In most developing countries, decisions that affect farmers and rural communities are often made by policy makers and development agencies, who do not reside in those communities.
BY CHARLES DHEWA
However, digital technologies are revealing the benefits and possibilities of improving the quality of services by moving decision-making to where impact is felt.
For instance, using mobile phones to provide information that allows informal markets to make their own decisions has created the right conditions for agricultural success unlike trying to impose formal operational and communication procedures.
Toward an evidence-based local economy Sporadic agricultural assessments and research initiatives by different organisations with no central repositories for their findings and outcomes hinder informed decision-making. This also leads to waste of resources and losing track of important trends, for instance from one crop harvest to another.
There is a tendency to conduct one assessment before the planting season and another assessment after harvesting. In such cases, the most important trends that are missed include consumption patterns between these two assessments, as well as losses between one harvest and another.
It seems data collection focuses on quantities of the major crops harvested, with no regard for different uses and losses associated with those commodities.
Yet a community can harvest a lot of commodities like maize or sorghum, but become food insecure quickly due to absence of other income sources. Households are forced to trade all their commodities to meet school fees and other critical needs.
Enabling communities to identify their priorities
African rural and farming communities are not always waiting for outsiders to help them. They are innovating and coming up with solutions to their own challenges.
That is why development organisations should not just bring their own ideas, but start by identifying each community’s development priorities. eMKambo has realised that a critical capacity building component is assisting communities to value their own local resources before looking for external resources.
A monetary value for local commodities and resources can be easily determined through a culture of gathering evidence over time.
Each community can be able to know how many tonnes of grain or number of livestock it is trading per month or per year.
While African national revenue authorities are more interested in private companies declaring their annual sales, a lot can be gained by compelling local communities to do the same.
If properly collated and consolidated, local data can show the extent to which some communities are much bigger than some famous private companies listed on the stock exchange.
In the new knowledge economy, a national balance of payment should not just be expressed through volumes of imports and exports at the exclusion of socio-economic activities at community levels where enormous value is exchanged.
Some communities bring in more external resources than others, while those that continue to lose resources or commodities may signal the need for nearer communities to assist their neighbours before selling everything to far-flung areas like urban centres.
Without a culture of data collection and analysis, it becomes difficult to pick all these trends.
Local coping strategies and new rules of engagement
Development interventions should be built around each community’s existing coping strategies. That is why a centralised community data collection system is very important.
Such an important role cannot be left to national statistical agencies which, apart from taking long to process and provide data, find it difficult to disaggregate evidence down to community levels in ways that resonate with local people and their contexts.
Tracking data along value chains can make it possible for communities to see differences between volumes of commodities going to the market and those remaining in households for local consumption. How much is consumed locally, how much is lost along the way and how else are some of the volumes being utilised?
Data and evidence can also be used to inform new rules of engagement. Existing laws and by-laws in most African countries are no longer relevant in the new hybrid economy comprising formal and informal ways of working.
On the other hand, new value chain actors are more willing to participate in the formation of new rules and legislations. This implies crafting new socio-economic legislations can no longer be a preserve of members of parliament, most of whom are far removed from the new economy and related wisdom.
If you see the majority of economic actors breaking and bending rules, that signals limitations of conventional rules.
Welcome to new literacies
Although formal education continues to receive all the attention, the new hybrid economy is demanding new literacies that include emotional intelligence, socio-economic literacy, digital literacy and bio-empathy, which involves learning the principles of nature to develop leadership styles.
Nature works in cycles like seasons, not straight lines like logical frameworks. Farmers, who are quickly mastering the principles of nature, can cope better with a changing climate. They can also build more reliable early warning systems than those who depend on limited sources of knowledge.
Unfortunately, policymakers and development agencies are struggling to recognise structures within the new hybrid economy characterised by unique executives and communities of practice.
While formal chief executive officers, whose companies now constitute less than 10% of national economies, continue to receive training in governance and other formal practices, new executives and leaders in the new hybrid economy are not receiving any training commensurate with their new roles.
In the past decades, cultural literacies used to anchor most African communities from which there was a transition to formal work-related literacies such as apprenticeship. These taught a person one trade until s/he retired to start surviving on the proceeds of his/her pension.
Currently, most Africans are retiring into agriculture, but there have not been efforts to develop literacies that can transition people from one career to another, for instance, nursing to agriculture.
New literacies have to be developed based on local contexts. In addition, financial institutions in developing countries also need new literacies if they are to continuously upgrade their relevance in the new economy.