Addictive tendencies associated with food and knowledge in developing countries

When consumers can no longer do without cassava, nsima/sadza, matoke, tomato, beans, peas, among other foods, it could be an indication that the consumers have become addicted. Such addictive tendencies may have little to do with the food being a staple or a necessity. The way profit-oriented seed companies and manufacturers promote their seeds or finished products in most developing countries is designed to encourage such addiction. There is a narrow distinction between tastes & preferences and addiction.

A community is most likely to be addicted to a commodity that it ranks more highly as a necessity. It is not about income but the fact that people can no longer do without the particular food. In addition, commodities around which communities have become addicted within clusters of consumers become necessities which they cannot live without. Such commodities also become price inelastic. Any percentage increase in the price of the commodity will not translate to a greater decrease in demand because the commodity has become a staple.  Cost will not affect consumption because each household or community already eats a given volume or quantity. In the same vein, a percentage decrease in price will not result in more percentage increase in supply or consumption. For instance, a decrease in the price of maize meal will not cause consumers to eat more nsima/sadza merely because it has become cheaper.

 Implications of people consuming the same commodity for a long time

The longer the period people are exposed to certain food baskets, the more tastes and preferences are  developed and embedded.  The body adjusts and makes the food part of its system. To the extent the body can no longer do without a certain food like nsima/sadza, it becomes addicted to that food. Staple commodities often have clearly defined demand patterns in terms of volume. Any surplus over the defined demand is a waste. This is where gathering evidence becomes critical in terms of showing each commodity’s demand patterns and extent to which such a commodity has become a staple within each consumer class. Such evidence will prevent cases where surplus food goes to waste but open avenues for value addition and exporting.

Addictive food clusters need to be known because they also define food baskets for various niche market. Demand does not fluctuate so much irrespective of price. People will not eat more commodities because there is a new state of the art market. Investors and policy makers need to know these issues at a granular level because they influence potential investments. Such insights also reveal the stability of demand for particular commodities as well as stability of Return on Investment (ROI).

The contextual nature of food baskets

Contrary to the way policy makers in developing countries try to characterize and quantify the Poverty Datum Line, for instance US$600.00 per household, it is a myth to try and have one food basket for the entire nation. Different grassroots communities have their own addictive food components which they demand most of the time. For instance, people in high production zones may have their own food baskets in which addictive elements may constitute 70% of the food basket.  Anything that comes from outside becomes a luxury which they can do without.

Supply side addictive tendencies

While addictive tendencies tend to be more visible on the demand side, the same patterns apply on the supply side. For instance, key determinants that drive food production include knowledge and skills among food producers, available resources and climatic conditions. How these factors are used determines over-production or under-production. However, as farmers continue to produce over many years, their practices stop being about skills, resources, knowledge or climatic conditions but passion turned into addiction to particular practices. That is why it is difficult to wean some farmers from cotton production, coffee production, cocoa production, tomato production, maize production and tobacco production, among other commodities they have become addicted to producing.

Questions for policy makers and development agencies

To what extent are agricultural production practices being promoted in developing countries determined by farmers’ addiction to certain crops, livestock and other related production practices? What capacity is within the addicted farmers?  How are farmers under-utilizing or over-utilizing their capacity?  To what extent has agricultural knowledge in developing countries become locked in addictive tendencies along agricultural value chains? In some areas, specific commodities like maize no longer do well but farmers continue producing because they have become addicted to the knowledge associated with maize production so much that it is now difficult to unlearn and create space for new knowledge related to new crops and livestock. Examples of addictive processes including farming as a business and farm field school. There is also a bandwagon effect in production where some farmers just copy and imitate others quietly. Besides surprising the market, bandwagon producers disrupt the passion-driven producers.

Colonial influence

Some production and consumption patterns were largely influenced by colonialism. For instance, in Zimbabwe, the Land Apportionment Act of 1923 laid down the foundation of production practices by demarcating land according to natural regions, soils and land sizes, among other factors.  Knowledge for producing specific commodities like sugarcane, flowers, tea, coffee and tobacco became concentrated in areas where these commodities were said to be ideal. Knowledge about livestock production became concentrated in Matebeleland while cotton production knowledge was more in Gokwe and Muzarabani, among other dry regions. On the other hand, by producing and consuming maize, communities became addicted to maize.

However, production was also driven by directives where those with resources influenced the production of particular commodities like cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, coffee, maize, beef cattle, flowers, etc. This also became addictive from a skills perspective. That is why trying to change farmers’ mindsets has become a decades old challenge.  Most farmers have also become trapped in debt cycles through addiction to contract farming models. Even if they may have their own resources, many farmers cannot imagine achieving meaningful yields without a contract company. Another increasingly powerful addiction is to ICTs, especially mobile platforms like WhatsApp. Many young farmers no longer want to think for themselves or digest information before forwarding it around. More time is spent on mobile phones than on productive pursuits.  / /

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Asking and answering fundamental questions through informal markets

Street markets or roadside food markets have remained a permanent feature in most developing countries. The fact that these markets continue to flourish alongside emerging shopping malls shows they occupy a unique position in commercial activities.  Informal markets were previously designed for disadvantaged, low income households with ad hoc incomes who were considered not able to buy from supermarkets and formal value chains.  However, spending years in the informal business has seen some of the traders and vendor upgrading their standards to cater for diverse consumer classes. Consequently, informal markets are now part of a business growth path comprising food chain stores, hotels, restaurants and formal institutions.  In order to stay in this game, traders and farmer have been compelled to acquire a certain level of tertiary knowledge, resources and entrepreneurial skills.


On the other hand, this evolution in markets has brought its own challenges in many African countries where agriculture continues to be the backbone of the economy. The formerly employed and pensioners with reliable sources of income have been attracted to moonlight in informal markets, pushing out poor and low income traders in whose name informal markets were originally set up. Instead of being a domain for the poor, informal markets are now for every business-minded individual. Most of these markets have become part of solid business value chains able to ensure consistency in supply as opposed to ad hoc participation in the market.

Solidifying the aggregation role of informal markets

African food markets are no longer just seasonal events where farmers come to the market according to seasons.  Middle class farmers who have embraced farming as a business are now found in the market consistently since they have built niche markets that have to be continuously served. In order to consolidate its aggregation role, each informal market now requires resources to be able to ensure necessities like potatoes, vegetables, eggs, fish and other commodities are always available.

As niches become highly competitive, ad hoc traders and market participants are being pushed closer to the supply side like road side markets in farming areas and village markets. In these areas, ad hoc traders become small aggregators with just enough resources for pulling a few resources from farming areas.  Once in a while, marginal traders can go to big urban markets where they buy a basket of banana and a crate of tomatoes for selling in local markets where these commodities are not produced.

Need for middle class markets

With urban informal markets becoming part of regular value chains, the need for middle class markets, different from supermarkets or food chain stores has become more urgent in many African cities. New land uses, accompanied by investment in agricultural value chains by different classes of actors, are producing more commodities than can be handled by supermarkets and informal markets traditionally meant for the poor. This has seen many of the commodities overflowing into street sales, some sold from stationery vehicles and makeshift market stalls. Middle class markets from which food chain stores, processors and even exporters can get commodities consistently represent the future of agriculture in developing countries.

Almost everyone now knows how to produce commodities but very few know how to deal with perishables once they have been harvested. Neither are many producers able to anticipate the speed at which consumers consume and come back to buy or re-order.  Ministers, members of parliament, bankers, lawyers, accountants, university professors and other professionals interested in agriculture are all competing in producing and selling agricultural commodities through informal markets when they should invest in building a middle class market of their own.  How can a whole minister compete to sell cabbages in the same informal market with grandmothers struggling to feed orphans?

Need for careful characterization of markets 

In addition to congestion in most informal markets, there is limited differentiation in terms grading and quality. For instance, the prices of a box of tomatoes can range from $1 to $8 in the same informal market yet such a market should be for low income consumers and traders. A trader who sells fruits for $1, another  one who sets a price by counting the number of fruits in a pile and yet another one who sells for $10 for the same commodity quantity, are all found in one market.  While this is good for diversity, it inhibits definition of business boundaries.  Absence of proper clustering means you cannot separate classes or good products from bad products.

Clear characterization and classification can support the evolution of a middle class industry and ensure the definition of Micro, Small, Medium and Large does not just remain on paper.  Different classes should be in specific locations – building layers of one enterprises on another. Where these classes are all in one space, micro and small enterprises end up being over-shadowed by medium and large actors.  It should not just be about numbers of actors in one category but different capacities.  Some commodities can have differently entrepreneurial capacity, quality, standards, formality like registration and markets. For instance, those in processing industries may not want to see commodities being delivered in baskets.

Appeal to a broad section of the middle class

There is need for middle class traders, saving the up-market and farmers like pensioners with high capacity to produce more volumes. For most pensioners, farming is the next career step so they should have appropriate markets. Most pensioners have resources and need a market that can ensure good return on investment (ROI). Some have built networks in government institutions, hotels and even foreign markets. For instance former ambassadors in foreign countries need a market that acts as a holding centre before they connect and ship commodities to their networks in foreign countries. They cannot use informal markets or their farms as holding centres.

Agribusiness is no longer for the uneducated or illiterate. It is now export- focused and a career path for many people. With high literacy levels, it means a lot of ethical considerations like licensing, book keeping and other formal requirements are critical. Unfortunately, governance approaches in developing countries still focus controlling than enabling the growth of local informal economies. Public expenditure is also not taking these markets into account. Collecting and sharing evidence can assist in positioning informal markets for public expenditure. Government input programs tend to absorb a lot of the public expenditure but incentivize corporate industries. Informal markets are different from shopping mall-driven models where people are working long hours for low wages.  On what terms are smallholder farmers in developing countries participating in contract farming models and value chains?  In most cases they are just providing land, cheap labor and pushed into debt cycles for the sake of obtaining inputs. An integral part of informal food markets is the capacity of people to mobilize and exchange food commodities, informed by an intuitive cultural value of food.  / /

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ANALYSIS:What has gone wrong with the groundnut market in Zimbabwe?

Groundnut has traditionally been a famous cash cow in Zimbabwe. Many Cabinet ministers, captains of industry, academics and bankers can testify to have gone to school because their parents were able to raise school fees through groundnut production and marketing.

From those who knew him, the founder of Zimbabwe’s largest poultry company Irvine’s Day Old Chicks, is said to have built his poultry enterprise on the back of groundnut marketing. Over the years, seed companies used to produce diverse varieties of groundnut seed. Many agro-dealers used to participate in groundnut aggregation, grading, packaging, selling and processing into peanut butter or cooking oil. The role of the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was clearly defined as a major buyer of groundnut.

Since the above is now almost history, smallholder farmers, traders and consumers have devised numerous coping mechanisms to sustain groundnut production and marketing. Since seed companies have shunned groundnut seed production in preference for hybrid maize, farmers have resorted to producing their own seed on-farm and recycling some of the seed.

However, where it is not done properly, recycling of groundnut seed results in low yields and poor quality. According to groundnut producers in Murewa, groundnut loses its purity and seed qualities when inter-cropped indiscriminately. Farmers have to plant groundnut for seed in separate plots. The farmers blame Gypsum for polluting the purity of some local groundnut varieties.

The cost of production has also not worked in favour of local farmers resulting in commercial processors resorting to importing groundnuts from Malawi which lends in Zimbabwe at $700 – $800/ton. Given high cost of inputs, local farmers would find it viable when they sale at $1000/ton.

A positive aspect for farmers is that processors and consumers prefer local groundnut varieties such as Kasawaya whose taste and oil content is said to be far much superior. Given these positive aspects, one would expect development organisations that provide food aid in the form of cooking oil to promote local production of high oil content groundnuts rather than importing.

A key challenge in groundnut production has remained lack of proper identification, resulting in too much cross-breeding. For instance, a large groundnut variety which came from Zambia through Mbare market is now grown in Mwenezi district of Masvingo Province. Farmers plant different varieties on the same piece of land, resulting in massive cross-pollination. The tradition of exchanging seed remains very strong among farmers. Many farmers do not know much about Gypsum while on the other hand, fertiliser suppliers promote use of Compound D and C in groundnuts, even in dry areas where fertilisers rarely desolve in the soil due to lack of rainfall or water.

This is worsened by lack of extension support on groundnuts as a cash crop. Farmers lack sufficient knowledge on expected yield by variety, types of varieties, market demand and scientific names of varieties.

The majority of groundnut varieties are identified by local names. A groundnut called Kasawaya in one area is called Tumbe or Chimhandara in other communities. Sometimes names are used

interchangeably. In Masvingo Kasawaya is called Chinzungwana. There is also confusion on whether Natal Common is what farmers call Kasawaya. In the absence of clear identification, new people entering into groundnut production and marketing may have problems understanding the value chain.

As with other crops, farmers who produce groundnuts are making sense of a changing climate.

Traditionally, groundnuts are planted by mid – October. Now that it is mid- November, farmers are using their local knowledge to decide which variety to plant given that the season has become shorter.

Since commercial seed houses are no longer producing many groundnut varieties, the informal market has become a major source of seed. Perhaps irrigation schemes can play a big role in groundnut production particularly those with reliable supply of water. Fresh groundnuts start coming to the market end of October from irrigation schemes. Winter production of groundnut may go beyond just supplying seed but also income for dry land production.

The role of the informal market

The informal market has become a major player in the groundnut value chain because it presents a ready market with farmers paid cash. This market has also become a reliable source of groundnuts for small and medium scale peanut butter processors and farmers who want to buy groundnut for seed.

This development has presented a paradigm shift in the role of traders who are no longer just selling groundnuts but also advising farmers on what variety to plant as per consumer demand. With at least 90 percent of households in Zimbabwe consuming groundnuts, they need knowledge on the effects of aflatoxins. Traders have some bit of knowledge on aflatoxins.

Major local sources are Murewa, Mutoko and Buhera. External suppliers are Malawi and Zambia.

Common varieties found in Mbare market are Tumbe and Kasawaya. This season, there is a rare variety called White Bob which comes from Buhera. The demand for groundnuts in the market varies from time to time, and on whether they are shelled or unshelled. From September to May, demand surpasses supply and this has seen a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts fetching $22 compared to the on-season when a bucket goes for $15. Fresh groundnuts show up on the market end of October to early November, going for $8 per bucket. During this period, the demand for fresh groundnuts exceeds supply.

Major sources of fresh groundnuts are irrigation schemes in Mutoko and Murewa. When demand is high, some farmers buy groundnuts from fellow farmers using barter trade with clothes, groceries, school uniforms and stationery among other items. This is how high volumes are obtained for the market where large quantities are required. According to Mai Tariro a farmer from Murewa, through barter trade, a pair of school shoes is equivalent to a 20 litre bucket of shelled groundnuts.

Consumers buy groundnuts for peanut butter processing, for eating (whether boiled, raw or roasted) and for seed. The main customers for Mbare are the general public, vendors and traders from other markets. Some farmers who used to sell to big companies have since stopped due to disagreement on payment terms, grading system and other issues.

Companies prefer buying in kilogrammes while farmers prefer selling in buckets. Farmers also tend to mistrust weighing scales which they think are manipulated by buying companies. According to some traders, groundnuts from areas like Rusape tend to have more aflatoxins. However, those from major supplying areas such as Mutoko, Murewa, Buhera and Mt Darwin are afro-toxin free. Another observation from traders is that groundnuts that are treated for storage, the way GMB does it, end up becoming toxic if they stay with the chemical for too long.

Farmers and traders have agreed on their own grading. Three grades are used mainly in the form of counts. The counts are count 5, 6 and 7. Count 5 is the biggest in size and often used for making peanut butter, as well as count 6. Count 7 is the least in size and often used as seed. Traders usually sale count 5 and count 6. Interestingly the prices are just the same when selling per bucket.

Traders who bring groundnuts from Buhera, Murewa, Mutoko and Mt Darwin in bulk store in the market and in local houses. Preservatives like insecticides are used to prevent attack from weevils. A few traders who have tried to import groundnuts said imported groundnuts are usually of poor quality as shown by the price. For instance, a bucket of Malawian groundnuts was fetching $15/bucket against $21 for local groundnuts in October 2014. Peanut butter produced by local small scale processors is sold at $1/bottle while commercial processors, some purchasing groundnuts from outside, charge $1.50/bottle.

Although it has lost some of its glamour, groundnut remains both a cash crop and a wholesome food.

It substitutes a lot of foods – relish, cooking oil, lotion. The full potential of groundnut is yet to be exploited. If targeting high oil content, Kasawaya is far much superior but has low yield on the land.

Once groundnut is fully exploited, consumers can divert money they are currently using for purchasing cooking oil to other needs. Value addition initiatives have to be supported. Some processors have started creating blends such as Maputi nuts. There is also increase in cooking and drying fresh nuts which are then sold. A big question from groundnut value chain actors is: How can breeders come up with a high yielding high content groundnut? – eMkambo

*eMkambo is a market-driven agricultural solution platform. You can contact the writer on the following emails: OR

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.

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0772 137 717 / 0772 137 768

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.


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.  / /

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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.



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.

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How can we measure the cost of lost knowledge in the agriculture sector?

One of the enduring challenges in African agriculture is defining effective metrics to measure the value of knowledge. In most agricultural value chains, knowledge is not considered a cost component. Farmers and other value chain actors consider inputs, labour and equipment to be the only elements in calculating profit. Excluding knowledge, which is apparently becoming a key component, results in under-costing of the production process. This gap is often seen when commodities are already in the market competing for customers. emkambo

A useful entry point in measuring the cost of lost knowledge is the market where economic loss is shown in the poor quality of agricultural commodities vying for customers. In the market, losses are incurred because less or inappropriate knowledge was applied.  This can be in the form of poor market information, standards and varieties grown.  The cost of production can be $30 but the farmer who expects to get $40 in the market ends up getting $20 due to poor quality of his/her commodity compared to others in the market.  That translates to $10 loss for the farmer.  On the other hand, where appropriate knowledge increases the cost of production to $35 and enables the farmer to earn $40 in the market that will translate to $5 profit.

From principles and figures to knowledge seeking

A common trend in most farming as a business training programmes is immersing farmers in  principles and figures rather than knowledge seeking.  If a five day workshop is converted into monetary terms, the Return on Investment (ROI) will be much less in the absence of knowledge on how markets work based on relationships and trust building. In workshops you pay for accommodation, food, transport and facilitation.  On the other hand, in a knowledge ecosystem like the informal market everybody contributes their knowledge. Millions of knowledge nodes are exchanged daily between farmers, traders, transporters and consumers without charging for knowledge.  This invisible knowledge translates to improved productivity, incomes, commodity standards, quality of commodities and quality of life.

Investing more in knowledge than static skills

The introduction of ICTs is providing a crucial platform for knowledge sharing.  Most production ingredients tend to be given and static.  For example fertilizer application, water requirements, etc.,.  But knowledge is often fluid and has to be constantly sought and updated.  This is where ICTs become very important. In a knowledge economy, farmers and value chain actors need to invest in knowledge than static skills which characterised the dying economy. The good thing about knowledge is that it is not all about literacy.  Farming as a business focuses on calculations and multiplications yet such an approach leaves a huge gap on how people can participate not only from an academic angle.  By not taking into account how people receive and share knowledge, farming as a business courses are becoming a blunt instrument.

 Taking a leaf from Africa tradition

In most African communities, knowledge is scattered everywhere.  There is need for actors who can consolidate the flow of this knowledge in ways that mimic how traditional economies were kept going through oral tradition and knowledge sharing. Each African community or clan had elders and institutions serving as custodians of knowledge.  At a certain age, one could get knowledge from specific people. From the conventional economic perspective, we no longer have such robust knowledge sharing pathways. The impact of knowledge absence is felt in the young generation because they do not have models for knowledge sharing.  Traditionally we had a smooth knowledge sharing pathway through practice. For instance, young boys would be trained to tame cattle through farming practices. That is how leadership qualities were also identified.  We are now using money to jump-start youths to become entrepreneurs without having gone through rigorous life skills-based apprenticeship.  In universities and colleges, most courses operate as silos.  Farming as a business should be more about the process of knowledge sharing as opposed to a five day workshop.

Incidents where Knowledge is Lost

The market provides a good formula for assessing the cost of lost knowledge where the quality of commodities determines economic gain or loss.  As a result, consequences of inadequate knowledge become visible in the market when commodities start competing. The market can also reveals incidents where knowledge is lost. This is where the knowledge that was once available to farmers, a farming community or farming organisation fails to reach people who needed to act upon it.  For instance, local communities may have a lot of practical knowledge about coping with drought but policy makers may disregard such knowledge leading to poor policy formulation.

Some of the lost knowledge incidents can include poorly organised workshops where farmers are not given an opportunity to ask questions or reflect on their own experiences.  A lost knowledge incident is only visible when a mistake is repeated or a capability lost.  While most of these incidents may be undetected, it is possible to measure them through surveys and careful analysis of lesson learned systems.  Farmers can tell you many examples where projects failed because lessons were ignored or missed.  The cost of lost knowledge in the agriculture sector should decrease as knowledge sharing systems improve.  / /

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