Limitations of using documents, reports to share knowledge in Africa

18 Aug, 2016 - 00:08 0 Views
Limitations of using documents, reports to share knowledge in Africa Almost all rural African communities rely on collective sense-making through very patient conversations, observations and learning by doing

The Herald

Almost all rural African communities rely on collective sense-making through very patient conversations, observations and learning by doing

Almost all rural African communities rely on collective sense-making through very patient conversations, observations and learning by doing

Many well-intentioned organisations and people are being frustrated by the shortcomings of using case studies, most significant change stories and conference presentations in spreading success from one African community to another. Most reports produced by several consultants are not making a difference due to multiple reasons (known and unknown).On the other hand, more than 90 percent of knowledge in African communities has not been codified into documents. This knowledge can never be adequately shared through codified information but through contextual conversational processes.

To worsen matters, several institutions in Africa continue to confuse information with knowledge. Information officers are simply being re-branded knowledge officers.

Characterising and storing information for easier searching through portals and websites is not knowledge management but information management. Most of the information in many organisations and government departments is not knowledge.

Documents such as memos, minutes from meetings and technical reports fulfil transactional roles. They can only tell you what has been done but not what has been learned. Yet knowledge is about learning not informing.

Where codified knowledge exists in documents, it is scattered in many organisations, projects and programmes. No resources are directed at pulling all these fragmented bits together into a body of useful knowledge. Resources continue to be wasted on tons of documents confused with value-added knowledge.

From documents to multiple interpretations

While African communities have learnt from each other for generations, the conventional way of trying to spread knowledge through case studies is not yielding sustainable results.

There is an assumption that technical people can get into a community, work with local people, document their successes and share success stories with other communities, leading to adoption of best practices.

This notion misses a thorough understanding of how communities learn from each other.

Almost all rural African communities rely on collective sense-making through very patient conversations, observations and learning by doing.

Multiple interpretations that cannot be fully captured through documents are shared in ways that clarify differences between actions and outcomes.

Knowledge exchange happens through rich data pulled from a variety of media to construct fresh meaning.

Where documentation takes advantage of a few senses, community knowledge exchange processes exploit all human senses.

In the majority of African communities, you cannot just hope to get valuable knowledge through interviews and writing up responses.

While successful farmers can give you explicit information, they will not be able to explain tacit knowledge gathered through actual implementation of activities. This practical wisdom is tied to context.

There is a risk of missing the most important implementation nuances when you try to document. A field visit where visiting farmers see crops and livestock already doing well is not useful for the visitors if they are not immersed in the real process of producing such commodities.

With regard to incentives, conventional documentation processes give more credit to the documenters instead of implementers of knowledge such as farmers, traders and rural artisans.

Consultants are rewarded for asking questions and producing reports while farmers and other informants are often not rewarded at all. Trying to use technical documents such as consultants’ reports to convey the tacit knowledge of farmers, traders and local communities leads to a very flawed outcome.

Irrespective of whatever method they use to gather information, consultants and experts will never gather and convey enough contextual issues that make a community successful.

Instead of pouring all the money into consultants and researchers, development organisations and government departments should set aside resources for communities to share knowledge with each other through various back and forth adaptive processes.


Sustainable farming: Small steps to a big tomorrow


Sustainable farming or in a broader term, sustainable agriculture, is using farming practices considering the ecological cycles. It is also sensitive towards the microorganisms and their equations with the environment at large. In simpler terms, sustainable farming is farming ecologically by promoting methods and practices that are economically viable, environmentally sound and protect public health.

It does not only concentrate on the economic aspect of farming, but also on the use of non-renewable factors in the process thoughtfully and effectively. This contributes to the growth of nutritious and healthy food as well as bring up the standard of living of the farmer.

Our environment, and subsequently our ecology have become an area of concern for us over the last few decades. This has increasingly led us to contemplate, innovate and employ alternate methods or smaller initiatives to save our ecology.

One such initiative is sustainable farming. It simply means production of food, plants and animal products using farming techniques that prove to be beneficial for public health and promote economic profitability. It draws and learns from organic farming.

Sustainable farming or sustainable agriculture helps the farmers innovate and employ recycling methods, this apart from the conventional perks of farming. A very good example of recycling in sustainable farming would be the crop waste or animal manure. The same can be transformed into fertilisers that can help enrich the soil. Another method that can be employed is crop rotation. This helps the soil maintain its nutrients and keeps the soil rich and potent.

Collection of rainwater via channelling and then its utilisation for irrigation is also a good example of sustainable farming practices.

Benefits of Sustainable Farming

Environment Preservation

Economic Profitability

Most efficient use of non-renewable resources

Protection of Public Health

Social and Economic Equity

Sustainable farming methods or practices

Let us see various methods or practices of sustainable farming in detail:

1. Make use of Renewable Energy Sources: The first and the most important practice is the use of alternate sources of energy. Use of solar, hydro-power or wind-farms is ecology friendly. Farmers can use solar panels to store solar energy and use it for electrical fencing and running of pumps and heaters. Running river water can be source of hydroelectric power and can be used to run various machines on farms. Similarly, farmers can use geothermal heat pumps to dig beneath the earth and can take advantage of earth’s heat.

2. Integrated pest management: Integrated pest management a combination pest control techniques for identifying and observing pests in the initial stages. One needs to also realize that not all pests are harmful and therefore it makes more sense to let them co-exist with the crop than spend money eliminating them. Targeted spraying works best when one need to remove specific pests only. This not only help you to spray pest on the selected areas but will also protect wildlife from getting affected.

3. Crop Rotation: Crop rotation is a tried and tested method used since ancient farming practices proven to keep the soil healthy and nutritious. Crop rotation has a logical explanation to it — the crops are picked in a pattern so that the crops planted this season replenishes the nutrients and salts from the soil that were absorbed by the previous crop cycle. For example, row crops are planted after grains in order to balance the used nutrients.

4. Avoid Soil Erosion: Healthy soil is key to a good crop. Age old techniques like tilling the land, plowing etc still work wonders. Manure, fertilisers, cover crops etc also help improve soil quality. Crop rotations prevent the occurrence of diseases in crops, as per studies conducted. Diseases such as crown rot and tan spot can be controlled. Also pests like septoria, phoma, etc can be eliminated by crop rotation techniques. Since diseases are crop specific, crop rotation can work wonders.

5. Crop Diversity: Farmers can grow varieties of the same crop yielding small but substantial differences among the plants. This eases financial burdening. This process is called crop diversity and its practical use is on a down slide.

6. Natural Pest Eliminators: Bats, birds, insects etc work as natural pest eliminators. Farmers build shelter to keep these eliminators close. Ladybugs, beetles, green lacewing larvae and fly parasites all feed on pests, including aphids, mites and pest flies. These pest eliminators are available in bulk from pest control stores or farming supply shops. Farmers can buy and release them on or around the crops and let them make the farm as their home.

7. Managed Grazing: A periodic shift of the grazing lands for cattle should be maintained. Moving livestock offers them a variety of grazing pastures. This means they will receive various nutrients which is good for them. The excreta of these animals serves as a natural fertiliser for the land. Change of location also prevents soil erosion as the same patch of land is not trampled upon constantly. Also by grazing in time and mowing the weeds can be gotten rid off before they produce more seeds and multiply.

Sustainable energy is not only economical but it also helps in the conservation of our natural resources. Sustainable farming also helps reduce the need for chemicals fertilizers and pesticides. This makes the process more organic and clean.- Conserve Energy Future

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