What if big organizations no longer have monopoly on knowledge?

Unprecedented disruption affecting the food retail sector across the globe is also spilling over into the knowledge industry. For some of the world’s biggest knowledge brokering organizations, gone are the days when a logo was enough to lure funding and command brand loyalty. For example, sources of agricultural and financial knowledge have become so diverse and deeply rooted that famous organizations are now fiercely competing with new smaller knowledge brokers in churning out innovative ideas, methods, models and tools.


As the war for talent intensifies, boundaries between formal and informal knowledge ecosystems are blurring. Small and previously unknown knowledge brokers are challenging assumptions and taking bold action. Rapid changes on the knowledge landscape are forcing big traditional knowledge brokers to either adapt and innovate or lose relevance. Young knowledge seekers are now quickly switching from one brand of knowledge source to another.  Consequently, traditional knowledge brokers that sit on the fence risk getting outcompeted by aggressive, fast-moving and forward-thinking competitors. Government departments are also not immune to these trends as they are contending with patterns of community self-organization that are empowering people to seek and make sense of knowledge from diverse sources.

Brand loyalty no longer an asset

Some of the keen knowledge seekers are young researchers who tend to perceive newer knowledge brands as more innovative, transparent and approachable than traditional knowledge brokers. This young generation dislikes complicated bureaucratic processes which often hinder them from obtaining information from government departments and other traditional sources. New and fast knowledge brokers are launching themselves onto knowledge platforms and connecting directly with millions of knowledge users in ways that further reinforce the idea that traditional knowledge brokers are becoming stale.

In the agriculture sector, fast-moving knowledge brokers now have access to more operational data than ever and can conduct sophisticated analytics to inform knowledge seekers such as farmers and traders in real-time. Where a traditional knowledge broker would take more than a month to conduct a nutrition survey and release critical insights, a dynamic knowledge broker can quickly synthesize evidence before information gets stale and inform traders, farmers, processors and consumers about food demand and supply patterns in time for decision making.

Competing through partnering

Realizing the fact that knowledge is now the most powerful intangible asset, some agricultural processing companies in developing countries are joining forces with dynamic knowledge brokers to rapidly amass consumer data and insights for quick decision-making.  For instance, a number of food processing companies are waking up to the importance of accurate information on different crops – availability, pricing, volumes, competing markets, payment terms and other factors. Since a lot of useful insights are found in competing spheres like open markets, dynamic knowledge brokers assist processing companies in understanding the entire market by availing data which shows where to play, how and if to play.

Food processing companies require an intelligent system that can be used at the hour of need. Such a system can avail data for planning and educating shareholders, most of whom are far removed from the action. The companies also wants to know invisible and intangible facts like the behavior of competitors, producers, competing markets, traders and other dynamics. Besides providing real-time evidence, fast knowledge brokers build relationships between processing companies and farmers, most of whom do not want to move from pillar to post looking for markets.

In addition to making the entire market ecosystem visible to processing companies, knowledge brokers provide interpretations like why prices are behaving the way they are. Without fast-moving knowledge brokers, processing companies risk missing multi-million dollar opportunities. Due to absence of efficient knowledge brokering services in some countries, many companies condemn commodities from farmers and suppliers when the ideal thing will be investing in educating value chain actors. A quick buck mentality often sacrifices long-term profitable relationships.


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

Of premature technology and information overload

Hundreds of mobile applications and technology platforms are launched in Africa almost every day, thanks to the promise of digital-fueled progress. Unfortunately most of the platforms (including those owned by famous mobile network providers) are trotted onto the market prematurely before sufficient pre-testing. There is also confusion between a platform, a portal, a Whatsapp group and a mere website. Instead of generating new insights badly needed for socio-economic development in many African countries, the proliferation of platforms is leading to unbearable information overload.


Long road to digital maturity

In spite of the hype surrounding platforms, technology hubs and hackathons, these are not yet able to deliver the kind of world-class digital transformation that can fuel productivity and economic growth in developing countries. For instance, digital technology is far from addressing the aspirations, concerns and fears of farmers and entrepreneurs in remote areas. Farmers in marginal communities can only imagine how digital technology can test their soils and water without them taking samples to the capital city where laboratories are concentrated. The same applies to livestock farmers who are still travelling long distances to district or provincial towns in order to get livestock movement permits in the event of selling or buying cattle. Unless digitization addresses some of these practical pain points, it doesn’t matter how many mobile network boosters are set up in rural areas or how many farmers are using mobile phones.

Fragmented value chains

Some of the main reasons for low levels of digitization in African agriculture revolve around the fragmentation of diverse value chains as demonstrated by how individual farmers, traders and other actors focus on discrete commodities. Additional enduring challenges include the long cycles of agricultural experimentation, poor connectivity in rural areas as well as complex ecosystems affected by weather—genetics, nutrition, water availability, soil composition and seasonality, among others. Digital technology development is yet to crack these intricate issues and as a result, the majority of marginalized people are yet to find advantages associated with digital technology. In fact, they remain consumers of external information than producers of local content.

ICTs and power imbalances

Those promoting ICTs are doing do so without considering power imbalances that underpin different socio-cultural contexts and could be increased through ICTs. If farmers and traders become digitally connected, it doesn’t mean knowledge gaps are closed because knowledge is influenced by deeper issues than cannot be addressed by ICTs. For instance, converting information and knowledge depends on people’s capacity to understand, interpret and absorb information that is flowing to them through social media and related processes. Information receivers must possess some cognitive filtering and structuring mechanism to sort out relevant information from irrelevant information. To the extent most farmers and rural people have a deficit in these skills, they accept whatever is sent to them through WhatsApp groups that are mushrooming everywhere.  That is why fake news is now an epidemic.

Need for nuanced reflection on what ICTs can and cannot do

While African governments and development agencies have embraced ICTs and digitization as a catalyst for development, there is need for a more nuanced reflection on the possibility that a focus on ICTs could be preventing broader discussions on authentic local challenges which cannot be solved through ICTs. The increasing faith in ICTs like mobile phones, mobile applications and the internet is an extension of the historical tendency by development agencies to privilege technology transfer as a solution to poverty. Yet in reality, developing countries have several social, political, economic and cultural barriers that cannot be solved by digitization and ICTs. In fact, there is evidence showing that ICTs are exacerbating inequalities in some communities, towns and countries as well between rural and urban areas.

Importance of defining a national digital vision and strategy

It is possible that if deployed properly, digitization can improve the quality of life for citizens by fostering greater civic participation, providing access to information, and offering new tools for health and education. Software entrepreneurs can also present solutions to complex public-policy problems, such as the creation of drought alerts through push notifications on mobile phones. However, successful national digital transformation depends on having a clear vision and defined goals, and then setting priorities. For governments, this means intimately linking digital to public-policy objectives and viewing it as a lever for achieving them. To establish a clear link between its digital vision and public value, each government should consider revisiting the country’s ICT Strategy and aligning it with the country’s current and future needs and priorities. If that is not done, the majority of people will not see the value of ICTs.




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