Learning from Invisible CoPs: The role of informal actors and relationships in African food systems


Climate change-induced food insecurity and global socio-economic instability compels us to continuously revisit   food demand and supply models, especially in developing countries. Conventional approaches like the notion of formal value chains are no longer enough to fully understand food systems. In many African countries, it seems invisible Communities of Practice (CoPs) such as informal markets offer new pathways of forging new relationships and interpreting realities around food. Rather than present food as a mere market commodity, these CoPs demonstrate the extent to which food is linked to people’s identities. On the other hand, modern value chain approaches seem limited to the economic sense and tend to over-simplify soft issues like knowledge, trust and relationships. Yet in most African informal markets, knowledge sharing adds more value than processing commodities into finished products. By fostering knowledge exchange between different commodities and people, informal markets build national food baskets supported by different food sources and values.


However, we cannot talk about food demand and supply models without mentioning the convening power of cities and urbanization. African cities like Harare, Lusaka, Nairobi, Maputo, Kampala, Kigali, Accra, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Lilongwe and Johanesburg, to mention just a few, provide larger ecosystems in which CoPs innovate, mingle, share and combine ideas from different vantage points and traditions. These cities draw together key sectors and economic drivers such as producers, transporters, buyers, processors, input suppliers, development agencies and government departments. Important players in this nexus are rural councils which are also contending with rapid urbanization.


KM4Dev gathering: Harare – 25 – 26th July 2017

Knowledge Transfer Africa (www.knowledgetransafrica / www.emkambo.co.zw) and its partners will be convening a Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) gathering in Harare (25 – 26 July 2017). The event seeks to inspire various actors and disciplines to engage and learn from the practices of informal food CoPs that connect production areas with urban consumers. While relationship-based food demand and supply models are increasing in many developing countries, lack of coherent knowledge pathways limits the extent to which these CoPs can influence development practice, theory and national food policies. Part of what remains unknown and unappreciated are informal food CoPs’ motivations, dynamic practices and contribution to regional and international food systems as well as the role of cities in food demand and supply.


From farmers to consumers or end-users, more than 70 percent of African food passes through informal food CoPs in informal markets based in cities. These CoPs and markets have become powerful sources of knowledge for farmers, traders and other actors. During the Harare KM4Dev gathering, participants will be immersed in Mbare Informal food market in Harare where more than a dozen knowledge pathways have been identified: farmer to farmer; farmer to trader; trader to farmer; trader to trader; farmer to transporter; transporter to farmer; trader to transporter; consumer to farmer; consumer to trader; trader to financier and many others. The event hopes to generate reflections and answers to the following questions:


  • How do informal food CoPs respond to the needs of diverse consumers and knowledge seekers?
  • What could be the potential role of culture and cities in shaping food demand and supply models?
  • To what extent do existing theoretical approaches and concepts around food speak to the peculiar roles of informal food CoPs, urban centres and traders?
  • How do informal food CoPs and traders negotiate power and neutralize the politics of food?
  • How can the development sector harness informal knowledge sharing pathways that are used by the majority of African food producers and suppliers to make decisions?
  • What can we learn from the way knowledge travels through cities and informal food supply models?
  • How can we recognize invisible CoPs that make informal agriculture markets resilient?
  • How can we use the KM4Dev toolkit and other approaches to learn from the informal food market?


When the event is over, our collective achievements should include the following:

  • We will have discovered new and immediately useful sources of agricultural knowledge that is all around us.
  • We will have explored and applied the Wenger-Trayner value creation framework with a local knowledge perspective.
  • We will have explored the role of cities in empowering the participation of CoPs in food supply and demand models.
  • We will have inspired new theories and interpretations of the social, economic, ethical, cultural and political characteristics of food systems.


Event Structure

Day 1: 25 July 2017

  • Introductions and why we are hear –  Charles Dhewa
  • Learning visit to Mbare Informal Agricultural People’s market.
  • Experiences from Uganda – John Kaganga
  • Experiences from Zambia – Lutangu Mukuti
  • Test-drive Wenger-Trayner Value Creation framework


Day 2: 26th July 2017

  • Recap of Day 1
  • The role of urban centres in food distribution and economic development – Mr Livison Mutekede, Secretary General – Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ)
  • Small grains value chains video – KTA and IMC- BEEP
  • Story-telling (weaving food stories and local music) – Renowned Poet and Story teller: Chirikure Chirikure and Mbira music from local female Mbira musician – Hope Masike; story about how the local Mbira music.
  • The notion of Knowledge Cities and Knowledge Societies – Catherine Piloto and Charles Dhewa
  • How Big Data and Social Media can surface knowledge in Informal Agriculture markets – Open Space Discussion led by the African Capacity Building Foundation.
  • Tying loose ends and conclusions.




Monomotapa Crown Plaza Hotel, Harare – https://www.visitzim.com/hotel/crowne-plaza-hotel-monomotapa/


For more information:

Charles Dhewa

Chief Executive Officer

Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA)

Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/712 737 430

Email: charles@knowledgetransafrica.com / charlesdhewa7@gmail.com ? dhewac@yahoo.co.uk

Website: www.knowledgetransafrica.com / www.emkambo.co.zw  Skype: charles.dhewa

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