Why Deep Understanding Is Hard?

A host of fiendishly complex issues need to be understood:

  • Mind-bogglingly complex issues are embedded in the wide-ranging problem of global industrial food animal production, from government subsidies, concentration of power of agribusinesses, global trade in agricultural commodities, to societal food consumption norms.
  • Many drivers and factors have a hand in stoking the flame. All of them need to be grasped properly. Understanding only a single spark results in not being able to accurately describe the “elephant” (as in the folktale about six blind persons each trying to figure out what an elephant looks like). 

A multitude of unanswered questions still exist

  • Unanswered questions related to industrial animal agriculture in low- and middle-income countries are thick on the ground, many more than for high-income countries.
  • Perplexities abound due to language and cultural barriers. 
  • Dynamic global supply chains and feedback loops, opaque trans-national agribusiness practices and strategies, diverse production and consumption patterns, all combined to throw up formidable hurdles to stymie those seeking penetrating answers to the questions.

No clear roadmaps

  • For decades campaigners in high-income countries have tried various pathways to improve bad situations and have learned from their experience. They have a reasonably good sense of the directions that are likely to lead to favorable outcomes. Academic studies to explain the problem of industrial animal agriculture in the context of high-income countries and to evaluate interventions are available.
  • Few signposts (if any) exist to guide those who want to take steps in low- and middle-income countries. Few persons are able to tell compelling, instructive stories drawn from extended field experience in these places. And even when there are success stories, how confident can one be in asserting that the same approach will likely work in other countries? Low and middle-income countries are quite different from one another. There can even be important differences within regions of a single country. Almost all advice and insights are context-specific and context-dependent.

Not enough robust data, information, and analyses

  • Reliable facts and figures about low- and middle-income countries are hard to obtain. They are proprietary, or very costly, or not trustworthy, or not collected – including data that are considered basic, routine, and straightforward in high-income countries. Even government departments and quasi-governmental organizations in low- and middle-income countries cannot be depended upon to possess or supply accurate statistics.
  • Moreover, there are not enough high-quality analyses and systematic syntheses on which one can anchor actions and decisions. There are not enough persons working on such analyses and syntheses.
  • But it is exactly sound information, evidence, and analyses on which practical plans can be based that are vital for success – not just having charismatic leaders in organizations, celebrity endorsements, or clever social media outreach.

No knowledgeable, extensive pools of networks and allies

  • Value chains of agricultural commodities are remarkably sophisticated, with numerous interwoven strands that criss-cross the globe while at the same time exhibiting peculiar local characteristics.
  • A systems approach is needed to understand them. Many hands are needed on many oars. Local groups that are influential and familiar about local regulations and traditions are needed. Academic researchers knowledgeable about a range of subjects from farm animal science to the socio-economic landscapes of various countries are needed. And it would be highly beneficial if front-line persons and academic researchers could join forces.
  • One cannot rely on a small team to come up with a “formula” that everybody in any country can adopt. No one group or single expert knows all the answers.
  • One also needs platforms and channels to share trustworthy, actionable knowledge easily.
  • But at present it is not customary to go outside of one’s orbit to engage with others. Readily available means of communication with unacquainted parties don’t really exist.

Why should one bother to gain a deeper understanding at all?

  • There is no denying that improving one's understanding requires grappling with issues that are desperately difficult to unravel. And successful attempts require an unusual mix of know-hows. Very few have the appetite for this kind of work, which sounds nebulous and can take a long time to bear fruit. 
  • But what is the alternative? Should one opt for ignorance? Or behave like the proverbial "ostrich" hiding his head in the sand? Or risk being influenced by the Dunning-Kruger Effect?
  • Flawed understanding and diagnosis severely handicaps the search for realistic, long-lasting solutions and smart trade-offs. Nuanced, sophisticated understanding matters, and is well worth acquiring and bothering about.
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