Zimbabwean media organisation focused on encouraging & participating in progressive national dialogue

Translating Common Sense Into Agribusiness Models

Knowledge generation and sharing has been happening in every community since time immemorial. However, there has not been enough recognition of the way knowledge is structured from individual knowledge to household knowledge to community knowledge and to inter-community knowledge sharing. The way most African communities engage with knowledge is different from academic learning where one can read and write and one plus one equals two. Local community knowledge is a mixture of real time experiences and wisdom such that one plus one can equal to three or four.

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Reciprocal knowledge sharing

At community level, knowledge is dispersed among many people and situations in ways that make it challenging to measure the amount of knowledge held by individuals or communities. Someone knowledgeable about something is not sure whether people in need of knowledge are in grade one or at secondary level in terms of their knowledge requirements. Usually community knowledge sharing is driven by common interests, trust and relationships. That is why some knowledge is left alone and not shared while some is shared under restrictions. In most African agrarian communities, knowledge sharing has a reciprocity tendency characterized by receiving and giving.  Some of the knowledge is locked in existing Communities of Practice (CoPs) due to absence mechanisms and systems through which trust and relationships can be built for anchoring a system of reciprocity.

When does knowledge become common sense? 

In most cases, this process begins as hidden or private knowledge generation and gets to a stage where it is shared through trust and relationships.  In some cases it starts as gossip, shared through a trusted grapevine before it is accepted as reality.  It also begins as individual knowledge and eventually moves to become community knowledge on the way to becoming common sense.  The longer it circulates in a community the more it is validated and improved. The knowledge assumes a common sense identity because it is a community resource used by everyone in the community. However, the notion of common sense versus knowledge is subjective because what is common sense to someone is knowledge to someone else. That is why understanding knowledge gaps is very important.

What is common to a livestock community can be valuable knowledge to a community that thrives on crops. That is why a knowledge broker is important in addressing cases where a community may undervalue its knowledge on the pretext that such knowledge has become common sense to community members. Many people do not see their common sense or knowledge as a strength. In these situations, the role of the broker is to identify knowledge gaps and be on the lookout for cases where communities ignore their own knowledge in search of outside knowledge whose efficacy has not been tested locally.

Common sense building blocks

Each community has its knowledge reserves which determines how local people grow crops, rear livestock, co-exist with nature and cope with a changing climate. Much of the knowledge is intuitive and cannot be explained academically. Unfortunately, current community development models start by searching for hidden community aspects when they should start from what is common in a community, for instance, relationships and collective wisdom. External knowledge should be sought when local knowledge has been used to lay the foundation.  When building a house, you start with mobilizing local resources such as rocks, sand, water and other resources before looking for tiles which are not found locally. One of the main challenges is lack of structured knowledge sharing conduits from grassroots to policy levels.  As a result, useful hidden knowledge remains invisible to many actors.

Agricultural common sense

The production of some agricultural commodities in many developing countries is now based on common sense. Such commodities include necessities and staple foods like grains (maize, sorghum, millet, rice, etc.,.), vegetables (leafy vegetables and tomatoes), tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, cassava and taro), livestock (goats, cattle, pigs, rabbits, poultry and others). Producing these commodities has become common knowledge such that producers can now learn from each other. Anyone interested in producing any of these can find more information in less than 30 minutes.  From a marketing perspective, most farmers know price ranges of these commodities and can make choices in line with available resources. Given the ubiquitous nature of the knowledge, producers should be allowed to see knowledge for themselves rather continue to be spoon-fed. The only difficulty requiring some bit of sophisticated knowledge can be timing of production and marketing, especially peak market periods because these are often externally-driven and require knowledge replenishment.

Where knowledge could still be lacking is in the production, utilization and marketing of high value commodities such as peas, squash butternuts, apples, gooseberries, mushroom and other knowledge-intensive commodities. Some producers could still be unsure about the differences between butternuts and pumpkins or the nutritional value of peas, among others. What also determines the commonness of knowledge is the fact that some high value crops are not produced everywhere but in specific regions or conditions like greenhouses that are not common to every producer. It means knowledge associated with these commodities will remain uncommon. Yet tomatoes, poultry and beef can almost be found everywhere, making their knowledge common sense.

The power of knowledge-driven classification

eMKambo has figured out that one way of differentiating public agricultural knowledge from commercial knowledge is fully understanding the demand side. From eMKambo experiences, a farmer looking for price information is new to the game. The one who asks for market trends is at another level.  At another level is the one who asks for business plans. Another category is interested in export markets.  This categorization reveals the extent to which the notion of common knowledge or common sense is subjective and depends on context.

Taking matters to the next level, eMKambo has designed a classification system that gives knowledge weights based on a number of factors including: (a) startups (those actors entering the value chain for the first time); (b) those who need information for decision-making, either for entering or leaving a value chain, (c) those focusing on the growth of their businesses, (d) those who need knowledge for policy review, (e) those who need knowledge for buttressing their competitiveness in a particular niche, and (f) professionals who want to improve their expertise in the business instead of leaving everything to workers. The classification goes on to seek answers to questions such as: For whom are you seeking knowledge? Have you recently retired and now seeking knowledge that will strengthen your agricultural practice as a new career path?  Do you want knowledge that will position you as a versatile budding entrepreneur?  Are you keen on knowledge that you can use for advocacy purposes?

The value of consolidating common sense and knowledge at community level

Traditionally, African communities had ways of classifying knowledge that informed criteria for measuring knowledge in the community. Roles and responsibilities were based on understanding knowledge classes and patterns. That is why someone good with livestock was known in the whole community. In the current digital era, digitizing local knowledge without building local common sense and knowledge blocks is half the solution. Besides risking the privatization of local knowledge, digitizing community knowledge into mobile application may de-contextualize it if the human factor is removed from the process. Common sense has to be contextualized through knowledge centres where it can move fast to where it is needed.

For community knowledge to remain common sense, digitization has to be based on common sense blocks which determine different knowledge levels. Having built its own knowledge base, a community can seek external knowledge to complement what exists. Climate change should not be introduced as a community project because outsiders cannot bring solutions. It is better to help communities to manage their own climate knowledge in ways that build their capacity to select what is useful. African communities are losing a lot of their common sense which comes back as new knowledge. This is happening mainly because knowledge champions in each generation disappear before their experiences are captured, archived our turned into community rituals and practices.

In a community of 6000 people, it is important to classify existing knowledge in order to avoid sending the same electronic message or piece of knowledge to everyone. Each community comprises people at different knowledge stages. Some are retired headmasters and professionals who need different knowledge from ordinary farmers whose literacy levels may be low. Unfortunately, African mobile service providers and technologists are not investing in proper segmentation so that content and knowledge sharing can be properly tailored. Everyone continues to be subjected to the same short message service irrespective of cognitive level and needs, merely because they have a mobile number.

The writer Charles Dhewa can be contacted on the following details: charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

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