Knowledge Management in Agriculture

Dr Dipak Nath
Knowledge Management (KM) is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization. It refers to a multidisciplinary approach to achieve organizational objectives by making the best use of knowledge. It is the systematic management of an organization’s knowledge assets for the purpose of creating value and meeting tactical & strategic requirements; it consists of the initiatives, processes, strategies, and systems that sustain and enhance the storage, assessment, sharing, refinement, and creation of knowledge. Knowledge management therefore implies a strong tie to organizational goals and strategy, and it involves the management of knowledge that is useful for some purpose and which creates value for the organization. KM must therefore create/provide the right tools, people, knowledge, structures, culture, etc. so as to enhance learning; it must understand the value and applications of the new knowledge created; it must store this knowledge and make it readily available for the right people at the right time; and it must continuously assess, apply, refine, and remove organizational knowledge in conjunction with concrete long and short term factors. Knowledge management efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration and continuous improvement of the organization. Knowledge management efforts have a long history, including on-the-job discussions, formal apprenticeship, discussion forums, corporate libraries, professional training, and mentoring programs. With increased use of computers, specific adaptations of technologies such as knowledge bases, expert systems, information repositories, group decision support systems, intranets, and computer-supported cooperative work have been introduced to further enhance such efforts. In 1999, the term personal knowledge management was introduced; it refers to the management of knowledge at the individual level.
Knowledge Management in agriculture is relatively a new concept. The mammoth task of driving the knowledge sharing process in agriculture requires lot of capacity building exercises. The concept of KM in extension is emerging as a viable factor of production in the developing countries. Training on KM strategies, exposure to KM initiatives in agriculture worldwide, acquiring the first hand information and managerial skills holds key to KM strategies in agriculture. The new agricultural paradigm in India will have to be recast to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge available to achieve multiple goals of sustaining the food security, income, jobs, etc. The ICTs along with KM strategies have significant role to play in evolving such a vibrant agricultural system. The emergence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the last decade has opened new avenues in knowledge management that could play important roles in meeting the prevailing challenges related to sharing, exchanging and disseminating knowledge and technologies. ICT allows capitalizing to a greater extent on the wealth of information and knowledge available for Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology (AKST). The ultimate objectives of AKST activities are to come up with results that can advance research more in certain areas, and engender technologies that AKST stakeholders can use to increase production, conserve the environment, etc.
The first challenge is the poor mechanisms and infrastructure for sharing and exchanging agriculture knowledge generated from research at national and regional levels. Many research activities are repeated due to the lack of such mechanisms and infrastructure at the national level. The second challenge is the inefficient mechanisms and infrastructure for transferring technologies produced as a result of research to growers either directly or through intermediaries (extension subsystem). Although many extension documents are produced by national agriculture research and extension systems to inform growers about the latest recommendations concerning different agricultural practices, these documents are not disseminated, updated or managed to respond to the needs of extension workers, advisers and farmers. The third challenge is keeping the indigenous knowledge as a heritage for new generations. It is available through experienced growers and specialists in different commodities. These inherited agricultural practices are rarely documented, but they embody a wealth of knowledge that researchers need to examine thoroughly. The forth challenge is easily accessing and availing economic and social knowledge to different stakeholders at operational, management and decision-making levels, so that those responsible will be able to make appropriate decisions regarding the profit making of certain technologies and their effect on resource-poor farmers.
ICT Role in Agriculture Knowledge Management Knowledge sharing, exchanging and dissemination are elements in a broader theme which is knowledge management. The central purpose of KM is to transform information and intellectual assets into enduring value. This is true for knowledge in agriculture where a lot of good practices are transferred without being well documented in books, papers or extension documents. To manage the knowledge properly, ICT is needed. In effect, there are many information technologies that can be used for knowledge management. Developing an information system of indigenous agricultural practices can enable researchers to examine this knowledge and decide on its usefulness for sustainable development. Such a system will also keep this knowledge for future generations before it disappears as a result of advanced technologies. Developing an information system and recording matured technologies on a trial basis have proven successful and success stories that have achieved economic growth will strengthen the interaction between inventors and innovators. This will lead to an innovation-driven economic growth paradigm. Storing and retrieving images, videotapes and audiotapes related to different agricultural activities are necessary.
 Geographic information systems (GIS) are needed to store databases about natural resources with a graphical user interface that enables users to access these data easily using geographical maps. Decision support system techniques are needed in many applications viz. simulating and modelling methods can be used to build computer systems that can model and simulate the effect of different agricultural production policies on the economy and the environment to help top management make decisions. Using expert systems technology to improve crop management and track its effect on conserving natural resources is essential. Expediting the expert systems development by generating agriculture specific tools to overcome the well known problem of knowledge is also required.
The author is Deputy Director of Extension Education, Central Agricultural University, Imphal, Manipur