WDPD: an interview with Maureen Kenga on a concerted effort to preserve community knowledge in Kenya
World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD) is held on the first Thursday of every November. This year’s theme is Digital Preservation: A Concerted Effort and as the DPC says, “taking digital preservation to the next level takes time and actively working together with colleagues, partner institutions, open-source developers, friends and other community members.” With that in mind, we want to amplify the work being done by a digital preservation community member: Maureen Kenga.
Maureen was the recipient of a bursary that Artefactual sponsored which enabled her to attend and deliver her poster in person at the conference. Those of us who were in Illinois for the event had the pleasure of meeting Maureen and hearing her present her award winning paper for the Best First Time Contribution on the “Digitization of Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge in Shaping Food Security across the Kenyan Coastal Region.” This paper examines the importance of digitizing indigenous farming knowledge and methods in order to ensure food security. It addresses the 2023 iPres topic of Digital accessibility, Inclusion, and Diversity.
Maureen is a librarian at the State Department for Economic Planning in Kenya. She is also a farmer and a volunteer with Pwani Ufanisi Farmers’ Cooperative (PUFCO) as the
Secretary General. Her education includes an MSc in Information and Knowledge Management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, a
Bachelor of Library and Information Science from Kisii University, and a Diploma in
Information Science from Kenya Technical Teachers College (currently Kenya School of
Technical & Vocational Education and Training).
Maureen is encouraged by the Hamilton Beazley quote, “Knowledge is the new capital, but it’s worthless unless it’s accessible, communicated, and enhanced.” In that spirit, we want to get to know more about Maureen and make a small but concerted effort to communicate her research more widely. For World Digital Preservation Day, we asked and she answered five questions about her work.
1) What drew you to the information and knowledge management field?
I got into the field of Information Science by ‘misunderstanding’ in the year 2005. I applied for a diploma course in Information Science at the then Kenya Technical Teachers College thinking that it was ICT. I had deep desire to pursue an ICT course since computer studies was one of my favorite subjects in high school. I had opted to defer the Information Science course and apply for a diploma in ICT. Surprisingly, half of the class were also in the same situation as mine. Mr. Ireri was the deputy Head of the Information Science Department then. He took the first three weeks of the first semester to convince us to continue with the course. Through his guidance and career coaching, I embraced the profession and it has been my career line since then. I pursued a diploma course in Information Studies and Library (KNEC) then followed through with a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science from Kisii University, Records Management option. I joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2018 for MSc in Information and Knowledge Management and graduated in June, 2022. This is the reason behind my advocacy for Information science and mentoring young people who have interest in the field either by choice or ‘misunderstanding’.
2) What interested or sparked you to choose this paper topic?
My major hobby is farming. I love eating fresh vegetables from the kitchen garden. I got this interest from my mother who also loves farming and to some extent, farming proceeds paid for our education when our father died. Back in Kilifi, my home county, we could hear stories of how our parents were educated through coconut and cashew nuts farming besides the subsistence farming that most families were/are engaged in. The cashew nuts industry collapsed in the late 1980s rendering most families in the coast region to fall into poverty. The community was/is also not well conversant with commercial farming while at the same time struggling with the subsistence farming of the short and medium term crops.
The listed challenges motivated a few of some professional from the region to unite the
farmers by forming a Community of Practice (CoP) called Pwani Ufanisi Farmers’ Cooperative in 2018. The aim was each professional to give a solution that he/she could offer to curb the farming challenges. I had started my MSc. in Information and Knowledge Management and volunteered to manage the CoP and ensure that the farmers get the right information at the right time and place. This brought in more issues in accessing traditional knowledge that had worked prior in that majority of those who had this knowledge were either dead or too old to remember most of the things. This motivated me to start the digitization of indigenous agricultural knowledge in the region to offer solutions in my own small ways. The iPRES 2023 conference theme ‘Digital Preservation in Disruptive Times’ and the focus area of ‘Digital Accessibility, Inclusion and Diversity’ fitted well with what I am doing hence my topic, ‘Digital Accessibility, Inclusion and Diversity: Digitization of Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge
in Shaping Food Security Across the Kenyan Coastal Region’.
3) Having experience with both farming and librarianship, is there a common theme in these two professions?
In my opinion and from practical experience, yes.
For farming and agriculture in general to succeed, all the stakeholders in the value chain must access the right information and knowledge at the right time and place. Some of the activities in the agriculture value chain include: development and dissemination of plant and animal genetic material, pests management, input supply, farmer organization, farm production, water harvesting, planting highly nutritious traditional foods, post-harvest handling, processing, provision of technologies of production and handling, grading criteria and facilities, cooling and packing technologies, post-harvest local processing, industrial processing, storage, transport, finance, and feedback from markets. The flow of information and knowledge across the value chain and between the stakeholders involved can well be done by a trained information science professional (Knowledge manager, librarian or records manager).
4) Your paper touches on the sharing of information through community networks. Can you share a bit more about the importance/role of community networks in preserving knowledge?
Community networks provide a natural setting which enables members to store collective knowledge over time and recall it in future. PUFCO field visits to other farmers and to the events organized by other stakeholders are great sources for practical learning. The direct contact between the farmers during community activities provide the opportunity for feedback that promotes effective learning. The community networks extend beyond PUFCO boundaries to other stakeholders. The larger the networks the more experience the farmers get thus more valuable to not only PUFCO members but also the coastal community at large. The community members are usually loyal to the community and help each other based on the principle of reciprocity for mutual growth. Community networks promotes knowledge sharing and transfer between the elderly and the young farmers’ hence promoting sustainability.
Once the knowledge is shared, transferred and stored within the community members, it becomes easy to codify and distribute to anybody in search of the same knowledge. For the PUFCO project, codification is done through video documentaries. The PUFCO members also share knowledge via WhatsApp groups’ chats which are later exported and saved in the PUFCO website for preservation.
5) Your paper describes the digitization and sharing of farming knowledge using a number of platforms such as photos, videos, and chats being stored in the PUFCO website. Can you tell us more about what the next steps are for preserving this information?
The project is still at its inception stage and the current knowledge is stored in the PUFCO website aside other small digital preservation devices like external hard disks. Digital preservation plan for the project is currently being worked on to ensure project sustainability and success. Since this is a personal initiative to the benefit of the Kenyan coastal community, partnerships and collaborations are being sought to form a successful team. The success of this project will play a key role in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Kenyan coast region while at the same time shape agriculture and food security. The SDGs include: SDG1 No poverty; SDG 2 Zero hunger (Reviving agriculture); SDG 3 Good health and well-being (Nutritious food); SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation (Water harvesting); SDG 8 Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure (value addition); SDG 13 Climate action; SDG 15 life on land (Kayas preservation, tree planting) and SDG 16 Peace, justice and strong institutions (CoPs, Mworia system).
Thank-you Maureen for talking to us about your work and happy world digital preservation day to you!