Posts Tagged ‘vcd’

Lowering the barriers to effective communication is the key to sustainable development

KnowledgeOne of the challenges that we discovered during our multistakeholder workshop in The Hague a few years ago was that people tended to fall back on their expertise when faced with the discomfort of empathizing with farmer’s needs. Particularly so when the farmers in question were from Africa, and not from their own regions.

Our design visualization team – Jam visualdenken – captured one element of how this barrier manifested. Experts talked a lot about “Knowledge” being the key to effective agriculture value chain development, and how it was critical to transfer as much of it as possible. It became this big thing shoved at the ‘global South’, with little thought given to how it would be transferred, much less how relevant and appropriate the “knowledge” would be. A silver bullet, or a panacea.

Today I came across this article from Zimbabwe – “Limitations of using documents & reports to share knowledge in Africa” and I could immediately perceive the author’s deep understanding and empathy of their own local context and needs. Here’s a snippet:

While African communities have learnt from each other for generations, the conventional way of trying to spread knowledge through case studies is not yielding sustainable results.

There is an assumption that technical people can get into a community, work with local people, document their successes and share success stories with other communities, leading to adoption of best practices.

This notion misses a thorough understanding of how communities learn from each other. Almost all rural African communities rely on collective sense-making through very patient conversations, observations and learning by doing.

This led me down the rabbit hole of the authoring organization‘s website, where I came across a blog worth following for their deep understanding of the African agricultural landscape and the information needs of the farmers. Here are two selected blogposts from their site:

From farmers and traders to knowledge artisans

[… ]motor mechanics and metal fabrication are now part of the informal sector.  Previously locked in formal systems, these skills are now being unpacked and applied in informal markets.  This is leading to the integration of indigenous knowledge systems into formal knowledge sharing pathways. 

Since indigenous knowledge is more customer-oriented, it results in the production of needs-based products, tailor-made to meet the needs of diverse customers.  For example, ploughs and hoes are made as per customer requirements unlike the previous mass production ethos in the formal sector which had little consideration for existing draught power dynamics in different farming communities.
[…]
Technology and digital tools do not know empathy and why it is important.

Why some approaches and technologies are not moving beyond early adopters

A lot can be learnt from remarkable ways through which African socio-cultural systems generated and shared knowledge. There were reliable conduits for sharing knowledge from one age group to another, one gender to another and one society to another.  Besides respected knowledge brokers, each community had sense making tools linking different communities of practice. Some of these methods and tools included rituals, idioms, metaphors, stories and various forms of apprenticeship.
[…]
This is exactly what our modern knowledge systems lack. We have not cultivated proper ways of sharing the rich information/knowledge from schools, colleges and university curricular into diverse African communities.  There is an expectation that this knowledge can be shared by students after graduating. However, a lot of what can be useful in communities is either forgotten or misapplied.  More than 70% of ordinary Africans who function through their own languages, values and norms have no way of meshing what they know with the formal education system.  In most cases, their cultural values are still considered barriers to academic knowledge which is being confused with modernization.

Unless we develop verifiable ways through which knowledge is questioned, shared, rejected and value-added, it remains stuck within various communities of practice.  Such knowledge will have less developmental impact than anticipated. Academics continue to be locked in their systems, speaking to each other while farmers and rural communities continue holding onto what they know works. As if that is not enough, the language used for crafting policies in most African countries is not suitable for use by the majority but for lawyers and judiciary systems who can interpret it.

The formal sector and economic development: A lesson from marketing

Pursuing the thoughts introduced in the previous post further, I looked up the original reference on “formalization of the informal sector”1.

Alan Gelb, et al. 2009. “To Formalize or Not to Formalize? Comparisons of Microenterprise Data from Southern and East Africa.” CGD Working Paper 175

“…in East Africa, weak enforcement of tax payment and no significant difference in access to services between formal and  informal firms means that these variables do not explain the allocation of firms across the informal-formal divide.

We conclude that in countries with weak business environments, informal firms are just as likely as formal firms to increase their productivity as they grow.

Thus,  interventions to increase productivity and lower the cost of formality may be helpful.”

The question comes back to what is the benefit of formalizing when the costs associated with it do not offer any additional services, such as reliable electricity, for instance, that offset the investment.

Formality only becomes a barrier when new market opportunities require paperwork – a formal sector customer, or a chance to export.

“…improvements in the business environment in East Africa are potentially more valuable in changing the balance of benefits and costs from formalization, and so encouraging small firms to formalize and grow.”

Really, what seems to be the case is that instead of pushing individual entrepreneurs to formalize, it is their operating environment that must be tweaked in order to attract them towards formalization. As long as there’s little difference between the formal and informal sectors of the economy, there is no incentive to invest in the relatively expensive and cumbersome process.

The key insight here is that the current day efforts to push towards formalization, must instead transform into a pull towards formality.

If indeed we’re now seeing the end-users as customers of our services, then we must market the benefits in order to attract them. This has implications for the durability, and thus, sustainability of programs and initiatives, beyond the life of the project.

With the nuanced shift in perspective offered by Gelb et al, we can also see the role that human centered design can play in this journey. Who better to identify what customers’ need and want?

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Collapsing the sustainable agricultural value chain of commodities with a single tweet

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Tony Addison of UNU-Wider, in Helsinki, just tweeted this photograph, expressing his pleasure at seeing Rwandan coffee at his favourite coffee shop, Roastery.

I retweeted it and within minutes, Josh Kariuki proudly tweeted that his neighbourhood Gachatha coffee, from Nyeri county in Kenya, was being sold far away in Helsinki, Finland, by name.

The next thing you know, the entire sustainable agricultural commodity value chain had collapsed between end customer and the shambas where it was grown. All it took was one tweet.

There’s a lot to be unpacked here, for those of you following along since the days I was in The Netherlands working on the sustainable agricultural value chain development project with the Dutch MFA. One of their deeply held desires had been that the end customer and the farmer should know who each other was, separated as they tended to be, by continents and seas.

The source of our familiar morning coffee is a mystery to most of us, and it changes the way we think about products and their pricing, not to mention the value we place on someone’s hard work, when we come face to face with the source. I appreciate this experience that social media offered me today and wanted to share it with you.

A design challenge for agric service innovation in rural Africa

Find a way to embed principles of sustainable good agriculture for the smallscale farmer in a socio-economically beneficial way.

drawing credit: herman weeda

drawing credit: herman weeda

How would we do this?

Where do we begin?

The answers to these questions and more will be forthcoming on this blog. I reach out and encourage you all to consider submitting your thoughts and opinions between 1000 to 1500 words in length. We will combine the thoughts of many voices together in this blog stream so you really should consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Food security: time to think of the small scale farmers

This article was written by David Indeje (@DavidBurudi) and was first put on the internet on West FM. It has been republished here with his kind permission.

Daily chores, rural Kenya 7 February 2012

Kenya 7 February 2012 photo credit: Niti Bhan

Agriculture is the essence of life, but it seems leaders are not getting the idea as farmers continue to experience the effects of climate change and in their own innovative ways, are rapidly adapting. A walk in various farms of Western Kenya farmers, many reiterate that, they have witnessed unpredictable weather conditions with long spells of drought and irregular rains that have had a negative effect on their lives.

“By May, our maize crops would have tussled after we had top dressed but we are still planting or weeding for the first time. The planting season is over and we are not sure if we will have the yield we anticipate,” the farmers lament.

Christiana Figueres, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Fund Council Chair and Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank Inger Andersen, during the COP 16 meet in Caucun, Mexico, noted that agriculture is an area that needs to be moved into the negotiations.

“The story about agriculture is one that is on everybody’s mind,” she said; “agriculture needs to be positive for people, positive for productivity and positive for climate.”

Improving agricultural productivity is the key for reducing poverty in the country. A global consensus has emerged that agriculture must move up on the global development agenda, and that investment in agriculture, especially smallholder agriculture, must be increased if the twin goals of poverty reduction and food security are to be achieved.

In fact, if Kenya is to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, the agriculture sector needs to grow much faster and maintain annual growth rate of 6.2 percent. This requires that we work on every single aspect of the agriculture production chain from regenerating depleted soil, using better seeds and more suitable fertilizers, whether organic or industrial, to drastically improving the quality of so-called extension services that support agriculture. It implies working on marketing and storage issues, road infrastructure and financial services.

Only by tackling all those aspects at once, involving both the public and private sectors, will we manage to improve agriculture productivity in a sustainable way.

One consequence of this neglect is the appalling state of rural infrastructure in Kenya. This leaves rural areas, which have the potential to feed the more than 40 million hungry people, cut off and isolated. Kenya has only exploited a fraction of its irrigation potential, and the density of rural roads today is a fraction of what Asia had in the 1950s. As a result, farmers rely almost exclusively on rain-fed farming and face exceptionally high transport and marketing costs that makes a shift to more efficient farming unprofitable.

Kofi Annan, Chairperson of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), has acknowledged this isolation:

“The average African small holding farmer swims alone. She has no insurance against erratic weather patterns, gets no subsidies, and has no access to credit. I say ‘she’ because the majority of small-scale farmers in Africa are women.”

Access to farm inputs is critical in increasing farm productivity.

Current use of agricultural inputs and financial services is low amongst smallholder farmers in Kenya. Small-scale farmers in rural areas of Kenya have not been able to access financial services for acquiring farm inputs among other needs to improve farm productivity. This is partly due to low density of financial institutions in rural areas; inappropriate financial products; high cost and high risks of lending. Smallholder farmers adjust by resorting to informal credit, reduction of farm inputs, sub-optimal production techniques, and borrowing from family and friends.

This limits the investment in farm equipment and capital as well as other agricultural assets and inputs. As a result, there is need for practical assistance and capacity building to be provided by the private sector. Secondly, financing rainwater harvesting projects through micro-credit organizations that appear to be a sustainable delivery vehicle to enabling communities address the challenges of access to water and sanitation. In addition, small-scale farmers concentrate on low risk, low return activities because they cannot access start-up capital and cannot transfer system risks.

Kenya, April 2013 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan

Kenya, April 2013

As a result, there is low agricultural productivity among smallholder farmers. Low productivity attributed to inadequate use of production enhancing technologies and inputs such as fertilizers has led to food insecurity amongst the smallholder households and worsen unemployment and poverty. Credit is an important input into the production system and it contributes to increased food productivity. Access to credit increases the farmer’s working capital enabling the farmers to buy productivity enhancing inputs such as good quality seeds, fertilizers and chemicals. The challenge for agricultural financial institutions is to develop low cost ways of reaching farmers, especially smallholders.

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Kenya, April 2013 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan

There is need for farmer’s education to sensitize them on existing and new technologies they can use to improve production. This is especially among the rural farmers. Eventually, this would help in strengthening and establishing producers and traders unions: providing farmers with professional advice, current market information and input results in an organized way; controlling market price and products; providing farmers with loans at lower interest rate; and improving transportation, storage and processing standards.

The establishment of supportive policies such us offering of subsidies or free medical schemes to highly productive units per given farming year; or scholarship packages for children and adults of the unit according to the minimum production percentage given for eligibility for the same (this is meant to curb problems of rural children finances of education as well as reduction of poverty).

More food must be produced to contain the impact of soaring prices on poor consumers, and simultaneously boost productivity and expand production to create more income and employment opportunities for the rural poor. Smallholder farmers must have proper access to land and water resources and essential inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.

To ensure that small farmers and rural households benefit from higher food prices, a policy environment that relaxes the constraints facing the private sector, farmers and traders, must be created. That would mean reversing the decline in the level of public resources spent on agriculture and rural development and investing more in agriculture.