Learning from Invisible CoPs: Informal actors & relationships in African food systems

  • 02nd August 2017
  • by secretary
25–26 July 2017. Harare, Zimbabwe. A KM4Dev gathering in Harare seeked to inspire various actors and disciplines to engage and learn from the practices of informal food CoPs. 

While relationship-based food demand and supply models are increasing in many developing countries, lack of coherent knowledge pathways limits the extent to which these CoPs can influence development practice, theory and national food policies. Part of what remains unknown and unappreciated is informal food CoPs’ motivations, dynamic practices and contribution to regional and international food systems. 
From farmers to consumers or end-users, more than 70 percent of African food passes through informal food CoPs in informal markets. These CoPs and markets have become powerful sources of knowledge for farmers, traders and other actors. During the Harare KM4Dev gathering, participants were immersed in Mbare Informal food market in Harare where more than a dozen knowledge pathways have been identified: farmer to farmer; farmer to trader; trader to farmer; trader to trader; farmer to transporter; transporter to farmer; trader to transporter; consumer to farmer; consumer to trader; trader to financier and many others.

The event generated reflections and answers to the following questions: 

  • How do informal food CoPs respond to the needs of diverse consumers and knowledge seekers? 
  • What could be the potential role of culture in shaping food demand and supply models? 
  • To what extent do existing theoretical approaches and concepts around food speak to the peculiar roles of informal food CoPs and traders? 
  • How do informal food CoPs and traders negotiate power and neutralize the politics of food? 
  • How can the development sector harness informal knowledge sharing pathways that are used by the majority of African food producers and suppliers to make decisions? 
  • What can we learn from the way knowledge travels through informal food supply models? 
  • How can we recognize invisible CoPs that make informal agriculture markets resilient? 
  • How can we use the KM4Dev toolkit and other approaches to learn from the informal food market? 


17/07 How and why relationships move more food than markets
10/07 How informal food markets disrupt and correct the notion of staple foods