Community Knowledge Workers

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John Thackara:

"Grameen Foundation has been developing a distributed network of intermediaries, or Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) in Uganda. The initiative uses mobile devices to "extend the reach of centralized expertise" to "feet in the field". The project begs a heap of important questions about the nature of that centralised knowledge. It's funded, for a start, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has been heavily criticised for its focus on high-tech and monocultural solutions to the food issue. Writing in Grist, Tom Philpott says that although the Gates Foundation "has been very careful not to associate itself too closely with patent-protected biotechnology as a panacea for African farmers", Gates himself has "chided the critics of GMOs" and declared that "some of our grants [in Africa] do include transgenic approaches, because ...they have the potential to address farmers' challenges more efficiently than conventional techniques." Grameen insists that its CKWs are "crucial for contextualizing knowledge" and that they provide "a channel to represent the voice of the farmer". But Kenyan biodiversity leader Josphat Ngonyo, thinks the Seattle philanthropist is pursuing a strategy that will largely help corporate agricultural interests and hurt smallholder farmers."

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