When poor communities start asking searching questions!

Although rural communities in Africa may not directly push-back donor support, murmurings of dissatisfaction with some development interventions are getting louder. Such concerns are being expressed when farmers meet in markets and farming areas. Some community leaders are mastering the courage to loudly reflect on how long they will continue relying on food aid when what they really need is support to unlock value from their local natural resources like underground water, fertile soils and rich biodiversity.


For development agencies and private companies that have been taking farmers for granted through predatory and extractive models, it seems such practices have reached their ceiling. News of farmers dumping milk and food on the streets in protest over poor prices have often come from other parts of the world like Europe and Asia. Such ways of revolting against economic injustice are slowly finding their way to Africa. Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe have been on the receiving end of poor marketing prices for decades. This year, for the first time in decades, smallholder farmers withdrew 98% of their crop from the auction floor in protest over poor prices. A video of a widow screaming and cursing the auction system went viral. These are telling signs that change is in the air. The days of economic injustice are numbered.

 Turning socio-economic wounds into wisdom

While anger has been simmering for years, many poor communities are now mastering the courage to share their nasty experiences with contracting companies, financial institutions, donors, NGOs and other proponents of external socio-economic solutions. Poor communities are finding ways of questioning the reluctance by development agencies to integrate grassroots experiences and wisdom into development interventions. Rather than continue to craft development interventions from the top, communities now expect funders to tap into wisdom from farmers, traders, rural artisans and rural agro-dealers who fully understand the micro-economic situation in local contexts where they remain quiet change agents.

Just as financial institutions and development agencies use many ways to gather information about communities and individual farmers, there is now an expectation for external agencies and investors to share their full profiles for the benefit of grassroots communities. This will assist communities and local economic actors to make sense of investors flowing into Africa, some of who are fly-by-night and briefcase investors. Instead of looking at everyone from outside as an investor and give him/her all the attention and information, farmers and SMEs need a mechanism for assessing so-called ‘investors’ so that they don’t waste time on speculators and predators.

Investor profiling will address many challenges and expose scenarios where financial institutions have been very dishonest in their dealings in ways that have impoverished communities and irrigation schemes. African institutions and individuals continue to waste a lot of resources responding to calls for proposals and most of this effort is misappropriated by outsiders. Several farmers narrate stories of how they have  been persuaded to grow export crops like baby corn, gooseberry and serenade chilly, only for the so-called exporters to change goal-posts and start hiding once the commodity is ready.

When are development agencies going to stop hijacking government departments?

This is another question being debated by farmers who have seen government extension services losing their mandate to NGOs in Africa. A fresh example is the Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS), which is being driven by NGOs when it should be the mandate of the ministry of agriculture and farmer unions. In a knowledge economy and a rapidly changing climate, agricultural knowledge and innovation are becoming national security issues just like food. That is why in developed countries agricultural knowledge and innovation is a fundamental government policy issue.

Conversely, instead of empowering government departments and farmer unions to productively handle agricultural knowledge and innovation, Western funders are channeling resources to NGOs whose presence in rural communities for decades has not changed lives. Where government departments are involved in such projects, their role is merely cosmetic and meant to open and close workshops as opposed to be in the driving seat.

  • How can a whole ministry with a permanent secretary and experienced directors allow agricultural knowledge and innovation to be hijacked and projectized by a string of NGOs merely because these NGOs have privileged access to western donor funding?
  • For how long will African governments continue allowing funders to set their agricultural and development agenda?


charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

What if policies are highly over-rated?

Policy makers in developing countries are often blamed for lacking the vision to craft appropriate agricultural policies that can guarantee food security and better standards of living for their people. While  good policies are considered magic bullets, there is no sufficient proof that countries that have developed their economies have done so through robust policies. In fact, success could be a result of many things of which policies are a small part. For instance, most developed countries have become successful through experimentation, improvisation and a strong thirst for innovation. Policies only responded to people’s ambitious creativity and fierce commitment to succeed.


Putting the cart before the horse

Contrary to what developing countries are being made to believe, policies, rules and regulations follow innovation, not the other way round. Unless you innovate and try things, you will not be able to know which policy instruments can propel or hinder socio-economic development. In the absence of other catalysts and secret sauces, good policies do not lead to development. Successful agricultural-driven economies in Africa achieved their status through aggressive innovation not policies which only responded to how entrepreneurs were seizing opportunities presented by natural resources. Gifted and talented people can create new things irrespective of bad or good policies.

 Giving yourself permission to make a difference

Instead of waiting for policy guidance, people should give themselves permission to think and innovate.  In African countries, the private sector is at the fore-front of criticizing government for not creating an enabling environment. Instead of upgrading their entrepreneurial skills, captains of industry have become cry-babies, always nudging government to protect them from Chinese investors who are more aggressive.  Some want special treatment like access to foreign currency in order to import raw materials that could easily be produced locally. Their refrain is that if they are not supported, they will retrench employees and cause a social crisis for government.

Why should serious entrepreneurs request government for foreign currency allocation when everybody else including farmers and traders are making do with available resources? Instead of reaching low and play it safe, entrepreneurs and captains of industry should strive to be remarkable.  They should not count on average strengths to produce remarkable results.

If people do not give themselves permission to make a difference, good policies will not go far. Instead of throwing resources on policy making processes, governments should just stop weighing people down with endless policy prescriptions, unless policy makers are keen on half-hearted compliance. Economic actors and development agencies that complain about poor policies seem to expect policy makers to be prophets or seers who can predict what will happen between now and 2030. Yet in reality, there are many factors outside policy makers’ control.

Rules and regulations that set boundaries so that there is no over-exploitation of resources are more important than policy documents that pretend to predict the future. Once boundaries are clear, everything else is permission. Good policies will not make people see opportunities if they do not have the motivation to excel.  It is not due to bad policies that many communities are not exploiting resources like water, good road networks, power and other abundant resources. Rather it is lack of imagination and capacity to innovate.  If you demonstrate a fierce commitment to making a difference, policy makers will not stand in your way.

In a changing climate, it’s a myth that government can craft policies that envision 2030.  Policy makers cannot predict the number of cyclones that will hit communities between now and 2030. For instance, within a week, Southern Africa has experienced cyclone Idai which wasn’t predicted a few weeks before.  This means organic policy making processes that enhance preparedness are more ideal as well as principles-driven policies in which knowledge plays a catalytic role.

The myth of research evidence to policy

Unfortunately, there is a growing cottage industry comprising institutions and people doing all kinds of research on evidence to policy and claiming that evidence is all that is needed for policy to be influenced. This industry is mostly patronized by academics and development practitioners fond of creating and multiplying terminologies that hide meanings from ordinary people. While technocrats are spending days in workshops trying to come up with land and agricultural policies, ordinary communities and farmers are already implementing some of the ideas being discussed in those conferences and workshops.

There shall be no time where everybody will say, “Now we have created a policy that caters for all needs.”  It is better to create the road by walking it. Empowerment is not about policy but infusing a practice of accountability and continuous follow-up.  Given that many policy makers do not have the exposure associated with critical thinking and effective decision-making, handing all policy decisions to them is like trusting a carpenter to fill a cavity in your tooth.


Charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Why do cities consume more food than rural communities?

While 70 percent of the population in most African countries live in rural areas, the bulk of food produced in rural areas is consumed in cities. There is still no clear explanation why most of the food produced in rural and marginal areas is consumed by a small population that lives in cities compared to that living in rural areas. It may not be surprising to discover that an average African city dweller consumers more than 50 kilograms of meat a year while the rural food producer may consume less than 10 kilograms annually. Some of these challenging inequalities require careful planning and evidence-informed strategies.


Besides minimizing food insecurity, this will greatly reduce rural to urban migration. By shipping most of the food to cities, African rural areas do not just deprive themselves of jobs and income. Most of the money generated by their commodities end up locked in cities. Development efforts that try to improve food and nutrition insecurity in rural areas through community gardens and other approaches will have created sustainable solutions if they help rural communities to keep the bulk of what they produce.

Handicaps to rural industrialization

To the extent, most manufacturing industries are located in cities – close to consumers with buying power – it is difficult for developing countries to promote rural industrialization through value addition and food preservation methods. Among some agricultural policy makers and practitioners, there is an emerging consensus to the effect that most developing countries may not be able to completely eliminate post-harvest losses which are said to be around 40%. The solution could be in changing people’s attitudes toward food.  For instance, even in developed countries with the best methods of processing and preserving food, losses are as high as 20% – mainly comprising food that is not eaten but thrown away.

We are not calling for development agencies to become industrialists or manufacturers but, instead of congesting the production side with disjointed food security projects, they should consider broadening their scope into rural industrialization and improving local food ecosystems. It does not help much if much of the food produced through diverse donor-driven financial inclusion initiatives end up being wasted or sparking the growth of the fitness industry as one of the unintended outcomes. Instead of processing food before it is consumed and creating more value and jobs, gyms and the entire fitness industry are replacing processing industry. This speaks to human failure to use food properly.

Exponential growth of the fitness industry

If cities in developing countries were good at utilizing food, we would not be witnessing the growth of the fitness industry. Every morning it is now common to see urban dweller in African cities like Johannesburg, Accra, Nairobi, Lagos, Kinshasa, Harare and Lusaka, among many others, joking along streets in order to burn excess fat. In addition to imported sedentary lifestyles, some of the reasons for the growth of the fitness industry relate to poor food choices. This is in spite of the availability of diverse nutritious food in developing countries.

While urban waistlines are bulging, such a scenario is not prevalent in rural Africa where malnutrition is common. Africa is said to be fast becoming a huge demand pool for the fitness industry with yearly memberships surpassing $1000 in countries where per capita GDP is just above $500 – https://annetteabena.com/the-changing-face-of-fitness-in-africa/. Sub- Saharan Africa’s most developed nation, South Africa has the highest density of gyms and health clubs on the continent. It is also the plumpest country on the continent with 61% of its people overweight or obese.


charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6

Who will be future winners and losers in African Agriculture

While many African countries are competing to lure investors into their agriculture sector, a lot still needs to be done in order to clearly identify winners and losers. A formula for winning in African agriculture https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/agriculture/our-insights/winning-in-africas-agricultural-market?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck&hlkid=d31b21d5ace243d3b2ce17001f2c9ca1&hctky=2883691&hdpid=235f0b4f-dc4a-4226-98ca-e6c36e7703cd is not yet revealing the extent to which smallholder farmers and other small value chain actors will benefit from Private-Public-Partnerships (PPPs), for instance.


Importance of taking into account economic and social factors at local levels

So far, there is some proof that PPPs are ideal for road construction, not for agriculture. Where market facilities have been set up, for example Johannesburg market in South Africa, it has largely been an exclusive private sector initiative. Winners under such arrangements are a few elite farmers and value chains at the expense of smallholder farmers in marginal areas and local markets.  PPPs should take into account circumstances of different farmers including those who have been forced into agriculture by push factors like retrenchment. This group can be classified as being in the social impact category and household-driven as opposed to career path-driven.

Due to the centrality of agriculture in African countries, agriculture is full of self-starters who have taken agricultural entrepreneurship as a career path. For most households, a large portion of agricultural income goes to cover social or household need as opposed to business requirements. There is also not much separation between business and family as well as between owners and business. Records are not separate from household income. Besides being agricultural-depended, the majority of agricultural activities are more of social enterprises, mostly informal and unregistered. However, their major strength is that their agribusinesses are sources of livelihood and there is no way they will want such businesses to collapse.  They just want to earn an extra dollar for meeting basic needs like health and school fees. They don’t grow much but continue thriving for years. PPPs should not upset these actors and ecosystems.

 Need to recognize profit-driven value chain actors

The needs of dynamic and profit-oriented value chain actors should also not be ignored under PPP deals. These value chain actors include agro-dealers and traders at different levels. Assessing this group can take into account cash flows, innovation, business competitiveness, environmental competitiveness, formality, market establishment, separation of business from family and out-reach. Active value chain actors need a lot of innovation in order to earn the level of profit that will sustain the business.  Unfortunately, in terms of funding and capacity building, financiers continue to look at traditional collateral and end up giving loans to people who do not need the money because they already have it. PPPs may end up financing people who are not business-driven but have all forms of collateral when it might be better to work with a few economic actors who have their niche markets.


charles@knowledgetransafrica.com  / charles@emkambo.co.zw / info@knowledgetransafrica.com

Website: www.emkambo.co.zw / www.knowledgetransafrica.com

eMkambo Call Centre: 0771 859000-5/ 0716 331140-5 / 0739 866 343-6