Application of knowledge management approaches and information and communication technologies to manage indigenous knowledge in the agricultural sector in selected districts of Tanzania.
Lwoga, Edda Tandi.
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This study investigated the extent to which knowledge management (KM) approaches and information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be used to manage agricultural indigenous knowledge (IK), and introduce relevant exogenous knowledge in some local communities of Tanzania. The recognition and management of local practices do not only give confidence to farmers that their knowledge and skills are valued, but also leads to the preservation and continued use of their IK. Managing IK within and across communities can help to enhance cross-cultural understanding and promote the cultural dimension of agricultural development in the local communities. The current state of managing agricultural IK and access to relevant exogenous knowledge in the selected local communities in Tanzania was investigated. The study used mixed research methods, where the qualitative approach was the dominant method. Both quantitative and qualitative data were gathered simultaneously during a single phase of data collection. The primary purpose was to gather qualitative data through the semi-structured interviews, focus groups, non-participant observation, and participatory rural appraisal tools (information mapping and linkage diagrams, and problem trees). The secondary purpose was to gather quantitative data through closed questions which were embedded in the same semi-structured interviews. Both qualitative and quantitative data analyses were kept separate, and then they were combined or integrated into the meta-inferences. Some of the qualitative themes were also transformed into counts, and these counts were compared with descriptive quantitative data. The study participants included three categories of respondents: local communities (farmers and village leaders), IK policy makers (institutions that deal with intellectual property policies in Tanzania), and knowledge intermediaries (institutions that deal with agricultural KM activities in the rural areas). The findings indicated that KM approaches can be used to manage IK and appropriately introduce exogenous knowledge in the local communities, and thus the integration of both indigenous and exogenous knowledge can be feasible. The study findings showed that farmers possessed an extensive base of agricultural IK. However, this knowledge was acquired, developed and shared within a small, weak and spontaneous network, and thus knowledge loss was prevalent in the surveyed communities. Formal sources of knowledge mainly focused on disseminating exogenous knowledge in the local communities, which showed the predominance of the exogenous knowledge system over IK in the surveyed local communities. The study found that most of the farmers’ knowledge was tacit and it was created and shared through human interactions, and thus lack of ICTs did not constitute a barrier for KM practices in the rural areas. The study findings showed that radio was the major ICT used to access exogenous and indigenous knowledge in the local communities. There was low use of ICTs to share and preserve agricultural IK in the local communities. Although there was a predominance of the exogenous knowledge system over IK in the local communities, farmers applied IK gained from tacit and explicit sources of knowledge in their farming systems as compared to exogenous knowledge in the surveyed communities. Farmers trusted their own knowledge since it did not challenge their assumptions as would new knowledge from research institutions and universities. Low use of exogenous knowledge on some farming aspects was attributed to the fact that few knowledge intermediaries had identified and prioritized farmers’ knowledge and needs in the local communities. Individual and collective interactions were already used to integrate farmers’ knowledge and exogenous knowledge in the local communities, however, they needed to be strengthened through KM practices. The study findings showed that various factors determined access to knowledge in the communities, which included ICTs, culture of a certain locality, trust, status, context and space. The findings also showed that the lack of IK policy and existence of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) that inadequately recognised and protected IK, limited acquisition, sharing and preservation of IK in the surveyed communities in Tanzania. The study concluded that unless KM approaches are applied, IK will continue to disappear, and the rural farmers will have nothing to rely on, for their farming practices. Since knowledge is the collective expertise of everyone in the communities, this study recommends that KM practices should be embedded in the community, private and public agricultural actors and other government and private institutions as they currently function in the local communities. The government and private agricultural actors should foster the KM practices in the local communities by engaging the community leaders and rural people in the whole process. Since IK is site-specific, it can therefore seldom be scaled up without an adaptation, however it can be used to stimulate experimentation and innovation in other communities. With this view, this study recommends that knowledge should not be separated from the individuals who possess it, instead efforts should be made to enable the communities to manage their own knowledge, and to adapt other knowledge systems to suit their local context for effective KM practices. Indigenous knowledge would be effectively managed and integrated with exogenous knowledge if the government ensures that there are policies and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) that recognise and protect the existing knowledge in the country. These policies may include sectoral policies that deal with IK, rural development, agriculture, ICTs, education issues and various other issues. These policies should comprise the following: (i) a shared definition of and vision for KM in the country; (ii) the clear goals/strategies for the innovation initiatives to take place in the rural areas; and (iii) guidance with regard to prioritizing, deciding upon, and taking action to institutionalize KM processes in the rural areas with linkages to gender perspectives. Issues related to the capacity building, culture, content, infrastructure, and leadership should be addressed at this level for effective implementation of KM services in the rural areas. This will enable the communities and agricultural actors (such as research, extension, NGOs, libraries) to establish KM practices and a culture that is conducive for KM activities in their localities. Further, the study recommends that public and private institutions, knowledge intermediaries (such as research, extension, NGOs, libraries) and village leaders should be involved in the KM practices in the rural areas, and they should ensure that there is a committed leadership for KM activities, knowledge culture, appropriate ICTs, favourable context and space, and mapping to locate knowledge bearers and knowledge resources in the rural areas. However, the absence of ICTs should not constitute a barrier for KM and knowledge integration processes, since the findings showed that communities are more likely to understand, acquire and use knowledge that is shared through indigenous communication channels which are oral in nature rather than other approaches such as ICTs.