From individual rewards to community incentives

Socio-economic challenges facing many developing countries are revealing the shortcomings of rewarding individual performance. Most problems have become so complex that individual people or organisations cannot solve them alone. In agricultural-driven economies, rewarding agricultural performance should be seen to be moving from individuals to community incentives. That’s one of the indicators of knowledge sharing.

Incentives such as prizes for best performance should increasingly be shared at community level.

The more incentives are broadened to cover the whole community, the more knowledge is shared.  If you incentivize one farmer and expect more than 2000 other farmers to come and learn from him/her it means the farmer will have to stop farming and concentrate on hosting all these learners. If everybody adopts knowledge in a community it becomes easy to incentivize the whole community.


Starting with the neglected and misunderstood

Rather than continue focusing on well-up farmers or a few business people, a remarkable knowledge sharing initiative should focus on elevating the needs of the neglected, the mistreated and the misunderstood whose experiences are rarely part of a community’s socio-economic consciousness.  Input suppliers should not just give inputs to one successful farmer who is already doing well from his/her own resources.  If a seed company or equipment manufacturer wants to prove that its inputs are viable, it should target the under-privileged who do not have resources.  For example it can establish a demo plot at a widow’s farm or a field owned by child-headed households. Food security challenges are more severe in vulnerable households than in lead farmers who have become the preferred conduits of knowledge sharing by seed companies and other technology providers.

Value chain actors as Communities of Practice

In as much as there is a tendency to reward individual players/farmers, in the current complex environment, winning is a team effort.  A winning farmer always works with the local community where some members provide labour and other services.  As communities of practice, farmers learn through regular interaction and co-creating knowledge within the community. Communities of practice are as much knowledge-creating mechanisms as they are knowledge-sharing mechanisms. However, meaningful groups of farmers should not grow beyond 50 members. Above 50 people, discussion becomes difficult and the community of practice start to fragment according to specific commodity interests.

 Community knowledge as collateral

It is important for financial institutions to build agricultural financing models around communities as opposed to individual members of a community. They have to consider community knowledge as collateral not just individual knowledge.  Focusing on community knowledge also means moving beyond conventional ways of communicating agricultural information which tends to focus on news and general information. When a successful farmer hosts a field day where the Minister of Agriculture attends and presents him/her a prize, that is news.  Knowledge comprises a broader analysis of the farmer’s context.  For instance, how many farmers from the same farming community are learning from him/her and can produce the same volume of commodities?  To what extent is the community in which the farmer stays able to produce enough to feed itself and for the market? How is the whole farming community addressing malnutrition?

These are some of the most important knowledge questions supporting superior decision-making at both local and national levels.  It is not enough to have one or two farmers in a community of more than a thousand producing maize or a few chickens.  Knowledge generation is about quantifying the total experience in a farming community. How farmers and traders spend their professional time is an important part of knowledge.  It shows they are engaged in the search for solutions to demonstrable problems.

The power of longitudinal research in fostering adaptive capacity

Without longitudinal research, decades of excellent service by farmers go unrewarded. Agricultural markets where evidence is available can provide a good idea of where commodities are coming from.  Such information can then be used to support production in areas that are doing well so that they can continue feeding the rest of the country.  This means the market can tell you a great deal about each area’s economic drivers and potential.  From these insights, agricultural shows should be built start in local areas such as wards and villages. Investment opportunities and proper resource utilization become easier to identify.  Scarce resources can be prioritized using evidence from the market.

To create farming communities that are human in their capacity to adapt, innovate and engage, knowledge brokers must find ways to infuse some of the most mundane agribusiness activities with deeper, soul-stirring ideals.  They must strive to develop an authentically home-grown vocabulary for farming communities to communicate their ambitions. The only way we can inspire farmers and other value chain actors to extraordinary accomplishment, is by promoting the language of honour, truth, love and justice.  This can no longer be relegated to the fringes of development action and discourse.  / /

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