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The Potential of Digital Platforms in Revitalising the Livestock System in Rural Zimbabwe

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The Potential of Digital Platforms in Revitalising the Livestock System in Rural Zimbabwe

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Livestock contribute towards household food security in rural communities through income generation and provision of animal-source food. However, livestock system are fragile for example, in Zimbabwe, communities face challenges such as fewer buyers, poor infrastructure, and information asymmetry when selling livestock. Emerging digital platforms promise opportunities to address these challenge but only anecdotal evidence exist. This paper uses data from Beitbridge to explore the potential of digital platforms to revitalise the livestock auction system. Study findings show that digital platforms are designed with affordances which can help overcome challenges within the livestock system. However, these digital platforms are also fraught with hidden complexities such as power dynamics. Thus, despite digital platforms’ affordances, their design inherently extends beyond technical functions. Therefore, there is an urgent need for discussions exploring the contrast between affordances and complexities to enable target users to make informed decisions on the adoption and use of digital platforms.
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THE POTENTIAL OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS IN REVITALISING THE
LIVESTOCK SYSTEM IN RURAL ZIMBABWE
Leon Tinashe Gwaka
Institute for Social Development
University of the Western Cape
South Africa
tinashegwaka@gmail.com
ABSTRACT (REQUIRED)
Livestock contribute towards household food security in rural communities through income generation
and provision of animal-source food. However, livestock system are fragile for example, in Zimbabwe,
communities face challenges such as fewer buyers, poor infrastructure, and information asymmetry
when selling livestock. Emerging digital platforms promise opportunities to address these challenge but
only anecdotal evidence exist. This paper uses data from Beitbridge to explore the potential of digital
platforms to revitalise the livestock auction system. Study findings show that digital platforms are
designed with affordances which can help overcome challenges within the livestock system. However,
these digital platforms are also fraught with hidden complexities such as power dynamics. Thus, despite
digital platforms affordances, their design inherently extends beyond technical functions. Therefore,
there is an urgent need for discussions exploring the contrast between affordances and complexities to
enable target users to make informed decisions on the adoption and use of digital platforms.
Keywords (Required)
Digital platforms, digital auction, livestock systems, Zimbabwe
INTRODUCTION
Historically, agriculture has been a core livelihood activity for many societies across the world, with a
higher share of Gross Domestic Product in most African countries (Thirtle, Lin & Piesse, 2003). While
specialized farming has gained traction in recent years, mixed farming which combines livestock and
crop production has been the more common practice, especially among smallholder farmers. However,
the choices of the predominant agricultural system practiced in communities are often driven by several
factors such as culture and geographic location. For example, in Zimbabwe, the Beitbridge district is
located in the natural climatic region (V) which receives an average rainfall of less than 500mm per
season, thus, is less suitable for crop production resulting in most households opting to engage in
livestock production (Mugandani, Wuta, Makarau & Chipindu, 2012). Further to this, the global agenda
(led by government or non-government), coupled with national development plans, also play a key role
in determining agricultural systems to prioritise. In the context of this study for instance, the 43rd
Committee on World Food Security (CFS) convention ratified livestock as critical towards the fight
against global food insecurity (CFS, 2016) and this has resulted in growing interests towards global
livestock systems.
In most developing countries, livestock is important to livelihoods, mainly in rural areas, contributing to
food availability, income generation and playing sociocultural roles. For countries such as Botswana,
livestock is of economic significance, contributing up to 57% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product
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(Temoso, Villano & Hadley, 2016). Despite this, global livestock systems, mainly in developing
countries face many challenges threatening their sustainability.
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Studies available such as Mavedzenge,
Mahenehene, Murimbarimba, Scoones and Wolmer (2008), provide evidence showing the fragility of
livestock systems, particularly in rural communities. These studies argue that livestock systems’ fragility
mainly stems from the poor overall structure, particularly relating to the market dynamics. In Zimbabwe
for instance, in the early 1990s, livestock marketing was formally facilitated by the Cold Storage
Commission (CSC), a commission formed during the colonial period and later inherited by the
independent government as a parastatal following the attainment of independence in 1980 (Mlambo,
1996). Through the CSC, all the livestock buying and selling activities were centralized (Mavedzenge et
al., 2008) and in this way, the Zimbabwe’s beef sector was highly competitive even in the export
markets. However, at the onset of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, policy transformations which
recommended the adoption of Economic and Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) led to the
subsequent privatisation of the CSC and ultimately, the role of CSC in livestock marketing became
insignificant, permanently transforming the livestock marketing landscape. In years preceding this
transformation, formal livestock auctioning ceased to exist in most rural areas (e.g. at the time of this
study, only 10 rural districts out of 60 were conducting formal livestock auction) creating an opportunity
for unscrupulous livestock traders to fill this gap.
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Characteristically, these traders often offer sub-
optimal prices to smallholder farmers (cf. Herald, 2017; Gwaka, 2017). In addition to this, the macro-
economic problems in Zimbabwe, climate change and poor infrastructure further contribute to rural
communities failure to achieve optimal returns from their agricultural produce, including livestock,
evincing an urgent need for transformation of the livestock markets in rural communities (Barrett,
Christian & Shiferaw, 2017; Mavedzenge et al., 2008).
Solving problems faced within rural communities often attracts interests from multiple disciplines
including computer science and social sciences (Oliver et al., 2018). One discipline that has increasingly
become integral in solving complex societal challenges is the Information and Communication
Technology (ICTs). This has resulted in the establishment of the ICT for development discipline, also
referred to as ICT4D, which focuses on the application of ICTs in different sectors including education,
health and agriculture (Heeks, 2014; Walsham, 2017). Despite large investments in ICT projects and
research over the years, the contributions of ICTs to development remain contested (Quaglio et al.,
2016).
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On the contrary, there are more investments in recent years and one mechanism which is
increasingly becoming popular is the use of digital platforms, also known as sharing economy (Avram et
al., 2017). In the context of this study, particularly livestock marketing, there are suggestions that
emerging technologies (digital platforms) can transform the structure of place, practices and
circumstances” (Avram et al., 2017). Against the challenges faced in rural markets, and the urgent need
for transforming these rural markets, the potential benefits which can be derived from adopting digital
platforms (electronic markets) are difficult to dismiss (Malekovic, Goutas, Sutanto & Galletta, 2019).
However, the urgency of the situation creates a danger of adopting tools which can further exacerbate
problems within the system. For instance, while digital platforms are credited with easing complex
transactions and processes, their very existence, functioning and design often embed hidden meanings
which should trigger fundamental questions around the perils of their design and use (Avram et al.,
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Sustainability is complex to define, but it is mainly addressed in terms of economic, environmental, and sociocultural terms.
However, Marandure, Makombe, Dzama, Hoffmann, Mapiye, (2018) argue that sustainability should be viewed in context.
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Discussions with Chief Executive Officers of Beitbridge and Rushinga Rural District Councils.
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Here, in line with Avgerou (2010), development is considered in broad sense since it is a contested term.
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2017). In a way, the purported benefits of integrating digital platforms within a value chain may have
other undesirable effects. Evidently, there is need for evidence on the moderated impacts of digital
platforms to better inform decision-making among target users and policy makers.
To this end, this study, drawing from canonical techno-political thinkers such as Winner (1980) and Star
(1999), asks the following question: What is the potential of digital platforms to revitalise the near-
defunct formal livestock auctioning systems in rural Zimbabwe? The study answers this question by
firstly characterising the livestock system in the study area to provide an overview of the current state of
the livestock system. Following this, the study then explores the potential of the digital platforms in light
of the prevailing challenges identified. The study achieves this through data collected from fieldwork in
Beitbridge - Zimbabwe. The main argument of the study is that, despite the affordances of digital
platforms, the design of digital platforms inherently extends beyond technical functions. These platforms
are socio-political in nature, motivated by capitalistic ideologies more than the need to solve problems
(cf. de Reuver, Sorensen & Basole, 2017). To an extent, this is clarified in van Doorn’s (2018)
suggestion that the goal of any digital platform is nothing more than power itself. The study findings
presented show that some digital platforms were rejected based on this idea, but users remain unaware
of the broader issues of power dynamics, capitalism and other complexities within digital platforms.
Therefore, there is need for urgent discussions on these critical issues which in turn can help users make
informed decision and also, challenge the regulators to think about future regulations which may be
necessary on digital platforms. The remainder of the paper is structured as follows; an overview of the
Beitbridge livestock system is provided in the next section to obtain a contextual understanding of the
study area. This is followed by the theoretical framework on which the study is framed and the research
methods. The study results follow before the discussion and conclusion of the study.
STUDY CONTEXT AND OVERVIEW OF STUDY AREA
Beitbridge district is in Matabeleland South Province, one of the eight rural provinces in Zimbabwe
(Vogt et al., 2015). The area is in agro-ecological region V (see Figure 1) and the general environmental
conditions in the study area are not ideal for crop production, thus, most of the households rely on
livestock for income, food and other services. In addition to being reliable source of household food and
income, livestock also form part of household capital and risk management strategy.
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Figure 1: Map of Zimbabwe showing natural regions and location of the study area
Source: Patt, Suarez and Gwata (2005)
Despite the importance of livestock in the livelihoods of smallscale farmers in Beitbridge, the livestock
system faces several challenges. For instance, Gwaka (2017) demonstrates that farmers in the study area
are failing to obtain optimal prices for the livestock due to failure to participate in attractive markets.
Other challenges are not unique to the study area. Descheemaeker et al. (2018) show that climate change
impacts the sustainability of the livestock system while the International Fund for Agricultural
Development (IFAD) (2016) suggests that a lack of and/or poor infrastructure affects local value chains
including the livestock system. Further to this, Notenbaert et al. (2017:154) posit that the fragility of the
livestock system is likely to continue with system actors demonstrating inability to select, target and
prioritize interventions. To address this, it is important to develop deep insights on the livestock system.
since livestock systems are classified as socio-ecological systems, they are complex to understand and
Ison, Maiteny and Carr (1997) recommend using the systems thinking approach to achieve this.
Ostrom’s Socio-Ecological Systems (SES) (Ostrom, 2009) also follows a systems thinking approach and
Marshall (2015) adopted the SES framework to explore a livestock system in Cambodia. The SES
framework suggests that a socio-ecological system is made up of primary and secondary attributes
which interact to produce outcomes. This study argues that the state of the livestock system can be
explained using system attributes presented in Table 1.
System attribute
Extended analysis
Resource System
Exploring how the system location impacts the sustainability of
the livestock system, e.g. proximity to markets.
Identifying the human constructed facilities available in the
community, with a specific focus on the infrastructure.
Resource Units
Determining the economic value attached to livestock by
different livestock system actors, as well as establishing the
marketing characteristics of livestock in the study area.
Governance System
Exploring the coordination among the rule making
organisations, e.g. including public and private sectors.
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Actors
Identifying the number of actors in the study area’s livestock
system. These actors will include individuals (key groups) and
institutions.
Exploring the use (or non-use) of technology by the actors in
the livestock system.
Social, Economic & Political (exogenous)
Understanding the influence on broader socio-economic and
political dynamics on the livestock system
Table 1. Applying Ostrom’s SES to analyse the Beitbridge livestock system
In the context of Beitbridge, the location (distance to markets) of the Resource System, and a lack of
human constructed facilities (such as roads and digital infrastructure) negatively impact the number of
buyers [number of actors] participating in the livestock system. Furthermore, the socio-economic
characteristics (generally poor households) of the livestock farmers coupled with the marketing
characteristics of the livestock also influence the negotiation process. In addition, poor coordination
among governance structures is contributing to poor or non-existence of robust policies. This is further
complicated by the on-going socio-economic and political instability within the country. Against the
context provided, Prockl, Bhakoo and Wong (2017) believe that value chains such as livestock systems
can be supported by electronic innovations to overcome the challenges inherent in these systems. Thus,
technological innovations, including digital platforms, can be integrated in the value chain (Vanclay,
Russell & Kimber, 2013). While most farmers in the study area are considered poor (in economic sense)
Kuriyan, Nafus and Mainwaring (2012) promote the poor-as-consumer model arguing the need to design
technologies to serve the needs of the poor. However, Toyama cautions that technology only amplifies
human intent and as such, the introduction of ICTs into fragile value chains is no guarantee of improving
these value chains unless value chain actors are keen to improve the value chain. Based on this, it is
prudent to argue that digital technologies can be developed for poor communities to improve value
chain/system attributes. However, value chain actors need to play a role to realise that.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
This study investigates the potential of digital platforms to revitalise the livestock systems in rural
communities. Based on literature, this study considers digital platforms, metaphorically, as “two sides of
a coin” (Figure 2). On one side, there are digital platform designers and providers who have different
roles (design, provide and maintain) and on the other side, target users adopt, use or reject. Within these
platforms, there are complex relationships and interactions. It is critical to explore the roles and interests
of both target users and technology developers (cf. Avgerou, Hayes & La Rovere, 2016). In the next
sections, each of the three constructs is closely examined.
Digital platforms and livestock system
The study area’s livestock system is fragile and like other rural districts in Zimbabwe, the auction
system is near-defunct. Despite this, digital platforms are emerging which can potentially play a key role
to revatilise system. Examples of these platforms include mobile money service providers (Ecocash),
agricultural information providers (E-Mkambo) and livestock information systems providers (Remote
Livestock Marketing System). However, these digital platforms are complex, particularly how they
intertwine with institutions, markets and technologies (de Reuver et al., 2017) thus, understanding
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them requires critical thinking which extends beyond techno-deterministic approaches (cf. Winner,
1980; Star, 1999). This is in line with Winner’s (1980:121) suggestion that, “[a]t issue is the claim that
the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged not only for
their contributions of efficiency and productivity, not merely for their positive and negative side
effects, but also for the ways in which they can embody specific forms of power and authority”
Building on existing critical perspectives, this study postulates that digital platforms are potentially new
controlled environments and apparatus of power [which] can exert control over us as we use them
(Crain, 2013: np). Additionally, drawing from Deleuze’s (1992) societies of control perspective, the
study argues that technological evolutions, which include the emergence digital platforms, may also
resemble a “mutation of capitalism” (p.6). Deleuze (1992) argues that societies are controlled spaces and
digital innovations (also referred to as control tools) evolve to match each generation. Thus, while
digital platforms appear to provide solutions to complex challenges, little is known on whether these
digital platforms are also creating illusions of freedom. Aptly stated, in using digital platforms
Unforeseen consequences and unintended behaviors can easily occur [and] there are lots of “unknown
unknowns” and chaotic dynamics (Negash, Musa, Vogel & Sahay, 2018:192).
Digital platform designers and providers
Another dimension of the digital platforms (Figure 2) is the designers and providers. van Stam (2017) is
concerned that for Africa, most technologies, including digital platforms, are supplied by western
entities whose understanding of and knowledge on local contexts is limited. To an extent, this raises
questions on their motivations for developing these technologies (ibid). In recent times, start-ups
developing digital platforms (mainly apps) are a new form of entrepreneurship, some managing to amass
many users within short periods. Innovations spun across the different societal sectors including
agricultural systems. However, in line with this study’s primary question, Kuriyan et al. (2012:2) note
that the aims and claims of many market interventions to serve the poor are broad, the assumptions
behind them are often unarticulated, untested, and open to challengeOften, interests of digital platform
designers and providers are hidden (unknown to target users). For instance, van Doorn (2018) argues
that platform designers and providers are interested in accumulating power and control. Using Facebook
as an illustration, Fuchs and Sevignani (2013:259) support this notion by showing that:
“… Facebook users do not just satisfy [their] needs, but also serve Facebook’s profit interests.
Facebook turns personal profile data, usage behaviour data from the Facebook platform and
other platforms, social network data and content data (images, videos, messages, postings) into
data commodities
Given the foregoing, this study argues that while digital platforms designers and providers play critical
roles of designing, providing and maintaining platforms, their value propositions (technology
affordances) need to be considered in light of value capture dimension (Täuscher & Laudien, 2018),
which, often, extends beyond monetary form to include power and control (Barrett, Oborn &
Orlikowski, 2016).
Target users
Target users is the third construct of the conceptual framework and in this study, these are livestock
system actors: livestock buyers, livestock farmers, relevant government departments and other
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stakeholders. As indicated in figure 2, target users are interested in the platforms’ affordances and their
roles include adopting, using and/or rejecting the digital platforms. The ubiquity of technology, mainly
mobile phones, is drawing many users, including those with limited affinity of technology, to digital
platforms. While many studies including Rey-Moreno (2015) show that digital services remain
expensive in rural communities, Kuriyan et al. (2012) provide a different thinking by mapping these
marginalised individuals, the “poor”, as “consumers”. Kuriyan et al demonstrate how these consumers
are ready and willing to pay for digital services. However, beyond financial concerns, digital platforms
embody other characteristics unknown to consumers e.g. relating to issues of power and control. In
addition, Harris (2016) thinks that most technological innovations have failed to serve the needs of the
poor. It is in this context that the study argues the need to advocate for the marginalised against the
powerful platforms and attempt to make [target users] aware of [potential] injustices and to encourage
debate and discussion on these issues (West et al., 2012:1586). In some instance, these issues are
already evident without extended discussions, for instance, many individuals refuse to sign up on
different platforms citing various reasons including concerns of privacy.
Figure 2. Conceptual framework of digital platforms
The conceptual framework and critical thinking had implications on the study. Firstly, the question
asked in this study, amid ongoing adoption and upscaling of digital platforms, was premised on the need
to achieve a balanced assessement of the platforms’ potential. In essence, the potential of digital
platforms was explored beyond the simplistic positive and negative effects to also include issues of
power and authority. Secondly, the data used in this study was purposively selected to ensure that only
data which emerged from activities in which the researchers and research participants were equals (equal
input and respect of views). Thirdly, the research methods included dialogue, deep listening and ongoing
reflection. This was important to achieve an understanding of what society could become” and not
what it is” Fuchs (2009:71). We developed the research methods i.e., community visioning exercises -
with a critical thinking perspective which aims to empower “community members and research
participants to take control of their futures” (West et al., 2012:1585-1586).
METHODOLOGY
The integration of digital platforms into value chains such as the livestock system, is a complex process.
To study this, Geoff Walsham advocates for critical thinking particularly to [challenge] existing
orthodoxies and hierarchies (Walsham, 2012:89). This study originated from a broader project in the
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study area (see also, Gwaka, 2017) on the integration of ICTs in livestock systems. The project
hypothesized that introducing ICTs could help overcome challenges within the livestock value chain.
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Data collection
To obtain insights on the state of the livestock system and the potential of digital platforms, empirical
data were gathered between 2015 and 2018 in four purposively selected villages in Ward 15 of
Beitbridge district, Zimbabwe. Ethical clearances for the study were obtained from the university ethics
committee while at local level, the local authorities (administrative and traditional) provided community
engagement clearances for the study. The sequence of data collection activities was based on Fine’s
(2003) suggestion that the process of ethnographic work should move from descriptive (how) to
analytical (why). As such, in this study, the field activities started with participant observations in
community gatherings such as livestock auctions. This allowed researchers to develop deeper insights on
the livestock system dynamics. During the study, the researchers attended livestock auctions (n=11)
observing the process of livestock sales (see, Figure 3) which includes bidding, negotiation and
transacting. Participant observation helped to develop insights on the complexities such as power
dynamics during livestock sales, related challenges and identify potential opportunities for integrating
ICTs. Following this, we engaged the communities in community visioning workshops. The main aim of
the community visioning exercises was to establish the state of livestock system which the community
desires, wish for and willing to work towards. Using this foresight technique, the researchers also aimed
to gauge the participants’ interests to integrate available digital platforms within the livestock system.
Further, additional data were gathered through interviews as well as focus group discussions. The final
stage of data collection was through a household survey questionnaire which was administered by
locally recruited research assistants.
Figure 3. Participant observation at a livestock auction in Ward 15
Instrument development
Since the study adopted a mixed method approach, data collection was achieved using multiple research
instruments. Quantitative data were obtained using a household survey questionnaire while qualitative
data were obtained using focus group discussion guide, interview guide and participatory research
agenda. Consistent with the critical theory approach, the qualitative research instruments and activities
were designed to ensure reciprocity, deep listening and observations, as well as equal participation (cf.
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See here; Mobile Solutions for Marginalised Communities (MOSMAC) Innovation. Retrieved July 28, 2019 from
http://sarilab.ranlab.org/content/mobile-solutions-marginalised-communities-mosmac-innovation
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West et al., 2012). For instance, during livestock auctions (participant observation), researchers ensured
that they had uninterrupted observations and then in some cases, observed the process as part of a group.
The interview guides provided probing questions (e.g. in addition to preferences (or not) of specific
digital platforms, interviewees were asked to further motivate their responses), while the focus group
discussion guide provided for opportunities for intensive interaction and deep listening. To develop
these, the researcher relied on previous related studies’ instruments, research gaps identified in other
studies and the research question set for the study. For community visioning, the researchers developed
an agenda for each session which was used to guide the activities. However, other discussions emerged
during the visioning exercises and the researchers used their discretion on whether to pursue the new
topic or not. The agenda was often a culmination of data gaps identified during the preliminary analysis
conducted simultaneously with data collection as well as topic suggestions from the community.
Quantitative data for the study were collected using a household survey questionnaire. In designing the
questionnaire, recommendations (e.g. types of questions) from several guidelines were adopted. The
household survey questionnaire was also prepared after several community engagements which helped
to generate appropriate questions. The questionnaire consisted of 67 questions in six sections as follows:
General household information (5); Household demographics (7); Household assets (with sub-questions)
(9); Household livelihood activities (10); Household food system (with sub-questions) (10) and Digital
infrastructure and ICTs (26). To improve the nature of data collected for the study, the question types
were diversified to include lists, closed questions, quantities, category questions and ranking questions
(cf. Marshall, 2005). However, despite the variations of question types, these questions were developed
to support the primary research question and related sub-questions. Pilot testing of the questionnaire was
conducted before the final administration.
Data analysis
In a mixed methods study, data analysis, like data collection, is also conducted using mixed approaches.
In this study, since both qualitative and quantitative data were collected, data analysis was also
completed using qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques. For quantitative data, the desired
precision was 95% with the desired confidence interval of 5 which means the significance threshold was
set at 0.05 with p-values < 0.05 considered significant.
Qualitative data analysis
The study employed different ethnographic methods which yielded different types of qualitative data
sets including field notes, recordings, photographic evidence, diagrams and maps. The process of data
analysis started immediately while in the field allowing the processes of data collection and analysis to
be completed concurrently. As a result, we could identify the gaps within the data and dedicate more
effort towards the missing data. The process of qualitative data analysis started with data cleaning. From
the data gathered, other data sets had problems including incompleteness (e.g. incomplete notes not
making sense), community notes (poorly written), incomplete recordings (less than 60 seconds) and
even hazy photographs. Incomplete data sets were either included after going back to the community to
clarify (on incomplete data) and reconstruction or excluded. Once data sets were cleaned, theme
development started. The process of developing themes was cyclical but consisted of four major phases
(Vaismoradi et al., 2016). The process started with initialisation to capture participants’ accounts which
included transcribing recorded sessions such as focus group discussions and interviews. At this stage,
researchers carefully listened, in most cases, repeatedly, to the audio recordings collating data notes in
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Word documents. The notes on different charts made during the various sessions (e.g. community
visioning workshops) were also transcribed. Based on literature, reflections on the field activities and
thematic analysis of data, themes were identified relating to the research focus. The process of
developing themes included defining, labelling, classifying and comparing the data. Further to this,
established themes were related and the story presented in the results section was developed. To ensure
the validity of the findings, the researcher conducted a findings confirmation (feedback) session with the
respondents.
Quantitative data analysis
Quantitative data generated from the questionnaires were analysed using the SPSS statistical package
version 25. From the 270 questionnaires distributed, 46 were discarded from the analysis for various
reasons mainly that the quality was deemed too poor to use; and in some cases, were there were
suspicions of fabrication of data. Of the remaining 224, data were captured using Kobo toolbox, cleaned
and organised before subsequently being converted to CSV format for analysis using SPSS software.
Statistical analysis assistance was received from a qualified statistician. A discussion with the statistician
was critical in providing direction for the data analysis. For instance, the statistician needed guidance on
the relationships to analyse. From the analysis, the data generated included univariate analysis
(frequencies, means, percentages, graphs, charts) and multi-variate analysis (relationships)
RESULTS
In this section, the study presents empirical findings based on the two main themes which emerged from
the analysis which are livelihoods in rural areas and ICTs in rural areas. The sub-themes for livelihoods
in rural areas are livestock, natural resources and informal trading. On the other hand, sub-themes for
ICTs in rural communities are ICT access and use (including digital platforms) and connectivity
(networks/infrastructure). Livestock, a sub-theme of livelihoods, is central to the livelihoods of the
households thus, is the focus of this study. Before presenting the findings on the selected themes, the
study presents demographic information using Table 2. Following this, the focus is shifted to livestock’s
importance to the community and the challenges faced by the smallholders, particularly relating to
livestock auctioning. Following this, the study shifts to present findings on ICTs in rural communities
specifically focusing on the potential of digital platforms in the livestock system.
Demographic findings
The livestock system comprises of different groups of actors who take on different responsibilities.
Digital platform designers and providers are also becoming part of the livestock system through
appropriation of digital platforms into the livestock systems. During this study, the researchers engaged
with different groups of stakeholders including smallholder farmers, local authorities, local leaders,
government departments and representatives of different groups. Further, the researchers attempted to
engage with digital platforms developers but this was challenging. For instance, other developers
declined to discuss about their business. In table 2, the study presents a detailed breakdown of the
demographics showing the engagement activities and the type of data collected during these
engagements.
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Period
Activities
Data Collection
Participants
Summary demographics
2015/16
Community
entry
Community
meetings
Livestock
auction visits
Qualitative data
obtained include key
insights on community
structure, livestock
system structure,
photographs and
observation of system
dynamics
All stakeholders
involved in the
livestock system
including
smallholder farmers.
Community meetings summary:
Dumba: 21 women and 16
men
Mapayi: 15 women and 9
men
Shabwe & Old Nuli: 17
women and 14 men
Livestock auction visits include:
Dite, Chitulipasi, Penemene,
Chaswingo, Toporo, Zezani and
participants engaged include:
Council, informal traders
veterinary, police, smallholder
farmers, buyers
2016/17
Household
survey
questionnaire
Focus group
discussions
Interviews
Quantitative data
obtained from
household survey
questionnaires (From
270 questionnaires, 224
were correctly
completed and used for
data analysis)
Qualitative data
obtained from FGDs
and interviews
Households survey
were completed by
households
FGDs with
smallholder farmers
and segregated by
gender, livelihood
option interests and
age groups
Interviewees
included smallholder
farmers (6),
technicians (3), local
leaders (3) and local
authorities (3)
Focus Group Discussions
summary:
Dumba: 4 women and 14 men
Mapayi: 2 women and 7 men
Shabwe & Old Nuli: 4 women
and 13 men
Summary of interviews:
8 Smallholder farmers
5 Government departments
e.g. education, Department of
livestock production and
development, ministry of
information
1 Association Representative
1 Traditional leader
2017/18
Intervention
implementatio
n
Meetings to
confirm study
findings
Community insights on
ICTs
Qualitative
confirmation of study
findings
All stakeholders
involved in the
project
All stakeholders involved in
the project
Table 2. Summary of data collection and demographics of research participants
Livestock and livelihoods in Beitbridge
The livelihoods of households in Beitbridge revolve around livestock, natural resources and informal
trading (linked to the Beitbridge border). Despite the existence of other livelihood options, study
findings indicate that livestock remain the perennial source of income. Households own large herds of
livestock e.g. (cattle, X (n) = 59; SD = 6.4) and these are central to the livelihoods of these households.
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Livestock is used in many ways and respondents indicated that holding large livestock was motivated by
socio-cultural and economic needs for instance, as investment and risk management strategy (cf.
Quinlan et al., 2016). The study found significant differences between livestock use i.e. (selling p =
0.007; investments: p = 0.01 and food: p = 0.01) and village. Overall, participants stressed the
importance of livestock as one participant highlighted that:
In our area, livestock rearing is an inherited culture from our forefathers and livestock has many
crucial functions. We keep livestock for selling to cater for household expenses. We also
slaughter cattle on special occasions such as weddings and use livestock for cultural activities.
Having large herd of livestock also gives social status (prestige) (Young Male, Mapayi focus
group discussion)
While livestock is central to the livelihood of the households in the study area, the livestock system is
characterized by many challenges. Some of the challenges identified include poor infrastructure (roads
and auction facilities), information asymmetries, limited buyers and poor coordination among the
governance institutions. These challenges have intensified since the collapse of CSC as one workshop
participant indicated that:
“We face many challenges relating livestock and since the collapse of the Cold Storage
Commission, we have never had satisfactory buyers. Also, there is limited government support
towards livestock production e.g. there are fewer technicians who have limited resources and
cannot reach all villages especially when there is disease breakouts” (elderly male, community
meeting)
In addition to system-specific challenges, macro-economic challenges such as cash shortages and price
instability within the country also affect the process of livestock buying and selling. In the context of
environmental challenges, climate change is contributing towards livestock deaths and poor livestock
quality. This was further worsened by a lack of insurance options for the smallholder farmers. One
farmer, reflecting on the prices fetched during livestock auction, expressed his frustration that:
“We literally give away our livestock to the buyers. These buyers pay us very poor prices and
drive livestock to Bulawayo and Masvingo where they fetch very high prices. Unfortunately, we
don’t have the resources (transport), nor can we self-organise, to take our livestock to these
high-paying markets” (elderly male, Lutumba auction)
From the community engagements and observations, there are many other challenges which the
respondents did not raise. For instance, during the auction, farmers lacked market information and
bargaining techniques. Most farmers based their prices on historical sales as well as comparing to what
other farmers were accepting on the day. Through a comprehensive livestock system review, the study
identified challenges relating to governance such as outdated policies which contribute to the fragility of
the livestock system. The challenges highlighted above are not unique to Beitbridge, nor are they recent.
Efforts to overcome these challenges include the integration of digital platforms but the success of these
interventions remains somewhat unclear.
Digital platforms and livestock systems
There are several digital platforms which have been developed and can be used by livestock system
actors to overcome some of the challenges discussed above. In Table 3, we explore these digital
platforms, their affordances, acceptance and/or rejection in Beitbridge. From the engagements with the
communities, it was evident that the main concern among the respondents was the realization of optimal
returns from their livestock. Respondents argued that there is an urgent need to address challenges
13
contributing to poor livestock pricing and these relate to livestock marketing, information access,
infrastructure and linkages between buyers and farmers. At the time of the study, it was established that
there are digital platforms designed with affordances to address the different challenges and other
platforms, specifically the Remote Livestock Marketing System (RLMS) (Figure 4) promised to provide
solutions to most challenges. As indicated on their website, the RLMS aims to enable livestock farmers
to sell their livestock in the “comfort of their homes” (RLMS, online). It seeks to achieve this by
creating virtual meeting place for buyers and sellers overcoming distance and infrastructure constraints.
In doing so, the platform promises to widen access to alternative markets for both buyers and sellers.
Figure 4. The Remote Livestock Marketing System Logo
Source: RLMS (online)
While RLMS promises to provide a range of services, there are also other platforms which provide
different services. For instance, Kurima Mari is another relevant platform and according to Chaparadza
(2018) “the app provides farmers with various information concerning crops, livestock, nutrition,
financial services (for agriculture business), selling tips and the market for buyers and sellers. All that
information can be read by many people in [Zimbabwe] as the app can be used in three different
languages, English, Shona, and Ndebele The Esoko and eMkambo are similar platforms which have
been developed to help farmers receive agricultural and market information.
In addition to agriculture-specific platforms, the study also found that social network platforms such as
Facebook and WhatsApp are also used in the livestock system. WhatsApp was popular among the
farmers as these farmers create groups to self-organise and share information in different formats e.g.
text, images, audios and videos. Social media platforms are also being used by livestock buyers as well
as livestock technicians. One technician highlighted that:
“We are already using other technologies and we are seeing the benefits such as a reduction in
trips we have to make to the field. If other relevant technologies become available, we will
embrace these and even teach the farmers as this will simplify our work” (livestock technician,
Old Nuli village)
Our assessment of the digital platforms available to the livestock actors suggest that there is an increase
in platforms designed by local people but there remains a design-reality gap in that most platforms
available continue to disregard context.
14
Platform
Affordance
Applicability to the livestock
value chain
Use or adoption in the study
area
RLMS
Allows buying & selling
in the comfort on one’s
home
Facilitate the virtual meeting of
buyers & sellers, thus, provide
alternative markets and increase
number of buyers
Not adopted and farmers not
aware. However, there were
indications of the system being
used in areas such as Rushinga.
E-Mkambo
A market -driven
agricultural solution
platform- facilitating
Price distribution
Facilitate timely access to market
trends and market information by
farmers thereby impact the
decision-making process and
negotiation process
Not adopted and farmers not
aware. Also, the system
currently mainly focuses on
other agricultural commodities.
Ecocash
Mobile money service
including making and
receiving payments
In the context of Zimbabwe, the
platform helps to overcome cash
shortage and, can be used as a
saving option by farmers without
bank accounts
Adopted by some, others have
rejected it (especially during
cash crisis)
Social networking
sites
e.g. Facebook
Information generation
and distribution
Facilitating discussions among
livestock system actors.
Adopted by some, others have
rejected it for personal reasons.
Table 3. Digital platforms which can be adopted by livestock farmers
As Table 3 shows, not all available digital platforms have been adopted by livestock actors in the study
area. In this study, at least 84% of the survey respondents (n=224) had access to mobile phones but
when respondents were asked whether they had used the available platforms, findings show that at least
33% and less than 1% had used the Ecocash platform and any social networking platform, respectively.
Explanations supporting these findings including lack of knowledge, costs of using mobile phones and
the type of mobile phone handset used (most individuals own feature phones).
When asked if they had any concerns regarding digital platforms, respondents highlighted issues of costs
and privacy. The responses obtained also suggest that there is an inherent lack of trust in digital
platforms demonstrated by concerns such as “I don’t know what they will do with my informationAlso,
there were muted concerns on the complex issues which, unfortunately, respondents were not able to
clearly point. For instance, one farmer who rejected Ecocash payment argued that:
Ecocash is ripping us. We are just making the company rich as I must pay extra charges to
access my own money. Sometimes when I want my money, I can’t access it because their network
will be down. I would rather wait until there is cash.
In addition to this, the study also found that the value proposition of digital platforms conflicted with
sociocultural dynamics of the community. For instance, online livestock sales suggest that farmers can
complete transactions (advertising and selling livestock) in the comfort of their homes, but in the study
area, livestock-related events are part of the sociocultural dynamics. Thus, when asked how they feel
about the value propositions of digital platforms during a focus group, one respondent refuted the idea of
virtual auctions arguing that:
While I like the idea of selling livestock in the comfort of my home, going to the show has become
part of our lives. We go there not only to sell livestock but also to interact with others and even
show off our wealth. That is the reason why it takes the whole week. In addition, there is always
15
the band playing after showa. So, these technologies might really disrupt all these activities if we
are not careful (Elderly male, Dumba)
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to investigate the potential of digital platforms to revitalize the livestock
system in rural areas. Incidentally, the study appears to respond to Chaparadza’s (2008) article titled:
Digital livestock market: an idea whose time has come? As a starting point, the study considered the
importance of livestock system to the study area and moved on to identify the challenges facing the
livestock system. This was followed by exploring the digital platforms available which can be or are
being used to overcome these challenges.
In terms of livestock’s importance, the study findings show that households perceived livestock to play
significant roles, including towards food (access and availability), household income and other social
roles. These findings are also reported in key reports including CFS and FAO. The study’s
characterisation of the livestock system - as a fragile system, with poor infrastructure and poor returns
for farmers - has also been reported in other studies (Mavedzenge et al., 2008; Quinlan et al., 2016).
Worryingly, Mavedzenge et al.’s (2008) observation that livestock infrastructure in rural communities is
inadequate, remains the same in many rural areas visited during this study. This has intensified calls for
transformation of livestock systems (Barrett et al., 2017) and responses include interventions such as the
MOSMAC project in Beitbridge to introduce ICTs, including digital platforms. But as always, it remains
unclear whether interventions can deliver the desire changes (Oliver et al., 2018). Thus, de Reuver et al.
(2017) suggest focusing on establishing the potential of these digital platforms to disrupt systems.
Relating to digital platforms available, which can potentially be adopted within the livestock systems,
the study identified digital platforms available for use within the livestock system. Among these
platforms, some were developed specifically for agriculture-related purposes, while others were
developed for different purposes but repurposed for agriculture. On technology affordances, we
anticipated that digital platforms can provide alternative solutions to prevailing challenges (e.g. poor
markets) and this is also reported in other studies on digital platforms’ affordances such as Andersson
Schwarz (2017) who expect digital platforms to open up markets. Onono, Amimo and Rushton (2015)
also observed that smallholder farmers in rural areas are being attracted by the technology affordances
(e.g. the idea of online markets). Another key observation of the study relates to digital platforms’
repurposing which related to adoption of digital technologies for valuable use across contexts
(Antonopoulou, Nandhakumar & Henfridsson, 2016). The study found that social media platforms,
including Facebook, are being used for activities such as livestock marketing and provide critical
affordances, such as instant messaging and content sharing. However, despite the increase in digital
platforms available, the study findings, in line with Chaparadza’s (2018) observation, suggest that there
are several gaps within the livestock system for future innovation.
In terms of the developers and providers, digital platforms available to the rural communities are
designed outside the user-communities, with limited consultation of the target users, by individuals
whose understanding of the local systems, in most cases, is extremely limited (cf. Ornetzeder &
Rohracher, 2006). This results in what Heeks (2003) point to as the design-reality concept which suggest
that the design of digital platforms fails to accommodate the reality of the end users. The study noted an
increase in local innovators e.g. eMkambo and Maxifarm are innovation developed by local
Zimbabweans. However, as Bharadwaj, Sawy, Pavlou and Venkatraman (2013:48) argue, “the value
16
capture involves complex coordination between app developers, the mobile OS (Apple, Android,
Windows, or Blackberry), hardware manufacturers, telecom operators, and service providers such as
Facebook, YouTube, and others. The complicating factor is that the business models are not independent
but intersect and interoperate across these different players” In addition to these complex interactions,
the study further noted that emerging digital platforms attract considerable funding and some innovators
are seeking to enrich themselves. Therefore, it remains challenging to accurately determine the interests
of developers and providers, particularly those which aggravate inequality. Considering global ethics
scandals such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it is prudent to be concerned about the interests of
the digital platform providers. Dourish and Mainwaring (2012:1) argue that, “colonialism is a much
more pervasive aspect of ubiquitous computing than we normally give it credit for. In fact, it is entwined
with all sorts of aspects of how we think, how we talk, and how we work” To this end, the study argues
that it if not far-fetched to think of digital platforms as modern tools to amass power and control in
society as William’s (2015) observation that, in each era power must be refashioned in the image of its
age”.
Moving on to the target users, the study shows that this group has the choice to accept or reject digital
platforms which are available to them. The study noted that there were differences in attitudes and
perceptions towards digital platforms as well as inequitable access to connectivity and data. Despite cash
shortages during the study, farmers rejected the Ecocash payments and this rejection of mobile services
in agricultural systems was also noted in Wyche and Steinfield (2016). In addition, the adoption and use
of the available digital platforms varied, with a few farmers reporting positive experiences. On the other
hand, buyers and livestock technician reported growing use of digital platforms with suggestions on how
new platforms they look forward to in future. It appeared that individuals with more resources (e.g.
better education, mobile phones) benefit more from digital platforms than those with limited resources
(e.g. others could not afford data). Thus, instead of digital platforms contributing towards sustainable
and equitable livestock systems, they potentially “reproduce the inequalities” among the system actors
(Leurs & Zimmer, 2017:807). Thus, actors with the livestock system who already have resources (access
to smartphones and can afford data) will continue to benefit from digital platforms, and accumulate
more resources, while those with limited resources continue to face challenges (Wyche, Simiyu &
Othieno, 2016)
CONCLUSION
This study has explored the potential of digital platforms in revitalising the livestock system in rural
communities in Zimbabwe. Based on the findings on the state of the livestock system in Beitbridge and
the affordances of various digital platforms, both designed specifically for livestock system and not, the
study concludes that digital platforms have the potential to revitalize the collapsing livestock system.
We argue that digital platforms create new digital products and services (e.g. virtual markets, mobile
payments, mobile insurance and instant messaging among others) which, if correctly appropriated, can
contribute towards overcoming the complex challenges faced within the livestock system. Through new
products and services, digital platforms can also transform the structure of the livestock system for
example, through changing information sharing channels, attracting new actors (opening and widening
markets). While different digital platforms are developed with specific affordances, it is essential that
individuals are aware and willing to utilise these. Nonetheless, the failure of livestock system actors to
recognise digital platforms’ affordances does not translate to digital platforms being unable to play a
role within livestock systems.
17
In addition, the study also concludes that while digital platforms have the potential to play a role towards
improving livestock systems, they are fraught with hidden complexities. Specifically, the study argues
that the interests (value capture) of platform developers and designers are complex, and often hidden. In
this way, deeper structural issues such as power dynamics, capitalism and social injustice are not evident
to target users. This means, to be certain on the potential of these digital platforms, it may be essential to
also draw from non-technical subjects e.g. sociology and philosophy of technology, a lens commonly
applied in the work of Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey Bowker. However, the study suggests that, in the
interest of social justice, it would be amiss to promote, adopt and use digital platforms without clear
insights on the interests of digital platforms’ designers and service providers.
Therefore, given the foregoing summaries, we clarify that digital platforms have the potential to
revitalize the livestock system. However, to the achieve desirable outcomes, target users need detailed
information, pros and cons, to enable them to make informed decisions on whether to adopt or reject
these platforms. It also follows that developing countries need to establish and enforce regulation on the
emerging digital platforms if social justice is to be achieved through technological innovations.
RECOMMENDATION
This study has identified the potential of digital platforms in revitalising the livestock system in rural
areas and noted concerns with the use of these digital platforms. From the conclusions drawn above, the
study recommends a gradual approach towards the integration of digital platforms within the livestock
system. Coupled with this, ongoing critical assessment, particularly weighing value proposition against
value capture, by third parties may be needed, to achieve social justice. In the same vein, the study
recommends collaborative design of digital platforms and intensifying discussions on the potential
threats of digital platforms. It is incumbent upon the research community, using interdisciplinary
approaches and teams, to objectively explore the emerging and existing platforms which are being
integrated in the local value chains and develop recommendations on whether these platforms work or
not, towards solving societal problems. In terms of future work, it is suggested that future research on
digital platforms can focus on establishing the digital platforms being or which have the potential of
being integrated in other rural value chains. Comparative studies on platforms compatibility within
different systems e.g. digital platforms for health vis-à-vis digital platforms for education can be critical
in providing researchers with additional insights on digital platforms’ potential. Also, engaging with
different individuals at different levels within the platform design and development can also provide
new information on the interests and motivations for platform designers and providers. Further to this,
future studies can utilise creative techniques such as positive deviance to analyse ‘successful’ digital
platforms to understand the contextual factors towards the success.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (OPTIONAL)
We thank the ResilientAfricaNetwork (Makerere University), SARILab (University of Pretoria) for
providing financial and technical support. We thank Professor Salah Kabanda for her constructive
comments on the previous version of the paper.
18
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