One of the main problems in African countries is the absence of systems for collecting data and information in ways that take advantage of existing structures from the grassroots to national level. Almost every country’s ministry of agriculture has officers from ward level to national level whose daily roles include gathering, processing and sharing information. When such information is not prepared and shared in alternative formats other than circulars and minutes, development agencies engage consultants to collect information that should be flowing daily through government structures.
COVID-19 is quietly re-defining the role of agricultural extension agents to be value adders of local information. Very soon development agencies that are fond of engaging consultants to conduct time-bound researches (two – six months) will be getting such information from government extension systems without going to the field to ask farmers the same questions asked by local extension officers. After all, consultants collect information from the same informants (farmer to minister) who should be providing information to a system in a fluid way rather than waiting for consultants to request for it.
Answers are as good as the questions asked
Information is always abundant in communities if the right questions are asked and proper systems of collecting it are put in place. Local leaders are always ready to collect and send information if the right tools are provided. Why look for money to conduct a vulnerability assessment when information is always there and flowing fluidly from the grassroots to the head office and back?
Compared to European countries, in African countries with small populations like Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe compared, it is possible for the NGO to people ratio to be less 100 people to one NGO – more than the farmer to extension worker ratio which is said to be 1:500. Why is poverty increasing when we have so many well-intentioned NGOs? When COVID19 is over, we should be able to take stock and find out how each organization addressed the pandemic while fulfilling its mandate.
Systematic challenges around knowledge
Many development agencies working in Africa are getting information for free from intermediaries by hiding behind the fact that their policies do not allow paying for knowledge. They insist on either paying for food, accommodation and transport as a proxy for paying for the knowledge held by workshop participants. To what extent is food and transport enough compensation for knowledge? To the extent critical thinking and knowledge generation quickens the development of products and provision of services, people with such skills and knowledge should be recognized the same way someone whose knowledge is used to produce a tractor or any equipment is valued because such knowledge saves costs.
Paying for processes through which information is gathered should recognize the holders of information. Communities and markets are examples of living literature that is constantly reviewing knowledge and keeping it fresh as well as fluid. Lived experiences have to be recognized and valued more than literature. That includes gurus in African mass markets who are always guiding young people to find their purpose.
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