The 5 Wives and 1 Husband of integrating value chains concept and Knowledge Management: Championing an ICKM agenda in the VC approach
How can the value chain framework/ concept and ICKM be integrated?
I did my masters degree in Agricultural Information and communication Management (AICM) and my research study focused on assessing the status of Communication and knowledge management within the smallholder set-up, with respect to dissemination and access to knowledge, and the extent to which ICT-based applications have been adopted by smallholder farmers. My study focused on two actors along the horticultural value chain in Kenya: the farmers and the extension agents. As usual, my study and the findings stirred a debate during my viva, and while I was happily engaging the examiners in the discussion and sharing my findings, I realized that the two concepts are sometimes viewed as distinct rather than complementary. Communication and knowledge management (sharing) are two dear concepts to me, and over the past few years, I have developed great interest in this area. During the discussion, I tried explaining that the two concepts of VC and ICKM are actually complementing each other and should go in tandem. This discussion inspired me to write a blog about the existing ‘marriage’ between the two concepts, and the need to strengthen the ‘marriage’ or encourage it in case it is missing.
A value chain
According to Kaplisnky and Morris (2002), “value chain” describes the full range of value-adding activities required to bring a product or service through the different phases of production, including procurement of raw materials and other inputs, assembly, physical transformation, acquisition of required services such as transport or cooling, and ultimately response to consumer demand.
The value chains (VC) concept has increasingly gained popularity in the recent years. The concept has always existed in one way or another, considering the fact there are a number of different actors involved in every stage of agricultural production including the farmers, input suppliers, traders, processors, researchers, extension agents, and consumers. Heidi Fritschel reports that the concept of a value chain arose in the 1980s as people started to pay more attention to the value added at each stage of the supply chain. The concept has attracted increasing attention as a way of thinking about, and implementing, agricultural development. – See more at: http://insights.ifpri.info/2012/03/in-search-of-a-chain-reaction/#sthash.P3i7BqU6.dpuf . Webber C (2009) in his guide to the VC concept and application, acknowledges the importance of value chains approach in building the competitiveness of Africa’s Agriculture, and argues that value chains are a key framework for understanding how inputs and services are brought together and then used to grow, transform, or manufacture a product; how the product then moves physically from the producer to the customer; and how value increases along the way.
Information communication and Knowledge Management
Information Communication and Knowledge Management (ICKM) on the other hand, is a broad term that covers the social and technical processes that supports communication within and among stakeholders and it enables them to exploit the value of information and knowledge available. It is a concept that deals with different ways of exchanging knowledge among those who can develop it and those who can use it. I think for us to achieve more with the concept of VC and attain improved productivity in agriculture, there is need to champion and implement a strategy of facilitating knowledge exchange and improved communication among the different nodes and links that make up the chain. Effective communication and knowledge exchange is a key way of ensuring that the chain remains complete and functional and prevents the risk of disconnect between these links and nodes. I believe that the VC approach is only applicable and tenable if all the actors along the chain are functioning and if they are interconnected.
Think of a chain (literally)
If a part of it is detached from the rest, it is no longer a chain and hence will not fully achieve objective it was meant for. Why? There is a missing link. Availability of information, communication of that information and its application, as well as sharing of that knowledge forms the basis of the functioning of this chain. In this paper I am putting forward an argument that the VC approach cannot stand alone without providing a framework for exploiting the knowledge available and needed to achieve maximum productivity. A ‘perfect’ value chain is one in which the nodes, the linkages, the product and processes involved have been improved to increase impact and transform livelihoods.
So let’s examine the why, what, which, where, when and How the two concepts can be integrated:
The concept is increasingly being associated with linking or improving market access for producers since it focuses on creating and increasing value on a product, responding to local, national and international consumer demand. To achieve added value at each stage, both the social and technical processes that eventually lead to added value at each stage need to be supported by providing the right knowledge at the right time for the right players and through the right format and language.
Value addition in itself is knowledge-based and over the recent years, there has been a transition and emphasis on knowledge-based economies, with knowledge increasingly being viewed as a factor of production besides land, capital and labor. The role of knowledge in innovation and upgrading is critical, and how this knowledge is communicated and managed within the chain matters.
The main feature of the VC approach includes the co-ordination of all links in the chain. These links represents the various actors involved at each of the stages a product goes through. What does co-ordination entail?
Communication, communication, communication!
Communication in this context will have to include the feedback aspect to ensure that the system is working.
Each of the actors has different information needs. They access information in different ways, have different perceptions, require certain information at different times and different factors influence the communication channels used.
During all stages that the product passes or moves through as it is produced or improved, there is need to emphasize and adopt an approach of bringing in the relevant stakeholders at different levels during all phases of production, processing and marketing to facilitate Knowledge sharing
Communication and access to knowledge are key, but can only achieve the intended purpose if done at the right time as and when needed for the right purpose. Networking and power of networking lies on building more and stronger linkages: Thus, there is need to constantly create a learning opportunity for actors (teams of people) working along the value chain. This facilitates interaction and the nodes (actors) grow stronger and with increased capacity and capabilities to benefit from the VC approach.
This implies that there is need to engage with each group of actors in a meaningful communication process, so as to maximize the uptake and impact of value chains approach. Communication needs to be seen and approached as a systemic issue, i.e. linked to the economic and political processes addressed in the VC approach.
There goes the five wives and one husband of championing an ICKM agenda in the VC concept!