Will integrating digital technology into the food system work?

The media may create the impression that a new wave of digital technologies is sweeping the agricultural world, bringing farmers around the world incredible new equipment and services that will inevitably boost food production and enable Everything on earth gets better. Apparently, drones spray chemicals only where they are needed, tractors and harvesters automatically turn to work perfectly, and even robots lend a helping hand when harvesting. In the background, one might also believe, or soon, there will be smooth digital processes to inform farmers, use artificial intelligence to help them impartially, and then ensure that produce moves efficiently along a “smart” and possibly autonomous food chain. “Precision Agriculture “Or the future of sensor-rich “smart agriculture” should be upon us.

Likewise, outside the farm, there are stories of robots flipping burgers or serving counters soon. Drones will deliver our groceries; or Amazon or Alphabet will soon offer us customized dietary recommendations, or even order meals on our behalf, based on an analysis of our eating habits or gut health. We’ve also heard about efforts downstream from the farm — so-called “innovation” — to turn data about food consumption into insights about which new line extensions to launch. Integrating digital technology into the food system should allow food companies to figure out new ways to take up space in our stomachs, even if it includes food that most of us can’t live without, especially against a backdrop of rising obesity rates and food waste. (shockingly, in an age of rising undernourishment and malnutrition rates).

Governments, corporations and start-ups all generate easily editable material, including should know better, from trendy short videos posted on social media channels or for “clickbait” articles in online publications. It’s not all hype.”Big Tech” companies like Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft Do Know that the food and agriculture sectors offer proven options for generating future profits.smaller companies vein Emerging to provide new products that may generate new efficiencies. The government certainly wants its agricultural sector to work more efficiently. Farmers and other food producers around the world, including many of the world’s poorest farmers, are already using some aspects of contemporary digital technology.us were able Identifying the ongoing “digital shift” in agriculture, with so much action taking place online, reflects broader developments in social life. From “seed to shit” — or more politely, “farm to fork” — new digital technologies are at work.

However, the exact location where all these actions will lead to remains unknown. An agricultural digital paradise seems far-fetched, to say the least, based on scenarios depicted in stories of robots picking apples or autonomous drones wiping out pests. It is more likely that digital technologies will be integrated into agricultural practices and the wider food system in problematic ways. So what kind of questions are important?

On the one hand, there is concern that the rush to integrate digital technologies into food systems has to do with “data scraping”. The controversial data isn’t just generated when farmers or their workers sow or spray chemicals. Data is also generated when traders deliver food; when food manufacturers promote new product lines; when retailers make sales; when consumers mention products, like or dislike them on social media channels. Data provides information and possible knowledge about what will be produced in the future and how and where it will be produced. It makes sense to question what agtech or food companies typically get when they envision and pursue business models, as they see data as a new “cash crop” that needs to be harvested, analyzed, and then used to develop new intellectual property.

On the other hand, the risk of data scraping is compounded by the fact that some companies try to “black box” software and hardware, so only approved suppliers or technicians can repair tractors, or analyze which digital services are working run. to. Companies use their power to define how technology is rolled out and try (not always successfully) to dominate smaller players.A lesson: what agtech companies are trying at home today bodes well for what they will be doing in emerging markets in the future (and should be a wake-up call to what startups are learning them should be considered for new products).

For some players, fears of data theft or big corporations dominating farmers may just be noise. But others worry that the digital transformation of the food system amplifies the power of data analysts and computer scientists — and accelerates the transition to food systems — who work for those companies with the most computing power . This process should have us all asking, ‘What kind of food system would the Amazons and the Alphabet people produce? And, if they do become the big winners of this shift, what happens to those who lose?

So related to this is the fact that the digital transformation of the food system is happening at a time when another scramble, the land grab, is unfolding. Growing inequalities within and between countries and among the world’s richest and poorest have led to land grabs, often with decisions “on the head of the local people”. There is a growing awareness, encouraged by World Bank economists, that the land in many parts of the world is not producing enough yields, and there is a need to understand these processes. The underlying argument is that farmers in Zambia or Thailand either need urgent (probably now, digital) assistance to bring their yields closer to what capital-intensive farming in the US or Western Europe achieves, or should be encouraged (through markets or other forces) ) to sell to capable people. However, as Samir Amin asked almost two decades ago, what will happen to them if hundreds of millions more farmers leave their land? Where exactly should they go?

The upshot of all this is that digital technology, if integrated into the food system, is linked to data scraping, which encourages further land grabbing, and if the food system is adapted according to computational models developed to maximize the With Big Food’s profit ‘-tech’, there is a need for serious scrutiny of what is going on and an examination of the consequences. In this regard, one possible outcome is that the same move to satisfy investors eager to see food companies adopt digital technologies and harness data will also move us away from the kind of food systems we actually need to develop. It is worth pointing out here the debate about the possibility – or even the necessity – of creating alternative food systems to ensure sustainable food production, while maintaining awareness of this, as Judith Butler in her “”the power of nonviolence‘, threatening ‘to the environment, the global slum problem, systemic racism, the status of stateless people for whom migration is a shared global responsibility, and even more radically overcoming colonial power models’.Integrate digital technology That If the digital shift can be reversed to facilitate food sovereignty, then some kind of food system may still be an option. Until then, the rush to integrate digital technologies into the food system seems to be just another component of data colonialism.

Extended Reading on Electronic International Relations

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