In addition to absence of appropriate information at the right time, lack of knowledge retention mechanisms is a big challenge for African farming and rural communities. Unfortunately, most resources continue to be directed at the dissemination of ideas from policymakers and development actors.
As a result many development interventions remain projects at the end of which communities go back to their usual practices. This situation would be addressed by clear pathways through which communities can integrate knowledge from outside with their local knowledge in ways that foster reliable knowledge retention.
With increasing urbanisation, many African youths are migrating to cities and this means elders have no one to hand over their practical wisdom to. As elders retire from active agriculture or die, critical knowledge goes with them. As if that is not negative enough, most African rural communities do not have libraries where knowledge artefacts can be kept for recall and adaptation.
Given the rate at which human beings forget important details, it is not ideal to depend on human memory to retain all the knowledge needed by a community to function in the modern world.
Community resilience is not just about availability of natural resources and food, but relevant knowledge which has to be retained and transferred to the next generation. Such a role cannot be left to formal educational institutions which are full of textbooks from elsewhere instead of people’s lived experiences.
Establishing community knowledge centres
Intentionally setting up community knowledge centres should be part of each community’s knowledge retention and transfer strategy. That will reduce risks of communities losing all the knowledge the way their soils lose nutrients and water, so much that nothing can be produced to sustain lives for a long time.
Many communities have abundant natural resources that people are failing to exploit because they have not been able to retain the most important knowledge to which they have been exposed.
Critical knowledge to be retained through a community knowledge centre include important decisions that have been made by the community collectively in the recent past, knowledge priorities for the community as well as ways through which communities address their challenges. A community should be able to retain a certain minimum amount of knowledge and wisdom in order to function dynamically.
African youths as drivers of modern knowledge retention methods
Youths’ exposure to various learning approaches can help them in setting up knowledge retention mechanisms for their communities through gathering what needs to be retained in community knowledge centres. It takes skill, curiosity and progressive attitudes to ask the right questions for surfacing community knowledge. That is why one youth from a community can fully describe his/her community to outsiders, while the other may not see anything worth describing. It is about imagination, interest and skill.
Curious and determined youths can start the knowledge gathering process through conversations with community elders, experts and opinion leaders. They can then scan their local environment to identify socio-economic drivers that keep the community hanging together.
Every community has Communities of Practice through which people with the same interest learn together and deepen their practice. In most cases, these local communities of practice can be invisible and have to be unearthed by someone determined to reveal stories behind the stories.
Having figured out the wealth of existing knowledge, youths can capture and document using various methods including Information and Communication Technologies. As part of building ownership and resilience, this initiative should not entirely depend on the donor life support system.
If most development interventions had knowledge retention part of their community investments, many African communities would have pulled themselves out of poverty.
Climate smart agriculture and other approaches being promoted will not go far in building community resilience if there is no commensurate effort in supporting communities to retain knowledge. Besides people’s natural tendency to forget important details, knowledge has a tendency to leak as much as it also tends to stick.
There should be strong initiatives in ensuring retention of critical ideas necessary for important decision making.
Retaining critical knowledge enables a community to reduce risks to manageable levels and prevent situations where a community’s basic coping mechanisms have to come from outside.
Towards authentic community knowledge assets
Having gathered the most important knowledge, community youths can produce a number of knowledge assets by converting common sense into operational manuals that, for instance, demonstrate how a community can use its natural resources without depleting them. Stories of local champions and role models constitute some of the knowledge assets. Instead of relying on generic farming as a business
manuals, communities can develop their own process manuals and guidelines that speak to their context.
Although most development organisations love to use words like ‘sustainable development’, much of the information being pushed to communities through development interventions is too general and irrelevant for achieving authentic sustainable development.
Knowledge becomes a common good when local people participate in its co-creation. By producing many documents with their own logos inserted on cover pages, most development agencies are presenting knowledge as if it is their private property. Even if stories in those publication are about local people, it is difficult for local people to identify with the final artefact in the form of a book or publication produced for the world to read.
Addressing haphazard knowledge sharing
Knowledge retention efforts can address the current scenario where the majority of African smallholder farmers are haphazardly informed about agricultural markets. In some cases, existing markets do not take enough volumes or are so choosy that most commodities from smallholder farmers are not taken up, leading to loss of potential income.
What is presented as a market by policy makers is for very few commodities like maize and flowers. Very little of what farmers really need to know gets to them. The rest is either half-truths or misleading advertisements designed for profit maximisation by those pushing such messages.
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