Free flowing information will ensure policies are backed by fresh evidence
What has constrained the capacity of African countries to translate politics into economic development is paying lip service to the true value of information. For instance, the majority of African countries have not put in place systems for collecting data and information in ways that take advantage of existing structures from the grassroots to national level. This is seen how most governments wait for development agencies to finance data collection, analyses and utilization.
Shortage of curiosity for abundant information
Information is always abundant in communities if the right questions are asked and if proper systems of collecting it are put in place. Given the high literacy levels in most African countries, simple tools can be designed for community leaders to collect and send information with no need for researchers or statisticians to visit communities and ask generic questions. While most interventions by development agencies happen within three to five years, real impact shows up from five years onwards when most project funding has ended. That is why relevant government departments should have detailed information about each development agency’s activities so that such information is used to track impact from each project. Most development agencies are willing to share such information when it is requested but government departments often lack the appetite to ask for such information, preferring to generate their own information.
A possible winning structure for fluid data collection
Agricultural content is everywhere. What is only in short supply is curiosity on how that content can be used to improve lives. In most African countries, information is not published into documents or journals but kept fluid within people, communities and relationships. The same way soya bean or sunflower is processed into cooking oil and other by-products is the same way ideas should be processed into knowledge and information.
Information has to be co-created with farmers, SMEs and marginalized communities whose lives should be transformed through better evidence. Such co-creation can follow the following steps:
- Identifying key informants at local level, mainly active farmers and traders in local markets. Community markets often do not have too much diversity such that a local trader is likely to sell an assortment of all commodities demanded by local consumers. By patronizing 20-30 commodities, a single trader can be aware of sources and market trends for each commodity.
- Capacitating local farmers and traders to provide information on commodity supplies, units of measurement, prices, sources and challenges.
- Capacitating farmers and traders to compile a database of farmers, traders or buyers who can end up evolving into members of a dynamic information and knowledge platform.
Given changes that are happening across African agro-based economies and food systems, knowledge brokers are needed to consolidate what is happening in such flat and fluid economies. That is how economic actors can end up belonging to structured information and knowledge ecosystems.
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