To the extent that it is populated by government departments, development agencies, churches, the private sector and farmer organisations, African agriculture’s sources of evidence are as fragmented as organisations working in the same sector. An institution that will be able to create an effective marketplace for synthesised evidence will have provided a game-changing solution.
Such a platform will encourage academics, researchers and other actors to synthesise evidence from their work, knowing that there was demand for it. Keeping such evidence in specialised journals or elite conferences will limit societal benefits.
If local people and policy makers know where to find the best evidence, there will search for it. A local evidence synthesis platform also underpins the identification of relevant research themes for ordinary people and vocational institutes — enabling them to address real needs such as micro-climate changes and evolution of local consumption patterns.
As shown in the images above, alternative knowledge brokers generate a lot of data that policy makers prefer to either ignore or under-utilise. Without capacity to rapidly synthesise evidence, local authorities and governments cannot respond more tactically to emergencies like sudden dry spells or day-to-day socio-economic activities.
In a rapidly globalising economy, communities should be empowered to identify and diversify sources of evidence that can inform long-term decision-making on issues like drought, market failure, livestock diseases and dynamic post-harvest handling of agricultural commodities. Where there is no rigorous evidence synthesis, there are high chances of biased decisions, leading to costly mistakes.
Demonstrating consensus or contention
Another major role of local evidence synthesis is showing areas of consensus and contention as well as fundamental disagreements.
Without a disciplined evidence market place, it is impossible to habitually synthesise evidence to provide answers to enduring questions surrounding malnutrition, poverty and unemployment. Given that, the development sector has existed for generations and by now we should be seeing consolidated models on issues such as financial inclusion. In the absence of evidence, financial institutions continue to disguise their resistance to finance new innovative projects by asking a thousand questions, which have nothing to do with genuine curiosity. A knowledge platform will provide a mechanism for continuously refreshing synthesised evidence unlike leaving things fragmented. However, collecting evidence and making it usable is a time-consuming mix of art and science.
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