and informal economies
Open informal markets seem to have an in-built dynamism and resilience that enable them to cope with a rapidly globalizing economy. The same cannot be said about formal institutions such as parastatals which seem to have not been designed for a networked global economy. Where formal institutions plan in terms of months, quarters and years, open and informal markets plan in terms of hours, days and weeks. Such emergency mindsets enable informal institutions to deal with economic uncertainties in ways that formal and hierarchical institutions cannot. It looks like ideas and knowledge from several traders and market actors can inform joint action between formal and informal economic development initiatives. Such a hybrid socio-economic development model can generate superior outcomes than continue treating formal and informal economies as separate entities.

The power of stories in building a hybrid economy
Most participatory methods that have dominated African agriculture and rural development for decades have not sufficiently influenced agriculture markets. One of the reasons for mediocre success is that selling agricultural commodities has been considered a single transaction yet it should be a continuous relationship building and learning process, full of stories. While agricultural production is often a technical process, stories have a more powerful role in pitching commodities to consumers and engaging with customers as well as building a strong rapport with potential customers.

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The hybrid character of African agricultural economies tends to be visible in open markets. Each commodity on the market tells its own story through its appearance. Commodities that have travelled a long distance to the market can communicate that fact. On the other hand, consumers who engage with farmers in the market trust the farmers’ capability to produce food the right way.  This trust between farmers, traders and consumers is reinforced through stories that are shared in the market. The stories are used to persuade and influence consumers and other buyers.

Creative farmers and traders have developed smart ways of demonstrating what is common between them and potential customers. Those who have been in the open market for years have fully studied consumer behavior.  They know that consumers like people who are just like them and they buy from people they like.  That is why totems and home area often influence buying decisions.  A consumer is most likely to buy from a farmer or trader who comes from his/her home area.  That makes a difference between a farmer/trader who stays in agribusiness for years and the one who does not.

 Rather than quickly getting down to business, farmers, traders, consumers, transporters and many other actors devote meaningful time to cultivating relationships in the market through stories. At the end, a handshake is a more powerful contract than a written document. A trader is convinced the farmer with whom s/he shared a story will certainly bring what s/he promised to the market.  Going forward, stories are further used to win and retain new customers and build more relationships. Through a series of individual and collective stories, open markets keep every value chain actor motivated and focused to fulfil everyone’s expectations. Every story is more than a socio-economic contract that contributes to the resilience of the whole food economy. The effectiveness of such contracts is revealed through no cases of farmers and traders suing each other for failure to honor any contract.

How technical people can harness knowledge from informal markets

Productive economic hybrids between formal and informal economies can become a reality when technical experts embrace humility in the awareness that they do not know everything. They have to share their individual uncertainties, hesitations, doubts and fears in order to gain collective confidence from informal actors. The next level should be building communities of practice comprising actors from both the formal mindset towards creating a safe place to test alternative ideas that can inform emergent socio-economic solutions. It is not helpful to continue pretending we have two separate economies that do not overlap or speak to each other. The informal economy has actors who are good at accumulating ideas, sampling new practices as well as mixing and matching what they learn as they work.  Such capacity to navigate multiple domains is very important in an increasingly networked global economy that African economies find themselves.

The formal mindset has enormous value in promoting specialization that makes economic planning predictable. Bringing them together with informal actors will produce a productive blend of efforts comprising those who are cautious and those not afraid to cross socio-economic boundaries and sometimes break those boundaries. Besides seeing socio-economic patterns ahead of everyone else, actors in African informal markets are adept at living on the edge of the future and detecting signals from a wide range of people and ideas at their disposal.  That enables them to quickly adjust to dynamic economic environments. Such agility is often lacking in formal institutions. It is through organized cross-pollination between formal and informal economies that developing countries will be able to generate sustainable solutions to their wicked socio-economic challenges. Advice from big global institutions will not make much difference without local knowledge from the informal and open market where practical tangible and intangible knowledge is generated every day.

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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Where the urban and rural worlds meet

EMKAMBO. This is a name that invokes different memories in people who have at one time or another visited the landmark market place in Makokoba, Bulawayo’s oldest township. For a long time, actually from 1894 to 1945 this was the sole

township for blacks. Of course many Africans lived in various parts of the city such as the Railway Compound and other industries within whose premises there were residences for blacks. Many others lived at what were called “Boys’ Khaya,” the domestic workers’ quarters.

While Makokoba boasts of several historical and social sites, the one that stands clearly out is the place called Emkambo. The word does not sound Ndebele at all. After some interview with one traditional healer who has been here since 1964, I got to know that this was a marketplace. It still is and here you will gauge the economic activities that are taking place in the city’s hinterland. Emkambo used to be the place where town and reserve met. Various artefacts that are in demand in the communal lands, then referred to as tribal trust lands, were sold here. To my father a visit to Bulawayo was not complete without going to Emkambo where he bought some herbs, cow bells and other items in demand then.

I have just parked my car outside and closed my eyes. I seek to capture the noises that pervade the bustling township. A vivid picture of where I am emerges. A bird we call usibagobe tweets her song from a fig tree nearby. With one’s eyes closed one can allow the mind to wander off. I think of Obadiah Mlilo the school inspector and disciplinarian. He was a polished writer and poet. One of the poems he penned was Usibagobe which lamented the cultural decadence that was taking place. The parents could no longer control their children. Mlilo’s bird sang once and decided to maintain golden silence. I did not hear the flapping wings to suggest he had flown away.

As if not to be outdone are the weaver birds — many of them singing beautifully as if in competition with Mlilo’s bird. The birds seem to dominate the scene. The cocks give each other chances to crow. I get to know that many households here keep the free range chickens. This breed has become popular and has carved itself a permanent niche in some restaurants such as Sis Bee’s. The broiler is certainly losing ground to the bird that is popularly known as “tshikheni makhaya.” At one time these were birds that were associated with the tribal trust lands. From early days the birds were traded in urban centres. Pelandaba Bus Services bore the image of the cock. The owner of the bus fleet Joseph Mtshumayeli Ngwenya used to trade in chickens, as did Tafi Moyo who ran Try Again buses. The revived Pelandaba buses have retained the image of the cock.

Memories of the old days when we used to herd cattle at Sankonjana come to the fore. The call of the guinea fowls is what rekindles the fading memories. Traders at Emkambo are now selling domesticated guinea fowls. I first met domesticated guinea fowls in Binga. Now the guinea fowls have found their way into some homes in Matabeleland. One no longer has to snare them like we used to do. However, it is not birds alone that compete to charm my ears. Human conversations flood the air. “Rambo!” booms a call from a mature human being. There are many who I can hear chatting and chattering away — young voices probably from pupils returning home from schools.

Adding to the cacophony of human sounds is the clattering of metal. Many a hammer is hitting some metal on an anvil. When industry as we knew it closed down we began to see the emergence of indigenous small-scale industries. The finished products find their way to Emkambo and other outlets where they compete with products from Kango and Fortwell. When I drove to Emkambo I saw an impressive array of wheelbarrows. Some of the workers must have been engaged by the more established industrial companies.

It was time to open my eyes and move into Emkambo. From outside the fence I am welcomed by a colossal building with heavily rusted iron sheets. The wall’s upper section is pink in colour with a dirty maroon below. Discarded tyres are visible in their unplanned disorder. Next to the southern entrance are women roasting green mealies. My father would not have partaken of roasted or even cooked mealies this time of the year. Several cars including three taxis are parked outside Emkambo. I wonder where the occupants have gone to. There are many traditional healers here selling all manner of medicinal formulations including “vuka vuka”, isikhonkwane samadoda.

I do not have to go deep inside the bustling marketplace. To my left I see “tshikheni makhayas.” I inquire about their selling prices: US$10 for the big cocks, US$7 for hens. They are being fed on “crushes”, a curious mixture of maize, sunflower seed and sorghum grain. The “crushes” are procured from Renkini where several traders sell chicken feed and other grain-based products. Below the chicken is a lady who is making donkey harnesses. They are a better finished product than long ago when my father used to buy them. “What do you use to make the harnesses?” “We use discarded fan belts from mines,” she responds with bubbling confidence. Apparently, the discarded fan belts are used to produce many diverse products. The new item that I had not seen before is called bunga, a word I do not know — I can’t tell whether it is derived from English or SiNdebele.

I inquire about this rubber vessel whose capacity is about 25 litres. It is used by omakorokoza, the informal miners. A windlass is used to get it down the mine shaft. Blasted rock is brought up in this innovative and durable container. I am told it is also used by farm workers when they apply fertiliser to crops on farms. The item is quite heavy. Ncube the traditional healer says he saw the items for the first time this year. There are other items that are developed to cater for omakorokoza. There are a few heavy duty chisels that they use to crack rocks through hammering. My interviewee calls them ipontshi.

I realise that the fan belts are used to make many articles. I saw what in SiNdebele we call izayeke. These are used to keep the mouths of donkeys shut so that they do not consume crops when they are pulling the cultivator. Between the two layers of rubber is some thread which is orange in colour. This is used to make ropes that are used to restrain cattle as when milking the cows. Some are used as izitorobho used in conjunction with wooden yokes that draught oxen use to pull a plough.

From the tyres people make sandals. Here I see them in various colours: red, blue and black. When one cannot afford the protective shoes one resorts to “imota”, the rubber sandals. Car tyres have been turned into feeding troughs that are used on farms. Apparently, the conversion of tyres into feeding troughs is done at Emkambo using appropriately moulded drums. From discarded rubber, to new items of utility at homes, on mines and farms, the innovative and the entrepreneurial are finding unique niches and sources of livelihoods.

There is so much to sample here at Emkambo. Many seem to know me already which makes my task a lot easier. I will go back and learn more about the medicinal formulations and what the doctors are dispensing. I saw a lot of music drums, recently carved. Schools are coming here to buy drums for the wosana dance. As I leave many marketers are volunteering more unsolicited information. “See you next week, bye bye for now!” I wave my hands as I exit the market place called Emkambo.

Charles Dhewa

Chief Executive Officer

Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA)

Harare City Council Community Services Building,

Mbare Agriculture Market

Harare, Zimbabwe

Tel: +263-4-669228

Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/712 737 430

Email: charles

charlesdhewa7

dhewac

Website: www.knowledgetransafrica.com / www.emkambo.co.zw

Skype: charles.dhewa

Silent and health competition in African fresh food markets

A few years ago, it appeared supermarkets were the only place where consumers would find fresh fruits and vegetables in African cities. The situation has changed dramatically.  Armed with new food safety knowledge and insights from consumers, informal and open fresh food markets have become preferred destinations for the majority of consumers. Imported fruits and vegetables are also finding their way into these markets such as Mbare in Harare.

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While the definition of quality remains elusive for academics and researchers, traders who specialize in fresh fruits and vegetables have mastered the full parameters of quality and freshness in ways that can convince consumers. Thus, supermarkets are no longer the only ones associated with high quality fresh food.  In fact, many consumers who find refrigerated fruits and vegetables tasteless prefer open markets where agricultural commodities are delivered straight from the farm.

Quality not just prices

A recent survey by eMKambo in Harare discovered that many consumers now believe that commodities like potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes and a wide range of fresh fruits are better procured from the open market. Vendors who buy for re-sell find the open market the best choice in terms of price, quality, convenience and diversity of fresh commodities. As a sign that they are worried about this trend, most supermarkets send their staff to the open market where they also buy while conducting market research. On the other hand, vendors do not just buy for price but for quality because they also compete with supermarkets in high density areas.  Satisfying and retaining customers is a fundamental objective.

The silent competition between supermarkets and the open market has resulted in these competitors upping their game in dealing with diverse perishable commodities. For instance, traders in Mbare have become good at handling more than 70 different types of fresh food commodities per day.  Each commodity has different handling requirements and that has triggered a whole cottage industry comprising people who deal in packaging material ranging from plastics to baskets.

More than just appearance

Based on their experiences in the market, traders and vendors have become aware of which commodity influences consumer perceptions. For instance, by looking at the tomato, consumers are often positively influenced to consider cabbages, potatoes and bananas favorably. To that end, traders try to exert more effort in ensuring tomatoes are presented in a more appealing way. While supermarkets continue to appeal to the sense of sight and touch, the open market speaks to all human senses including taste, smell and sound. By shaking a cabbage close to her ear, a vendor can hear that the cabbage is hollow inside.  That influences her buying decisions.

In the open market, farmers, traders, vendors and consumers quietly conduct research on a daily basis. They do not use formal questionnaires that are often influenced by what the researcher wants to hear.  Quiet research in informal and open markets is often very good at generating precise insights critical for real-time decision making.  Through this silent research, traders continuously enrich their quality management processes with fresh insights.  Each open market has its own invisible standard guide which every trader is aware of. Traders who have been in the game for many years can tell the variety of a tomato by merely looking at it.  They can also see the extent to which an orange was denied water in the field before it came to the market. All these factors have enormous influence on buying decisions.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / info@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

Lessons from how farmers view wealth creation as a holistic system

Although there is a tendency to treat the majority of African smallholder farmers as passive recipients of external information and knowledge, they are very good at learning from their experiences. In Zimbabwe, eMKambo has discovered that farming communities and individual farmers contribute to the national knowledge base more than they will ever know. They have perfected collaborative ways of discovering and synthesizing what is often hidden in plain sight. More than 80% of their knowledge comes from daily experiences, insights and intuitions which are then condensed into a complete world view.

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Increasing systemic approach to farming

While most agricultural support programmes either focus on crops or livestock as separate models, the majority of African smallholders embrace mixed farming where crops co-exist with livestock. For example, following the loss of confidence in formal banking from 2008 to date in Zimbabwe, there has been a marked increase in mixed farming. Farmer who would have saved money in a bank have switched to livestock as a store of wealth. Rather than taking money to a bank after selling maize or horticultural commodities, farmers have opted to invest in livestock. That partly explains gluts in eggs, chicken and beef. In addition, as a response to climate change, many farmers are balancing their investments between field crops, livestock and horticulture.

Such holistic strategies by farmers have started to illuminate and inspire new ways of gathering and sharing knowledge. For many researchers and rural development specialists, farmers are reluctant practical and intellectual heroes. There is a strong signal that farmers and their communities have more lived knowledge than can be found in published literature. In discussions with eMKambo, many farmers expressed their disillusionment with the lack of respect for local knowledge that is at the centre of farming cultures they have admired for generations. Absence of reliable markets has seen their disillusionment becoming despair.

Eyes on the whole system

The majority of farmers’ eyes have remained open to the interlocking ecological, economic and social challenges they face every day.  As demonstrated by a strong faith in mixed farming than restrictive models, many farmers are convinced that socio-economic planning can only succeed if it is aligned with how nature works as a balanced ecosystem. According to the farmers, livestock cannot exist in isolation from crops or plants. While this may sound obvious, farmers lamented that many people including policy makers do not seem to see the practical benefits of balanced social, economic and ecological health.  “Innovators and entrepreneurs in developing countries are not sufficiently experimenting with practical ways to re-imagine new and balanced socio-economic approaches,” said one farmer.

From their agricultural practices, farmers are convinced that everything in the universe is organized into systems whose interlinked parts work together in a larger process and pattern. The interdependence between crops and livestock is not romantic or superficial but realistic. This interdependence is at the heart of a self-organizing, naturally self-maintaining and highly adaptive socio-economic systems that produce lasting value for everyone.

The power of a holistic view of agriculture

By taking into account how farmers take a holistic view of agriculture, researchers and policy makers can come up with a very practical, rigorous and common sense new picture of how the world works. By using livestock to store their wealth, farmers are sure that true wealth is not merely money in the bank. Wealth has to be defined and managed in terms of the well-being of the whole ecosystem made up of biodiversity and all forms of capital such as social, cultural and experiences.

Stories from farming communities can help in catalysing a new socio-economic paradigm. In an interdependent farming system such as mixed farming, farmers believe fitness comes from contributing to the health of the whole ecosystem. Instead of assuming economic efficiency and GDP growth can automatically lead to prosperity, farmers understand that long-term socio-economic vitality depends on creating conditions that unlock the vast potential for true wealth creation that lies dormant in every individual, community, business network and farming region. Instead of pursuing government regulation as the only realistic solution to markets when they run amok, policymakers should understand the importance of designing incentive-driven and self-regulating systems that embody the critical balance between innovation and constraints necessary for effective collaboration. Where policy makers may believe increasing efficiency and cutting costs are always good, farmers understand that resilience requires balancing numerous equally critical but competing resources.  Each farming community has divergent views but all these eventually converge. There is also as much emphasis on individual and collective needs.  While each farmer pays attention to personal needs, s/he also takes into account the interests others.

Contact :

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

Taming agricultural value chains through data and evidence

Many people who grew up in African communities practicing mixed farming, remember how taming young bulls or steers into a span of oxen was not easy. The situation was the same with taming a cow to milk it when it had just given birth to its first calf. In most cases you would not complete the taming process without suffering serious injuries. In a dynamic world where niches are becoming highly competitive, taming agricultural markets requires data and the same tenacity that goes into taming livestock for multi-purposes.

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Going beyond obvious ICTs capabilities

Thanks to ICTs and new knowledge, there is now a diversity of techniques for identifying and seizing opportunities across agricultural value chains. Unfortunately, the majority of farmers and agribusinesses are struggling to optimize their resources for better production.  For instance, new farmers in Zimbabwe are grappling with challenges in combining available inputs and other resources such as water.  This is partly due to lack of appropriate skills and reliable information.

If the ICTs sector is to be fully directed at improving agricultural practices, African universities and colleges should ensure sophisticated advanced data modeling is part of the curricular. At the moment, African graduates in ICTs are only able to manipulate platforms like websites, mobile applications, mobile money and WhatsApp. To fully tame agricultural value chains, we badly need   experts who can generate accurate market-size forecasts, assemble commodity and input price curves as well as gather and interpret historical equipment data. Many farmers buy second hand or new farming equipment without a thorough understanding of how long the equipment will function optimally. The absence of many decision-making variables reduces farming into a small game. Business models resulting from accurate data can offer farmers and other value chain actors a precise understanding of the effects of weak value chain nodes. They can then easily fine-tune the mix of inputs, equipment and harvested commodities while constantly identifying opportunities for improving their practices. Without such level of granular detail, value chain actors will not get a clear sense of their needs, constraints, trade-offs and new agribusiness opportunities.

Addressing wrong assumptions through evidence and technology

While assumptions that have condemned African countries to the current food insecurity mess may not be obvious to policy makers, evidence and technology can remove most of the blinkers. This is where trends like machine learning and data analytics can have significant impact.  Where agricultural policy makers may not see the precise importance of logistics, data-driven insights from the market can inform investments in agricultural logistics. Data and evidence can also reveal the futility of large agribusinesses and multinationals shutting themselves off trends coming from the growing informal agricultural markets.

Where established formal agribusinesses think and act in terms of months, quarters and years, traders and other actors in the informal sector think, plan and act in terms of days and weeks. They also focus on changing something today rather than waiting to take action next week. Entrenched thinking in formal institutions has been the main reason why the majority of formal banks cannot penetrate the informal sector in a sustainable manner. These financial institutions continue to plan in terms of months, quarters and years when their potential clients think and act on their feet in response to the agile environment where information and responses have become very fluid. Trying to play it safe by taking years studying the informal sector in order to invest has become very dangerous for formal institutions in these changing times. They have to embrace new processes for making more efficient decisions.

The transformation headache and tapping into the wisdom of value chain actors

In addition to harnessing ICTs, interdisciplinary collaboration will allow greater agility that make it  easier for agricultural value chain actors to capture new opportunities. Outside traditional IT and new mobile platforms, the agriculture sector has to develop deep technology expertise. While many young Africans are embracing ICTs, the main challenge is transforming different technologies from outside so that they meet current and future requirements. Ensuring a positive public perception of technology talent should be at the forefront of technology development considerations. Colleges and universities have to produce ICT graduates able to generate an end-to-end view of critical nodes in agricultural value chains.  For that to happen, it is important to build digital centres of agricultural excellence that enable fast and creative knowledge exchange between experts from different backgrounds.  This will ensure everybody remains plugged into the latest trends.

Thousands of university graduates willing to get into the informal sector have to be trained in a new way of thinking and working. They will have to learn to address quality problems on the spot rather than send them to the market and expect consumers to answer back.  Most consumers may decide not to answer but look for goods and services from elsewhere.  The youth will have to be on the front line of the agriculture sector in order to understand day-to-day operations better than disconnected value chain actors. Eventually they should be able to tell why some agricultural activities are done a certain way as well as factors that hold the agricultural sector from moving forward.  Without such insights, it is impossible for them to take an imperfect step forward in a turbulent global market where all solutions are becoming increasingly imperfect and require real-time evidence.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

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

 

It will take integrative thinkers to fully exploit African resources

The majority of African economies are too complex to be fully exploited through current formal education systems that promote silos. While it is important to have expertise in crop production, livestock production, nutrition, road construction and natural resources management, what matters is how all these forms of knowledge can be integrated into a cohesive system. It takes a certain skill set to get knowledge systems that have traditionally functioned separately to speak the same language. That challenge is preventing developing economies from fully exploiting their natural resources.

The power of integrated thinking

Integrated thinking is basically about seeing the connection between different things and resources whose interaction can generate a wiser ecosystem. For that to happen it is important to imagine how existing knowledge systems can take advantage of their healthy interdependence and creatively dance together. Rather than talking in terms of agriculture in isolation, the narrative must change to agribusiness. Since agribusiness is about managing and sustaining change, it calls for new sets of skills to supplement what farmers and other actors have become used to. Each community will start noticing the need for people good at screening opportunities and business models in favour of local development. Progress will no longer be about working hard but working smart. African communities, especially farmers, have worked hard for generations. If working hard was the only route to success they would have long become millionaires. Success is becoming more about correctly connecting the right resources and opportunities.

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The myth of ‘best’ practices

Some of the so-called agricultural ‘best’ practices have been extracted from contract farming and conservation agriculture models.  However, most ‘best’ practices have been impossible to put into practice in different contexts. Part of the challenge has been lack of local capacity to integrate ‘best’ practices from elsewhere into contextual resources and models. Adopters that can establish a corresponding level of effort and skills needed for screening and valuating what is coming from outside have been missing in most rural and farming communities. In fragmented farming communities, farmers need essential capabilities to screen equipment, technologies and business models coming into their contexts from elsewhere.  This cannot be left to marketers bringing the technologies, equipment and models because their main motivation is selling. How things work in practice is not their main interest.

A related challenge is lack of clarity on roles, responsibilities and breadth of skills required to exploit existing natural resources. It is also not very clear how local communities acquire complex knowledge required to unlock value from their natural resources.  Everyone can own and operate a garden, rear livestock and produce food but very few can get into complex value addition processes that require different levels of knowledge. Ideally, each community should have individuals with experience in diverse core socio-economic areas. Due to this lack of clarity, most technologies going into rural Africa are not being evaluated so that their efficacy can be matched with available knowledge. Every farmer just buys his scotch-cart, diesel engine or Brahman Bull and start using locally. When things go wrong, the farmer is at a loss or the technology is taken back to urban centres where it was bought. In most cases those selling have no knowledge of how to fix emerging problems. That is why it is becoming very important to build a variety of capabilities needed by each community to be able to source, evaluate and integrate different types of equipment, technologies and business models.

 Toward a holistic perspective

Each rural community should have a holistic view of what is needed to exploit available resources fully as well as identify the needed skills in line with strategic needs. At the moment, most community development initiatives are introduced from outside before thorough identification of local people or institutions with enough clout to understand and assume responsibility for evaluating what is good for the community in the long-term. From a holistic and sustainability perspective, there should be local people or institutions with the competence to defend proper use of common pool resources such as pastures, forests, wildlife and water. Such people and institutions should also have integrative expertise to be able to define attributes of what they see as a desirable community model from a socio-economic angle. Integration efforts in this case can vary widely, depending on the degree of integration. Technologies from outside need significant pressure-testing at a local level in order to determine longevity. Across the whole African continent, there are few cases where foreign technologies or socio-economic models were rejected at the outset because they were not relevant.

Integrative thinking capacity will enable communities to tuck-in resources and opportunities from outside into their larger socio-economic ecosystem. They won’t just accept a dam project when they already have many under-utilized dams but direct resources to local priorities. Such decisions require in-depth knowledge of the community’s socio-economic drivers. In communities that will have been able to do several tuck-ins, opportunities should be on the radar well before a new investment shows up. In-depth knowledge will also be important in maintaining valuable resources and developing relationships with potential partners. Each community should have people able to implement an integration process that is more consistent with local people’s needs, desires, dreams and aspirations.

The impact of rural to urban migration on knowledge integration

Unfortunately, because in most African communities, the best talent migrates to urban centres, there is often inadequate talent at local authority level to be able to develop viable combinations of integrated thinking models. In the absence of reliable and verifiable advice at local level, 50 farmers from the same community can go and compete selling sweet potatoes and other similar products in one urban market. They may not realize the extent to which competing among themselves harms their collective income levels. Also unknown to most farmers is how external factors such as the fragmentation of the agricultural industry, the complexity of value chains and major market shifts, have an enormous impact on how each rural community can identify the requires skill sets for exploiting available resources.

An integrated thinking approach will broaden experiences and deepen understanding of the whole agricultural industry. Ultimately, that will address the perennial African problem where farmers always blame the middlemen for everything. Farming communities should be able to quickly review and understand the turbulence that often grips the agricultural sector as an industry. That way, agricultural industry expertise becomes more important than functional expertise.

African farmers and value chain actors have been complaining about the same issues for over 30 years. Rather than continue complaining about the complexity of the agriculture sector, they should strive to acquire relevant knowledge and attitudes to inform their competitive strategies. Besides clearly articulating their strategies, they must determine how they want to manage their agribusinesses in ways that enable productive and efficient use of resources. They should be sufficiently motivated to do everything necessary to become more productive and perform at the peak of their potential.  Maximum use of available natural resources should enable every African farmer and value chain actor to model mastery and elevate local 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