The high costs of ignoring local knowledge
The developed world looks at Africa only as a source of natural resources like land, water, raw materials and labour not a source of knowledge. In the same vein, African governments see rural communities as sources of raw materials and cheap labour, not sources of knowledge. By ignoring local knowledge, African countries continue to spend billions of dollars importing what can easily be produced locally. And that includes finished goods, vaccines and knowledge. If imported knowledge was relevant and easy to domesticate, by now African countries would be producing their own processing technology, vaccines and even exporting to other parts of the world.
In spite of being rich with indigenous knowledge, rural communities lack actors and support services that can facilitate packaging of this knowledge so that it can be integrated into modern sources of knowledge. If communities are endowed with natural resources but lack knowledge and information on how to transform those resources into better lives, such resources are not valuable to local people. Many research findings produced by academic institutions and development agencies do not find their way back to communities for improving decisions and practices.
Potential of existing structures
There is scope for taking advantage of local structures. For instance, African rural communities already have structures and pathways through which information and knowledge is shared continuously. However, such structures and pathways do not receive policy support in terms of technical and financial resources. All the support goes to formal structures like government departments, elected members of parliament, local authorities, development organizations and the mainstream media. Much of the information generated in formal structures is not simplified enough for use by ordinary rural people. For instance, formal structures at lower levels generate information for reporting to higher level structures but there are no pathways for rural communities to access such information although these communities are sources of information.
Recognizing local knowledge retention nodes
It has become clear that African communities thrive on diverse knowledge retention nodes that development interventions should take into account. Conversely, formal education systems have failed to provide reliable knowledge retention mechanisms that are participatory enough to embrace local knowledge. For generations, African communities have realized the value of keeping knowledge fluid and participatory as part of enhancing knowledge retention. Keeping knowledge fluid is a smart way of adding value by getting everybody involved unlike a few people seating down to write a report excluding people who will have contributed ideas and perspectives. When every contributor is involved, it reduces the problem of always starting afresh.
As African economies grow and external investors come to seize opportunities, strong local knowledge retention systems will minimize the danger of knowledge becoming privatized for the benefit of a few enterprising individuals. In the agriculture sector, knowledge retention is more than repeatedly teaching farmers how to grow particular crops or keep livestock but also capacitating them to provide accurate information in terms of volumes and planting plans because they are the ones who lose from inaccurate information. Policy makers will assume there are shortages and open borders for opportunists to bring commodities that are already available in farming communities, knocking down prices. Farmers and communities can only see how things are evolving when they are seamlessly informed in ways that enhance decision making and knowledge retention.
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