Knowledge deliberately withheld from farmers

Food Security27 Feb 2013Mainza Mugoya

Farmers need to organize and operate as a business unit, to receive knowledge on value chains prices more equally. 

Economic incentives: For farmers and practitioners, just like for anyone else, knowledge is usually a means to end. It must produce some form of result. The most effective knowledge dissemination systems usually have a clear economic incentive to thrive and be sustainable. This incentive is for all the actors involved in generating, disseminating and using the knowledge; for example, where farmers or farmer organizations are in a business relationship with an actor in a value chain. Because the performance of the farmers is critical to the success of all the other actors, they endeavour to ensure that the farmers receive sufficient knowledge on appropriate production practices, use of improved agricultural inputs, post-harvest handling, pest management, etc.

However, knowledge is often deliberately withheld from farmers. This is because other value chain actors are enjoying sufficient benefits from ownership of this information. This is the case for the trade in cereals in most parts of Africa. Large traders are the main market players and are able to determine prices since they control significant stages in the supply chain.

Commodity of significant national importance: There are cases when a concerted effort by multiple actors ensures that knowledge reaches the farmers. This is usually the case when a specific commodity of national importance is affected. For example, the outbreak of the banana bacterial wilt in Uganda greatly affected the production of what is the country’s staple food. The national agricultural research organization, in collaboration with other research organizations and non-governmental organizations, embarked on a country-wide effort to address the problem. The effort (and the problem) spanned over ten years. However, over time, farmers have received knowledge about the disease, and how to respond on their farms.

Degree of organization of farmers: The nature of small-holder farming undermines development in many ways. Many small farmers, who are not organized into a group, are difficult to engage with, and to link to services. On the other hand, farmers who are organized into groups are a viable business unit. These farmers can receive knowledge and other services more easily. For example, dairy cooperatives in Kenya have become a central avenue for disseminating services to dairy farmers. Knowledge on how to increase milk productivity through improvements in breeding and feeding is best delivered to small-holder livestock farmers through their cooperatives. There are many cases of cooperatives that have their own extension services departments, and offer artificial insemination services to their members.

In general, it is difficult to identify a nationwide successful strategy for effective knowledge-sharing with impacts at farm level. Most interventions are commodity-specific, driven by economic incentives, and dependent on the degree of organization of farmers, or are of strategic importance.

Linking research to use: Agricultural research has grown into a full industry, to the point that research outputs are sometimes considered an end, and not a means to an end. There are many national, regional and international research organizations that do not have an effective link to the end-users. The problem persists because of various factors including weak farmer organizations and inadequate dissemination skills and experience within the research organizations. These problems are inherent within organizations and will take time to address.