Data — a new crop for smallholder farmers

By Mark Tsang, Head of Data at AgUnity and Concept Creator at AgriUT

AgUnity Farmer Group Training in Kotta Ethiopia

Blockchains and digital tokens have taken center stage as a solution for many problems that we face today. The process of tokenisation represents real world assets as a digital token so that they can be easily processed, recorded, transmitted, shared, stored, traded and new innovative uses being thought of today. Digitization removes the friction associated with transacting and processing of real world assets. However, in some instances tokenisation can be performed on existing digital assets. One such example is data.

In a previous article we discussed “How can Smallholder Farmers Benefit from a Digital Token” and spoke about how a digital token represents inclusion into markets that power modern economies. Access to agricultural markets offers better pricing and improved farming necessities. Financial markets provide access to banking, savings, micro-insurance and microfinance. Carbon markets present opportunities to diversify farmer incomes beyond the agricultural crop. Similarly, access to data markets represents inclusion into the nascent but growing market for data to power decision making. Blockchain and digital tokens are spearheading the creation of these markets and their inherent traits of decentralized trust, low barriers to entry and far reaching inclusivity make them a viable platform for the smallholder context.

Data

Data is the foundation to development activities as it supports good policy making, transparent accounting and increasing economic activity. The World Bank World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives is the first to focus on the role of data for development. It discusses topics of data ownership, data protection and security and recommends the establishment of a social contract for data to unlock its potential. The social contract is comprised of three elements, value, equity and trust. Value can be viewed through social and economic lenses where social value represents the improvement of human well-being and economic value represents the potential increases in income for the poor and revenue for companies. The report goes on to say that platforms are one of the most transformative data-driven models today as they reduce transaction costs and alleviate market failures by enabling better matching of supply and demand.

In nations where the data-driven economy is more developed there is a growing awareness on the monopoly that a select few companies have on collecting and controlling data. Social discourse and popular movies such as “The Great Hack” (Netflix) and “The Social Dilemma” (Netflix) have served to accelerate that awareness. On the regulatory side of the discussion, the EU has followed its leadership path on data protection (GDPR) and created the EU Data Strategy to foster the sharing and use of data in support of a digital economy.

The EU Data Governance Act is the first piece of legislation to support the Data Strategy which seeks to govern who has access to data and what purposes it can be used for and how. The Act looks to create data sharing trusted intermediaries that have a fiduciary duty to individuals and envisages the formation of data cooperatives and data unions to act as the trusted intermediaries where data contributors can elect to make their data available for free or a charge. The European Commission has also created the EU Code of Conduct on Agricultural Data Sharing by Contractual Agreement which is a voluntary guideline on the management of agricultural data. Of note it clearly assigns ownership of data produced from the farm to the farmer. The Code of Conduct is currently under review in line with the release of the EU Data Strategy.

“In nations where the data-driven economy is more developed there is a growing awareness on the monopoly that a select few companies have on collecting and controlling data”

Alongside the momentum in public awareness and the regulatory position in the EU, companies have begun to create platforms that allow the equitable sharing of data value. These organisations seek to put control into the hands of the individual in a form of “Self-Sovereign Data”. My Data Global is an international non-profit whose purpose is to “empower individuals by improving their right to self-determination regarding their personal data”. The organization was mentioned in the recent EU Data Governance Act as a leading organization in this field. Other companies such as Digi.me puts forward “A new ethical and sustainable way for individuals to take control of their data”, Brave Browser which takes a stronger stance on privacy by blocking the under the covers data collection and offers cryptocurrency rewards for the advertisements that you watch and Streamr which is a tech company that has created a framework for a “Data Union” that allows the individual to decide who they want to share their data with via a data cooperative, are some examples of the innovation taking place in this space.

Data has sometimes been described as the “new oil” to indicate its importance in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum). The movement towards the equitable distribution of value to include the original creators of data now includes civil society, governments and companies and represents significant momentum. In building solutions, blockchains and digital tokens form the platforms that foster such equitable data sharing and when applied into a development context, they are well placed to create transformational change by including the smallholder farmer into the value equation.

Blockchain for good in Ethiopia
Blockchain for good in Ethiopia
Coffee Farmers in Beshasha Ethiopia

These platforms have the potential to create agricultural data marketplaces where data originators such as farmers, co-operatives and producer organisations consolidate their farming activity data into significant data repositories. Consumers of that data can be development organisations with objectives to promote smallholder farming communities, governments wanting to set data-driven policies, academics undertaking research into farming communities and more. Together, data producers and data consumers form the data economy, and all participants have a say in assigning the correct value for data.

Digital tokens are particularly well suited to a data marketplace as they can be used to easily incentivise the harvesting of data along the farming supply chain. With a smartphone in hand, farmers become data creators and gatherers by providing GPS location data, farming yield data, transaction data and other data that might be of value to consuming organizations.

Generally speaking, smallholder farmers lack the opportunities offered to citizens of developed countries. Poor health and education services dramatically erode available opportunities and the exclusion from markets removes opportunities afforded by the predominant market based economies of today. As developed, wealthy nations further entrench data-driven economies into their societies the developing world has the opportunity to engage and participate through the digital, tokenised paradigms of a blockchain based market system.

Interested to know how you can get involved in changing the script for smallholder farmers? Contact us at hello@agriut.com or via our website to learn more about how you can join the movement.

AgriUT is a digital utility token system that engages consumers through direct interactions and a means to reward and thank farmers that grow our food.