Why policy makers should know the difference between information and news

By confusing information with News, most African countries have neglected vital information that is neither News nor statistics but more important. What is ignored is information that continuously informs and guides socio-economic activities in rural communities. A lot of research has been done in many African communities by several institutions like NGOs, the private sector and government departments but the information cannot be found in one place. Most of the research reports and studies do not speak to each other while some organizations focus on individual value chain studies for narrow purposes.

zimbabwe agriculture

No one has taken time or put resources toward consolidating all these studies and researches into a holistic and fluid body of knowledge that can inform local development. When studies and information sources are fragmented, you cannot deduce trends that inform community development pathways.

What roles are ministries of information satisfying?

In most African countries, the ministry of information is about the media, news and political information at the exclusion of fluid socio-economic information. On the other hand, government officials think information is statistics yet without the contextual interpretation, statistics are just a set of meaningless numbers. Given that national statistical agencies lack a business angle, business people and investors always miss business sense in the data held by statistical agencies at national level.

The ministry of information also tends to avail information in other government departments in the form of news rather than part and parcel of daily work. For instance, the ministry of agriculture generates a lot of information daily and should not wait for such information to be converted into news and then shared with the majority. Digitalization should assist in turning such information into a fluid resource and an inclusive knowledge ecosystem that keeps communities updated and in touch with early warnings.

 Information is now a necessity and not a luxury

Ministries of information are yet to wake up to the fact that information has moved from being a luxury into a necessity. Therefore, besides inviting sabotage, leaving a commodity or service that is in high demand like information in the hands of private actors like Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) puts such commodities and services beyond the reach of the majority especially when decide to increase the cost of data bundles and airtime. For the majority to participate in economic development, a necessity like information should be a public good and government should ensure information that matters in economic development is accessible to the majority.

African governments that invest in fluid information collection and analyses will soon minimize food imports because farmers and other producers would be adequately informed to make quality decisions, contribute to solutions and provide early warnings. Being proactive means clarity on affordable and effective ways of generating information. Setting up knowledge gathering platforms within ecosystems is the fastest way of gathering information about diverse value chains. Such information and knowledge will become part and parcel of local farmers’ enterprises unlike expecting farmers in remote rural areas to subscribe to an information platform owned by a MNO based in the capital city more than 400km away. Local platforms can enable farmers to provide information and statistics to their local knowledge centers as well as begin to build their track records for financiers and other potential partners.

Farmers belonging to a community should have their socio-economic information pooled together for the purposes of guiding investment unlike leaving each farmer with his/her fragmented information or in the hands of MNOs. Fluid information gathering requires active, reliable and timely information sources. Currently much of the information coming from the ground does not have a clear destination. A system that does not link producers with diverse markets is dead. Farmers, traders and other value chain actors should interact freely.

 African communities have been over-researched

Most African communities have been over-researched such that asking them the same question is unproductive and causes fatigue among local people.  Those going to collect information should just be asking for new information instead of different organizations going to ask the same questions when doing their own separate baseline studies.

Had government and development organizations focused on setting up pathways for keeping local information fluid, each community would be having some consolidated demography such that if, for instance, someone goes to Binga district to collect information there would be no need to ask about levels of education or marital status since the information will have been gathered already and kept in a fluid state. The researcher would just ask people if their circumstances have changed since the last time information was collected and update the details unlike repeating questions.

Given that they already keep information about their population, village heads should be empowered to collect and update demography information regularly. They can even be given tablets in which they can easily update and keep their data in a fluid state. There is no reason why those conducting a census continue to estimate populations when the exact number of people in a community is known including where they are staying and those who have migrated. Why conduct a census every 10 days when people and communities have information that should simply be made fluid and shared in real time?  Instead of spending millions repeating researches that have been done, it’s key to keep the information as a flow.

 How the media can contribute positively

In addition to converting socio-economic information into fluid news, the mainstreaming media should paint a clear picture of the changing agricultural landscape in African countries. Media should be clarifying who is who in agriculture-driven economies? They should also be democratizing economic and financial news that has remained a preserve of economists and bankers for too long. Economic and financial information is still to be brought to the level of major economic actors like SMEs and farmers.

More importantly, the media should be simplifying monetary issues through programs like “Know Your Economy” through which ordinary people can be exposed to the dynamics of the economy. More than 80% of Africans do not read newspapers or listen to television when ministers of finance and reserve bank governors issue financial and monetary statements. It should be the role of media to translate and communicate some of these issues to the majority who remain excluded from formal financial issues.

The situation is worsened by the fact that African governments have not bothered to invest in economic and financial literacy for the majority. Economic plans and systems are still too complex for the majority to understand what is going on. When citizens do not understand their economy their contribution to solutions is limited. For instance, they stop caring about the national budget because they won’t see how it directly speaks to their aspirations. If you ask smallholder farmers how much they know about the national agricultural budget as announced by the minister of finance, they often don’t have a clue. Even policy makers like members of parliament are uninformed.

Using fluid information held by communities and taping into community knowledge centres or platforms, the media can nudge institutions like the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) to think about building their influence from the bottom, starting with convening Village Economic Consultative Forums,  Ward Economic Consultative Forums, District Economic Consultative Forums, Provincial Economic Consultative Forums and finally, NECF. The NECF cannot just start and end at national level and expect to be considered a serious national institution that fosters effective decision making about the economy.


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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Why are pathways for uplifting rural communities still missing

In spite of presence in rural areas by African governments and development agencies there are still no meaningful pathways for uplifting communities out of poverty.  A recent trend has seen development agencies working through some kind of consortia in one rural district or county but still after three or four years when the consortia is disbanded due to donor money running out, these rural areas remain the same if not worse. Information remains fragmented and it’s not clear who should be consolidating information and knowledge from diverse actors like agro-dealers, NGOs, processors and many other actors in rural communities?clever mkove

Need to map interventions in rural communities

The way companies, governments and development agencies deal with information and knowledge has a bearing on the quality of products and services. If these institutions wait for agricultural information to become news for it to be taken seriously, they will not be able to develop pathways for uplifting rural areas. The mainstream media is interested in news not agricultural information and socio-economic trends. Interventions in each rural community should be properly mapped into a body of knowledge.  It is not just about producing a database of actors but interpreting activities, overlaps and synergies in ways that can inform investors. Every African country’s agricultural extension department should be capacitated to consolidate local knowledge into a strategic resource. It’s not about waiting for the national department of statistics but keeping agricultural information fresh and fluid.

While many development agencies and some private companies are now working in marginalized rural areas, what is often missing is a strategy or plan for them to leave such areas better. There are no rural development pathways for uplifting communities and rural areas the way private companies map a growth trajectory.  Such steps should see rural communities being assisted to map a clear pathway from rural electrification to infrastructure development to irrigation development and then setting up warehousing facilities, for instance. The private sector including banks are not investing long-term in agriculture and rural development. Otherwise all farmers producing commercial crops like cocoa, cotton and tobacco will now be owning irrigation systems. It appears most private actors are interested in taking what farmers produce and use it to develop their own enterprises, leaving farmers with their poverty.

Who can be appropriate custodians of local knowledge?

Ideally, agricultural extension services and local knowledge centres should become custodians of contextual data gathering, processing and sharing as pathways for uplifting rural communities. Such a task cannot be done by consortia of development agencies which only exist for a few years.  Farmer unions are also too membership-focused to embrace everyone in a community while individual NGOs only focus on their beneficiaries to the exclusion of local knowledge champions who may not be part of specific projects.  For instance in a ward comprising 10 000 households, an NGO or consortia may only collect information about its beneficiaries not everyone.

With adequate support, extension services should be able to consolidate all the data including details of how much maize is milled by local grinding mills per week in a district or ward as well as the number of cattle leaving for urban abattoirs. Such information has a huge bearing on food security and the local economy.  When agricultural extension officers become present at the burgeoning African informal markets, it becomes mandatory for each farmer who visits the market to leave information with extension officers. These extension officers can also easily consolidate information from diverse classes of farmers and other government departments like ministries of health, local government and ICTs.

It’s time to remove the colonial straight jacket

What is stalling development is the fact that most African governments are still stuck in colonial hierarchical reporting structures which are less about interactive knowledge sharing but more about a subordinate angle. Information going up the ladder from the grassroots to the head office is rarely value added along the way from the farmer to extension officer to district and province. Ideally, the district Agritex officer should be empowered to consolidate and respond to issues from the ground as well as synthesize information from the head office and private companies into local languages for the grassroots.

There is no reason why simple information gathering and sharing tools have not been developed for use by extension officers and farmers at local level. High literacy levels are useless if local people cannot contribute to policy making processes through gathering and sharing information on what is happening in their contexts. A visit to any African rural community reveals a lot of ideas and knowledge nuggets that are unfortunately not finding pathways for enriching government decisions.

Stock cards have for decades been limited to cattle information but not extended to other livestock like donkeys, goats, sheep and chickens yet more than 90 percent of rural households own chickens, goats and other small stock that deserve some tracking system similar to stock cards. Small stock are a source of resilience for smallholder farmers and should be part of a very strong information management system starting from the grassroots to national level.

Statutory Instrument on enhancing the flow of agriculture and livelihood information

Why do political elections have a powerful information collection system while agriculture and rural development don’t have? In all African countries including the poorest, election periods are characterized by an efficient information collection system, making it possible for election results from the remotest Kazingizi primary school to reach the command centre within a few hours. If a whole command centre can be set up for elections, most of which leave communities more divided, why can’t the same attention and resources be devoted to something as fundamental as agriculture and rural development information?

Data related to food distribution and input distribution is easily collected country wide but the same is not being done for agricultural value chains and rural development information. Each African country should consider enacting a Statutory Instrument on enhancing the flow of agriculture and livelihood information. There is no doubt that a fluid information collection system is the foundation of effective service delivery and development. Transformation should start with redefining the role of grassroots actors. Expertise and information on how to produce most agricultural commodities is now public knowledge that just needs to be harnessed nationally and globally for farmers to access it. That is why if anyone does a google search on producing cattle, groundnuts, oranges or any commodity, more than a dozen documents show up.

 The supremacy of communication

African service delivery would be better if communication was not one of the most under-rated activities and roles in African countries. Policy makers may have the best strategies but without reliable pathways of sharing, such strategies are useless. In fact, strategies are not tangible products unless they are transformed by communication into tangible results.  Farmers don’t care about strategies crops and livestock resulting from the application of strategies. Smart governments and organizations are beginning to ensure communication is fully resourced not just broadcasting stations or newspapers that are only interested in selling news.  Interpretation is a fundamental part of communication. How can developing countries make their communication tools more relevant and purposeful? African countries are losing billions of dollars annually due to poor communication and paying lip service to information.


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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430


How do we build pathways for reinvesting back to the original source?

Once raw materials leave Africa for other parts of the world, there is no clear pathway fir re-investing back. The structure of the global economy is such that Africans who migrate to the diaspora will not be able to re-invest back home as much as they would want. Likewise those who leave rural areas for the city also struggle to re-invest back in their home areas.  The formerly educated have become satisfied in investing in the city than in rural business centres and growth points close to where they grew up. It is not clear whether capitalism is to blame for this dilemma or not.


How can policy makers address this issue?

Instead of tailoring easy of doing business incentives in favor of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), African policy makers need to come up with incentives for Local Direct Investment (LDI). This will spark local people’s appetite to re-invest where they were born and bred. Government parastatals responsible for collecting levies from agricultural commodities and minerals should lead by example through re-investing more in areas that produce the highest earning agricultural commodities and minerals. That way Gokwe and Muzarabani districts of Zimbabwe would fully enjoy the benefits of cotton production while farmers in Gwanda and Insiza districts would be enjoying the benefits of cattle production.

A major challenge is that once money gets into government coffers, there are no pathways for the money to trickle back to the original sources of raw materials. Such pathways must be enshrined in the constitution to avoid cases where people who were moved from Chiadzwa ended up deserting nice houses that were built for them in new areas to which they were relocated to give way for diamond mining. The people said nice houses are not a worthy investment without sources of income. Why should community share ownership deals give only 10% shares to the community which owns the resources?

Need for national constitutions with a conscience

African countries like Zimbabwe have not done much to decolonize national constitutions to support investments in rebuilding people’s livelihoods and local ecosystems. Zimbabwe’s national constitution still have colonial biases that compromise ordinary people’s home-grown solutions.  Some people are clutching on fundamental resources like land by hiding behind the constitution which priorities private property rights. The local elite are also using the constitution to defend themselves in courts, especially those in business deals related to agriculture, energy and mining. Meanwhile the only time an ordinary poor person hears about the constitution is when s/he commits a crime and is hauled before the courts.

Instead of holding onto imported notions like property rights as if communities and individuals do not have rights to land and resources, governments should use national constitution to guide the development of the economy as opposed to being a barrier. Many African constitutions are not relevant for smallholder farmers. For instance, in Zimbabwe the national constitution says nothing meaningful about protecting natural resources like land from privatization. It is also completely silent about protecting farmers from exploitation by mobile money agents.  As if that is not enough, constitution does not protect farmers from delayed payment by the Grain Marketing Board or processing companies yet that is about people’s lives.

Toward a constitution that speaks to local economic actors

A people-friendly constitution should protect ordinary people from dubious prophets, loan sharks, contracting companies, predatory banks and Micro Finance Institutions. The national constitution should also be simple to understand for ordinary people who cannot afford a lawyer to interpret it for them.  More importantly, the constitution should speak to the development of the local economy by supporting reinvestment to the source. It should not just be for legal experts and the elite but for everyone including farmers, informal traders and SMEs who are now driving most African economies.

If seed sold to farmers fails to perform there should be a constitutional provision for farmers to sue seed companies or be reimbursed. Unfortunately farmers are often blamed for not using the seed properly when the problem is with the seed. Ordinary people and their knowledge are also not protected by the constitution. A constitution that does not empower farmers and the majority is not useful. That is why farmers and ordinary people do not bother reading constitutional documents or buy newspapers. In fact they would rather use newspapers for smoking tobacco because the content is not relevant to them. Instead of protecting the majority and fostering investments into local communities, African constitutions are used by politicians and high profile people to settle their personal scores.

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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

Why developing countries must keep land as a fluid resource

Instead of shelling out all the land to the current generation, African countries should leave much land uncommitted so that future generations will decide new uses at the time. In fact land should be considered a fluid resource like knowledge. Why should a fundamental natural resource like land be tied to an individual for a whole century through 99 year leases just for the sake of getting a loan from the bank?  In the case of Zimbabwe, this question is more intriguing because banks that are using absence of bankable leases or collateral as an excuse for not funding agriculture do not even have the money.


Would you rather own the land or the market?

In the current knowledge economy it is better to own the market than the land. Buying and owning land is not necessary because you will be locking capital that you would need to kick-start your farming business. That is why different forms of leasing are now more prevalent in many African countries including Zambia and Zimbabwe.  There is a strong case for African countries to move away from individual ownership of agricultural resources. Previously it was important to own land because there was a very strong relationship between production and markets.  Farmers knew they were producing for particular markets with whom they had strong bondages.

Rather than owning land, owning the market is more viable because the market informs what should be produced on the land. The production side should respond to dynamics in the market. It is no longer about having more land because markets determine what to produce, for whom, where and when? That is why land should be seen as a fluid resource so that a new farmer can choose to produce different crops like goats in Buhera, Peas in Murewa and fruits in Taveta (Kenya) in response to market demands.

Toward full utilization of land

Although it may have its own limitations, the lease-driven model will lead to full utilization of resources by farmers as they ensure production matches supply. Networks will also become more important than owning land. Many farmers have the best land but because they belong to the wrong networks they cannot fully unlock the value of their land. It is through networks that resources such as finance can be accessed much better and faster than banks. Questions that farmers are being forced to answer include: From the financial side and the knowledge side, who is providing you with relevant information or knowledge?  How are you getting information about the market?

Many former commercial farmers in Zimbabwe are coming back to lease the land they once owned because they still own the markets they used to serve pre-land reform. On the domestic scene, middlemen known as Makoronyera own the market and look for producers as well as production areas. They simply go to collect the produce wherever it is produced without worrying about owning the land. The market should determine the duration and structure of leases, not government policy. Even if you have a 99 year lease and the market decides to change into new commodities, you will not fully utilize that long-term lease. To the extent traders or Makoronyera now lease land by informing what should be grown, where and when, it is now the market leasing the land and deciding how to use it not the farmer or financial institution.

 Advisory services on land utilization

Beyond teaching farmers about farming as business, advisory services on resource utilization are badly needed across Africa. There has been a quiet transition from an individual lease model to the market leasing land. A model that combines leasing, knowledge and resource utilization is emerging as seen through several barter trade versions of leasing including share cropping and many verbal lease agreements based on relationships.  These are some of the forces silently shaping African agriculture.

Capacity assessment of farmers has to be done and should remain fluid like land. Farmers’ capacity has to be assessed in relation to available natural resources, looking at questions like: If a farmer has 200ha of land what is his/her capacity and potential to utilize it?  How much capacity can the farmer use in the next 20 years? In a competitive environment, it is difficult to make projections of the agriculture sector without examining different capacity levels of diverse categories of farmers. Assuming there are 500 000 smallholder farmers, it is impossible to make useful projections using hectares of land occupied by the farmers to understand capacity as a resource.

If farmers in Mazowe district of Zimbabwe allocate 20% of their resources towards feeding the whole country, what equipment do they require?  What are individual farmers like Mr Collins Nherera’s growth pathways for the next five years?  Other important elements include sources of income and remittances. Do farmers have other sources of money or they are ploughing back profits into the land?  What are other demand sources like school fees or extended family?  How farmers allocate resources to other needs like two children at university and the other two in secondary school?  These are some of the issues locking tobacco farmers in contract farming models as they will be chained by other family commitments.

 If not the market, who can reveal opportunities within African agriculture?

Many people are afraid to venture into agriculture because no one has convincingly explained hidden opportunities.  Rather than taking farming as a career path, young people and pensioners are taking it as a last resort. Intentional efforts should be directed at showing that farming can provide more green pastures than opportunities in foreign countries. Farming should be repackaged to be like any other business. This will reduce cases where some people are using agriculture as a stop gap measure to supplement incomes from other sources like formal employment in banking or government.  It should be the main priority like every business not a retirement home.

However benefits can only be seen once land is treated as a fluid resource like capacity and knowledge. When encouraged to invest in agriculture as a career path, young people can lengthen value chains that are currently ending at local markets to the export market where new tastes and preferences are emerging. Local stakeholders can then be capacitated to use local resources to engage in profitable farming as opposed to depending on external investors.  Although they may not immediately declare their interests, those bringing Foreign Direct Invest (FDI) definitely want to get more than 51% of the shares in the business.  They can also swiftly change goal posts at profit sharing stage and get more than they have put.

The power of role definition

It is important to define who is who in agricultural value chains and determine capacity gaps. Production is defined in terms of infrastructure, land, labor, equipment and irrigation systems among other assets. But in the market there is no system for assessing related assets like infrastructure or ways of characterizing different traders and related equipment. African policy makers are wrongly using land to define and classify farmers into communal, A1, A2 and commercial.  A lot of undocumented knowledge should be used to define farmers.  For instance, from a land size definition, Mr Collins Nherera is a lower A2 farmer but his knowledge is more than that of large scale commercial farmers.  Profiling farmers should be used as independent classification because capacity is broader than land resources. Land should be a fluid resource waiting for farmers with capacity to use it unlike giving it to everybody irrespective of capacity.

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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430



Blinkers associated with basing projections on hectares of land

While economists have been schooled into projecting agricultural income starting from the size of the land, such an approach is now found wanting in the knowledge economy. There is no doubt that land is important but valuating natural resources for investment purposes should go beyond hectares of land to the quality of soil and water, among other key elements that are often ignored. The fact that Masvingo, Mazowe, Gokwe and Muzarabani have different climatic conditions and soil types means their mize yields will also be contextual. That is why you cannot have the same hectares as projections of yields.


Human capacity as a more important part of the assessment criteria

There is an emerging realization that human capacity is a critical consideration over and above natural resources. Two farmers in the same area, given the same inputs and planting at the same time will produce different yields due to intrinsic human factors and talents. So if you do not assess human capacity in terms of knowledge within farmers at different levels you will miss fundamental factors that influence agricultural performance. Unless there is solid criteria on which farmers can be assessed, it will remain difficult to find a pathway for upgrading farmers from one level to the other.

When the right assessment criteria are used, within farming areas farmers can be found more than five different categories of farmers with diverse capacities and needs. That is why mapping knowledge pathways is increasingly becoming more important.  For instance, how much knowledge do two new neighboring farmers have?  How much knowledge are they sharing or they are just living side by side as two silos? It may take years for new farmers to build relationships that stimulate knowledge sharing. Where relationships are weak, knowledge sharing pathways are also weak.

The power of appropriate farmer classification

During Zimbabwe’s land reform, land allocation processes were not based on resources or knowledge within farmers. That is why farmers from different backgrounds and with different resource endowment levels can be found in the same neighborhood. An Ambassador can been seen sharing a boundary with a peasant farmer. This could have its own social advantages but there is no knowledge sharing ecosystem due to different classes. Such anomalies are rendering the agriculture sector more fragile because commercial farmers cannot plan with A1 farmers who have different needs. Villagers in the same communal area can easily work together because they share the same characteristics and social fabric.

Before land reform, it was easy to coordinate production among large scale commercial farmers because they had a well-developed knowledge sharing culture around clubs where they met to discuss business while playing golf. This is where monopolistic strategies were stitched. On the other hand, new farmers may have come onto the land through politics, government positions, nepotism, company executive positions linked to government or they are war veterans.  All these diverse backgrounds have turned new farming areas into a melting pot of cultures that are taking long to fuse positively.

Sense of belonging among communal farmers

Communal farmers are more bonded because having been together for decades, they have developed strong relationships enabling them to share resources.  Their classes are not different – they meet subsistence and surplus requirements. There is also a certain level to which rural communities value their sense of belonging. For instance they do not import labor but local people can easily provide labor in exchange for food or getting their land ploughed for cropping.

The notion of kuronzera/ukulagisa is a perfect example of situations where some communal families use their grazing ability to own cattle and enjoy related benefits like milk by herding cattle on behalf of the owners while they also use to grow crops.  Nhimbe is another way of sharing resources and knowledge. You just brew some mahewu or beer and neighbors bring spans of oxen to plough and plant for you. Another powerful resource which was used for different purposes including exchanging crops, seed and livestock breeds was the extended family system.  Although it still exists it has been weakened by partisan politics and imported religion.

How the benefits of proper classification extend to the market

African informal mass markets like Mbare also survive hardships because they are public institutions where knowledge travels freely through networks and relationships.  Actors like traders creatively bring their knowledge together in order to be more competitive, for example to fight imports as a group. Conversely the private sector is too competitive to the extent of not sharing knowledge or information critical for the survival of the entire industry. Farmer unions, chambers of commerce and churches also tend to cherry pick members from robust social ecosystems and put them in silos like political parties and denominations through a membership drive. This blocks knowledge sharing by dividing communities and families.  There should be a mechanism for new farmers to be brought together in ways that build strong relationships. This is more on the social side but can form the glue for economic empowerment and rebuilding social capital currently being under-utilized.

Paying lip service to proper classification explains why farmers are not protected from dubious service providers such as those who provide borehole drilling services or veterinary products. Ideally this is where farmer unions should come in and develop capacity to design terms of reference as well as contracts for different service providers including those claiming to do artificial insemination or soil as well as water testing. It is not enough to ask for quotations from service providers but there should be  contracts with clear terms of reference and payment terms.  This will ensure recourse in the case of service providers failing to deliver.

However there is a limit to what farmers can do

eMKambo is not suggesting that farmer classification will address all challenges faced by farmers. Given the complexities and technical knowledges involved, issues related to water siting and borehole drilling should be done by government agencies like the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA). These should map key natural resources like underground water, showing all information and maps about water availability or yield in different farms or production zones. This could be another income generating route for ZINWA.  The same way critical resources like roads and dams are planned should be extended to underground water and minerals.  We cannot have every Jack and Jill doing what they want.

Due to limited resources, farmers end up at the mercy of dubious service providers. With new technology we should be able to easily estimate underground water availability the same way mining companies can know that underground minerals will last for more than 40 years and start building houses and other infrastructure before actual mining begins. The same applies to soils. Communal farmers have been tilling the same soil for more than 100 years. It should be the role of government to map soils and conduct testing so that farmers do not continue expecting better yields from exhausted soils. We cannot expect every farmer to take his own soil samples when the land belongs to the government.

Unfortunately African policy makers have been blinded by imported knowledge, thinking that fertilizers like Ammonium Nitrate and Compound D can be solutions to our soils. To what extent are these fertilizers really adding value?  What if some soils now need totally new types of fertilizers? The livestock sector also need fresh experts who can examine the kinds of grasses and pastures since original pastures have disappeared, giving way to grasses that are no longer suitable for livestock production.

 How much can be left in private hands?

African policy makers should realize that there are sectors or areas that should not be left to the private sector. If governments ensure institutions like the Standard Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) get involved in certifying food standards, why not do the same for underground water, soils, minerals, pastures and other resources?  Borehole drillers should be certified. Currently anyone able to buy drilling machines can easily masquerade as a borehole driller or water diviner and take advantage of unsuspecting farmers.

Agriculture is not being taken as a serious profession or trade yet people have to be certified to practice as medical doctors or lawyers, among other fields. African traditional healers have remained on the periphery due to absence of proper certification. Absence of policy support creates a room for poor service delivery and proliferation of bogus practitioners. In many African systems, patenting of knowledge has been done through relationships built over decades and expressed through informal markets. How ca we support these pathways to become strong foundations for socio-economic growth?


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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430


The high cost of paying lip service to market research

African smallholder farmers are not the only ones famous for producing commodities before conducting market research. Corporates are not immune to such a disease. Instead of investing in market research, most African corporate companies prefer monopolizing the air waves, bill boards along urban roads and mainstream print media with advertisements. The consequences of such actions recently caught up with one of Zimbabwe’s big corporates which declared huge annual losses from a business portfolio comprising digital communication, banking and other business units.

emkambo 2020

Rather than bringing into perspective customers’ historical experiences with agricultural corporates and financial institutions in Zimbabwe, the corporate mentioned above continues to develop products from the top using imported knowledge. Like some financial institutions, the thinking has been that an effective way of correcting or addressing customers’ negative historical experiences is through advertising and launching new products. Yet you can’t remove or heal people’s bad experiences with financial institutions through advertising or introducing new products. Neither can customers’ negative experiences be erased by creating more banks, introducing mobile money as a guise  of bringing banks closer to the people, advertisements, introducing zero deposits to new bank clients or even reducing transaction costs.

New approaches to rebuilding confidence

There is definite for corporates to come up with a totally new model of rebuilding confidence. For instance, the banking division of the corporate referred to above incurred losses due to operational costs. It embraced the agent banking model before conducting thorough market research, leading to operational costs. Youths and staff members who were engaged to promote the bank through reaching out to everyone and opening bank accounts in the streets were paid on the basis of the number of accounts opened not what the bank would get after accounts were opened. The majority of potential new clients opened bank accounts just for convenience and emergency not because they wanted to save money.

What is now clear is that there is a sound business model no longer exists between clients and banks in Zimbabwe. Customers are resorting to as a last option while some are forced by institutional arrangements where salaries have to come through banks. As if that is not bad enough, banks are not investing much in rebuilding the confidence of customers towards generating revenue and re-investing it through loan products. Ideally, more than 90% of bank revenue should be earned through loans but banks are not developing alternative loan products.

Failure to build business models around business ecosystems

The financial inclusion model being touted across Africa does not have a very strong component of revenue generation. One of the reasons is that financial institutions have failed to identify ecosystems around which sound business models can be built. For instance, what business model can be built with traders in informal markets like Mbare in Harare or Soweto market in Lusaka?  Banks have become more carried away with opening bank accounts through road shows and advertising. Their assumption has been that handing over more bank accounts to more people is equivalent to addressing historical and current challenges faced by clients. Yet as long as financial services are good, customers can travel long distances to open bank accounts using their own resources. Simplifying opening of bank account is not a solution.

Chasing too many hares and riding on development organizations

What also contributed to losses for the corporate mentioned above is not allowing new products to complete business cycles: early stage – growth – maturity – decline. Ideally this takes five to 10 years but the corporate disrupted these growth patterns by constantly bombarding the markets with advertisements of other new products. Some of the products have relied too much on other actors like development programmes to provide life support. For instance an agricultural mobile platform intended for farmers was largely driven by business models of development organizations. Phasing out of such programmes saw the platform failing to stand on its own feet and thus collapsing irrespective of mass advertisements.

Lack of investment in authentic market research has resulted in the corporate referred to above failing to develop products based on customer needs and new clusters. Its products have remained too general and lacking niche markets which are very critical in sustaining business models.  The corporate has ignored the 20/80 rule where a business should ensure to have 20% local customers and 80% on – off customers.

Most of the said corporate’s products do not have strong roots from where products can be developed for the new tree trunk, when using the tree analogy. For instance a product meant for providing mobile transport services in the city of Harare and the digital platform intended for farmers do not have a core cohesive foundation where the products can be controlled. They are all over the place and more opportunistic based on assumptions. The assumption is that the main challenge in Harare is lack of transport yet the real challenge is congestion.

Who says farmers need technical information?

The digital mobile platform intended for farmers was introduced on the assumption that farmers want more technical information yet farmers already get the information from government extension services  department which has years of experience in providing technical advice to farmers. Some seed companies and NGOs are also already providing technical advice to farmers in their contracts. Since farmers have more options to switch from one service to the other, the agricultural digital platform has become unviable and redundant as it does not offer unique services but a cost to farmers.

There is also no clear value proposition in sharing weather information with farmers through the mobile digital platform, a service already provided by the Meteorological Services Department. Assuming such information is provided to farmers, what action will they take if they are told that tomorrow temperatures will be 40 degrees Celsius hot?  Such information does not add much value because ordinary people and farmers cannot make meaningful decisions about the weather which is an external factor.

Given that most products of the corporate mentioned above are not inter-related, they cannot reap advantages in mixing resources towards strengthening business models or shaping the growth path of the whole institution.  The corporate has not been able to direct resources to a growing part of the business or prune or refine old business models the way trees are pruned to increase fruit yield, leading to losses.

Lack of valuable content

More importantly, the mentioned corporate’s products lack content that brings value. A bank remains a bank, a bank account remains a bank account. What does an account bring to the customer?  What benefits accrue to someone who banks his/her money to his business or life?  The mobile money is an account but it doesn’t have a business model. It is basically a last option when one cannot hand over money to the bus conductor going to his rural home for handing over to his mother who can easily walk a few kilometres to the bus stop or business centre. The mobile money notion was developed without a business model around it.  People do not rush to use mobile money merely because it is a platform tied to wide network coverage by a mobile network operator. They do so if it offers a valuable service.

Informal markets like Mbare have proved that they don’t need mobile money but a simple model where a farmer brings something of value and the trader brings along the demand side so that trading happens without the need for a middle actor like a mobile money agent.  The corporate also introduced a platform for tractor tillage services on the assumption that tillage services are a major challenge for farmers in Zimbabwe yet that is not backed by facts on the ground. Had the corporate conducted market research and asked farmers to rank their challenges it would have discovered that farmers rank the high cost of inputs higher than tillage. Inputs may be available but the main challenge is affordability. The second ranked challenge would be absence of viable markets. Tillage would be ranked the last challenge because production is no longer a good starting point for farmers and African agriculture but markets. If the market is available and viable it can provide most of the services including tillage services. Traders can pay for tillage services just as they have traditionally financed farmers to produce specific crops.  Providing tillage services in isolation is not a viable business model at all.

It is unfortunate that several African businesses are now more into counting of numbers. For instance, of the 92% mobile penetration by big mobile network providers no one knows how much is being utilized. There is a difference between penetration and utilization. Utilization is the source of income and growth not penetration. A viable business depends on 90% local trading. Informal markets survive shocks because more than 90% of their trading business is through local currency.

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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430

In search of authentic salespeople for African agricultural economies

It is one thing to be blessed with natural resources such as fertile soils and water but quite another to be able to explain and convince investors about opportunities embedded in those resources. Given the intensifying competition for investment and influence, the art of articulating opportunities can no longer be a preserve for government officials and national trade promotion agencies alone. When you are proposing love to a lady, you may say many good things about yourself but everything you say will not be more powerful than validation from an outsider like the lady’s cousin or your friend.

kta 2020

The power of Gwevedzo or Munyai

Irrespective of culture, most marriages in the world have since time immemorial been cultivated and cemented by brokers or go-betweeners known as Gwevedzo or Munyai in the Shona language of Southern Africa.  The Gwevedzo or Munyai expertise is now being called upon to pitch natural resources-based African economies to the world. No amount of generic advertisements, conferences, pamphlets, documentaries, Public Relations firms or spin doctors can beat the power of an independent broker. Many countries have been competing using the same strategies to lure the same investors for decades but results have not been very satisfactory. Some of the most compelling business stories are not convincing funders.

Being very smart, investors know that you cannot be a neutral sales person for yourself. It is natural for government officials to say only the good things about their country and policies while hiding weaknesses and threats when in fact investors may be interested in how these can be turned into strengths and opportunities if properly explained. Only an independent broker can creatively weave together a country’s opportunities, threats, weakness and strengths in ways that convince skeptical investors.

The power of historical relationships

While historical political relationships are critical, to what extent should they continue laying the foundation for current and future business relationships? Such a question can only be tackled by a neutral broker. For instance when government officials try to sell Zimbabwean opportunities to China, the narrative is usually framed around other relationships outside business, for instance, assistance provided by China to Zimbabwe towards liberating the country from Western colonialism. To what extent should historical ties continue taking precedence over evidence-based investment analyses?  Several African countries continue to rely on historical relationships with the East and West which has more to do with political reasons than business potential.  For how long will African countries continue basing business relationships with the East and West on colonial ties and assistance rendered during the liberation struggle?

Who should spearhead investment opportunities?

Given that they are not really entrepreneurial, African governments should not be the ones spearheading investment opportunities.  They should just be creating enabling environments with advice from key stakeholders not just corporates. While governments always trust corporates, these guys are always advocating for their own self-interests at the expense of new potential investments and national interests. If corporates are not asking for foreign currency they are asking government to ban imports as a way of protecting their interests.

There is definite need for an independent broker who can use unbiased evidence to identify potential investors and local industries in which outsiders can invest. When most African leaders go on foreign missions they take along a business delegation comprising mostly corporate leaders. Some of the people in the business delegation represent chambers of commerce and monopolies that are more worried about their existence than providing national solutions. These certainly identify opportunities in their favor not those that can expand opportunities and create competition. How can a business delegation be expected to invite competitors?  It is clear that these are not the right candidates to invite potential investors except those in line with their business survival interests.

More reasons for a neutral independent broker

A neutral independent investment broker or analyst is the ideal person or institution to drive investments into African countries. This individual or institution is able to consider the interests of local enterprises, external investors, local populations and government interests like staying conscious of environmental management issues. Corporates would certainly prioritize profits over environmental sustainability. Such a balancing meeting the interests of government, investors, local industry and local populations can only be played by an independent broker.

The broker will also be able to look at the interests of other sectors and get answers to questions like: To what extent do investments in agriculture benefit other sectors like mining and tourism? Corporate captains of industry interested in specific value chains like oil processing or milk processing will barely consider such fundamental holistic questions. Given that government ministries also function as silos (Agriculture, Health, Mining, ICTs, Industry & Commerce, Local government, foreign Affairs, Education, etc.,) they do not have capacity to tackle such over-arching questions holistically.

An independent broker will consolidate an investment portfolio that embraces different government departments, industries, farmer unions and other sectors. Membership-driven groups like chambers of commerce and farmer unions cannot be expected to satisfy such a comprehensive mandate because their eyes are on fishing out members as opposed to being inclusive.

The role of the independent broker can also extend to guiding development organizations into diverse areas of operations. Currently, due to lack of such guidance, most development organizations continue implementing their programs based on recommendations from their donors independent of national priorities.  There is currently chaos in the market as some NGOs compete with private players like agro-dealers and seed companies as well as with government departments. An independent broker can assist by ensuring evidence is used to craft business models that do not suffocate existing industries.

Independent brokers can lure the diaspora

Some Africans in the diaspora are not investing home because they still have grievances with their governments, depending on circumstances through which they ended up in the diaspora. Persuading them back cannot be done by government officials like Ambassadors. They need a different independent institution where they can present their ambitions for consolidation and matching with local businesses at home.  Those who were driven out by political reasons cannot immediately forget what happened and come back unless a neutral person or institution heals the wounds and builds new bridges.

It is no longer just about advertisement or hiring expensive public relations firms but understanding ecosystems that bring together commodities, interests, communities and people. A broker or Gwevedzo / Munyai will play a very important role in opening minds, clarifying opportunities and nudging people into positive relationship building. Fortunately, a Gwevedzo/ Munyai or mediator has always been part and parcel of African economies and societies for generations.  His/her role has traditionally been to connect and build bridges between families and communities. Even if parents may not like each other after accusing each other of witch-craft, the Gwevedzo/Munyai would ensure new relationships are rebuilt through marriages of their children if they fall in love.

How the independent broker can be supported

The independent broker should initially be supported by government and the private sector but once set up should have an independent business model.  The fiscus can only support start-up phases and ultimately the broker’s business model should include creating a fluid investment analysis portfolio which swings with the fast changing situation influenced by climate change, inflation as well as consumer taste and preferences. Tracking all this information for investors and policy review will become a source of income for the broker.

As part of directing investments, the broker should become part of the implementation arm for government investment plans. A government investment plan is meaningless without fluid trends of what is happening on the ground. The broker will ensure policy makers understand the big picture and its important details, both of which are often hidden from policy makers because they are not close to forces that are shaping the future of agriculture and natural resources. Through engaging with all actors, the broker becomes aware that people at the edges of the economy like SMEs and informal markets know more and have more real-time data than the people at the top of government or companies.  In this fast-paced economic reality, opportunities can only be explained through conversations guided by smart  neutral brokers. You definitely cannot have your cake and eat it.


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

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

Mobile: 0772 137 717/ 0774 430 309/ 0712 737 430