What makes informal institutions superior at embedding knowledge

Where formal organizations try to store their knowledge in the form of corporate processes and procedures, informal institutions like people’s agriculture markets pack their knowledge into routines and memorable metaphors. For many generations, the majority of African communities have thrived on knowledge condensed into idioms, metaphors and routines. This way of dealing with knowledge has found its way into the burgeoning modern informal economies. While it makes sense to capture knowledge into organizational procedures and manuals, what is embedded in routines quickly becomes practical wisdom. Since people tend to forget much of what they learn, human memory is unreliable. On the other hand, routines are difficult to forget especially if they are part and parcel of community life.


How communities have traditionally dealt with information overload
Realizing that too much information and knowledge can be counter-productive especially if people are not ready for it, African communities have traditionally devised ways of reducing, re-using and recycling knowledge. That is how solutions that worked for generations were used to solve new challenges. All these processes were anchored on institutional memory. Rather than continuously focusing on easy answers, communities had several ways of developing and exploring options. Besides acting as an extension of memory, resorting to metaphors, idioms and routines was also informed by the fact that learning is easier than remembering. That is why, even today, people may not know everything they have learned until they are asked to explain it in detail to someone. Every African market has condensed its knowledge routines that have become part of how value chain actors make sense of their experiences.

Knowledge as empathy
Where formal institutions think information is everything, informal institutions have discovered the value of combining information with empathy in solving authentic challenges. Although social media seems to suggest that availing a lot of information is a solution in itself, farmers and traders know that it takes empathy to make information and knowledge relevant to different contexts. Almost every agricultural market is built around trust, intuitions, empathy, emotions and motivations, not market information alone. On the other hand, formal institutions think providing a string of numbers such as what the stock market does, is informative enough in itself without considering humane situations behind those numbers.

One hopes social media is not destroying people’s capacity to condense their experiences
Of all the enormous positive potential surrounding social media and digital technology, one hopes it is not destroying communities’ age-old capabilities to condense and summarize their experiences into idioms and routines for the benefit of future generations. Besides this unanswered question, the extent to which social media generates Return on Investment (ROI) is not yet clear to many value chain actors. Where ROI is suspected, it is still difficult to prove. Until there is clarity, many actors will continue resorting to their proven business routines. There have been attempts to using Return on Time Invested (ROTI) as a measure, where the benefit is calculated through time saved by the use of social media compared to conventional methods of sharing knowledge. However, some of the benefits can be cancelled by empathy and trust associated with traditional ways of sharing knowledge. A lot remains to be uncovered.

charles@knowledgetransafrica.com / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com
Website: http://www.emkambo.co.zw / http://www.knowledgetransafrica.com
eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Creating new knowledge and minimizing intellectual recycling

Besides lack of internship opportunities, university students and faculties are struggling to translate academic knowledge into research that answers a need. It is no longer enough to conduct academic research that gets filed in university libraries. On the other hand, development partners and government departments that are working with rural communities are struggling to establish sustainable entry and exit strategies. The private sector is also struggling to design evidence-based market-driven business models.

If you share the above concerns and you are passionate about translating university research into a career path, get in touch with Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA). We have started offering guidance and mentorship for university students and faculties keen to develop research themes in agricultural ecosystems, rural development and financial modelling. KTA has also started assisting development organizations to design sustainable programmes. The private sector is also being assisted to design market-driven business models.

For more information send an email to: charles@knowledgetransafrica.com / clever@knowledgetransafrica.com / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

0772 137 717 / 0772 137 768

Why some farmers and traders succeed by listening to their own advice

An increase in advice from diverse sources is becoming counter-productive for smallholder farmers in many developing countries. Besides over-saturation, there is no shortage of conflicting advice. Many farmers are wondering why they are being blamed for not taking farming as a business when the majority of formally educated graduates are busy looking for jobs rather than using knowledge they have acquired from school/college/university to improve their agricultural-driven local economies.  eMKambo is intrigued by how some farmers who participate in African agricultural markets succeed through listening to their own advice.


For curious smallholder farmers, listening to your own advice is equivalent to combining your intuitions with observations and ideas from the market.  Without such a combination, it is difficult for farmers to improve their perceptions on price and profitability.  Rather than depending entirely on advice from other people, farmers who frequent markets ultimately hone their pricing and marketing skills. They become aware that better pricing decisions are based on a trade-off between margin and price perception. Such decisions can only come from actively participating in agricultural markets and identifying commodities that determine market behaviour.

Empowering farmers to stop defending what is no longer working

It is from active market participation that farmers develop personal knowledge mastery and fact-based market awareness. They become aware of the risks associated with depending on the commercial intuition of traders.  With time, some of the farmers will become knowledge brokers able to analyse market data toward improving their overall market perception in ways that reveal the impact of all commodities. Without evidence from the market, farmers will continue defending practices that are no longer working. Rather than looking for easy answers, markets enable farmers to explore more options and opportunities. On the other hand, taking advice from everyone can lead many farmers to pour their energy into strategies that do not result in significant improvement.

Interested in progress than in change for its own sake

 Listening to personal advice and intuition triggered by agricultural markets prompts farmers to be interested in progress rather than be satisfied with change for its own sake. They suddenly become aware of the importance of getting rid of old knowledge in order to create space for new knowledge. Part of relying on one’s personal advice as an agricultural value chain actor is building the capability to replace obsolete knowledge with new knowledge.

In a world saturated with all kinds of agricultural ideas, value chain actors are better off focusing on top quality knowledge than a lot of mediocre content from everywhere. Unfortunately, due to too much information being pushed to farmers and other value chain actors, they have to painstakingly sift through huge volumes to find the desired knowledge. The extent to which too much information or knowledge is becoming counter-productive is shown by how social media streams such as WhatsApp are now clogged with trivia than valuable knowledge. Listening to personal advice is one way value chain actors can filter all this information into knowledge.

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