Digital technologies, hyper-transparency and smallholder farmer inclusion in global value chains
This article (PDF) published in the Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability states that globalization of food value chains has increased the demand for greater transparency over where food is produced, how, by whom and with what effect on society and the environment. A range of new digital technologies are available to facilitate transparency, with the promise of leading the global food system to an era of ‘hyper-transparency’. Its impact on smallholder farmer inclusion, however, remains questionable. The potential benefits of hyper-transparency for smallholders are improved access to services and markets. Thus far, important challenges remain. These are limited access to these technologies for smallholders and new power relations that emerge around access, use and control of data. Consequently, strategies and policies are needed to 1) ensure that farmers’ data rights are protected and that there is a fair sharing of the benefits of the collection and analysis of data; 2) guide learning and knowledge development of how to use and interpret information available in a way that it becomes a tool for empowerment of smallholder farmers rather than a surveillance quest. Hyper-transparency means that smallholders and other value chain players should not only be seen as economic actors in value chains, but also as data subjects and users. Digital technologies can generate and analyse vast amounts of data about farmers, their activities, and their environment, but the important question is who can access, control, and use this data. Here lies an important task for governments and international organizations: they should focus on improving data regulation, and informational and digital literacy at all levels of society, especially the smallholder farmer, to enhance market inclusion and increase productivity through technological advancements. Only then can the ‘invisible hand’ work in the advantage of smallholders.