Opinion

Do farmers benefit from data sharing?

Chris Addison

Farmers benefit from sharing data on their own terms

To start to consider the benefits of data sharing, it is best to consider the categories of data that we are talking about in farming. Benefits will depend on whether the data provides a competitive advantage to the individual farmer (a trade secret) or only becomes valuable if shared with others (e.g. location). CTA was involved in producing a review of the data sets most used by farmers’ organisations in Africa to deliver services to their members. The study illustrated the variety of data being managed by these intermediaries on the farmers’ behalf, together with the possible benefits of such data sharing.

The data services reviewed in the study were categorised into four areas that benefited the farmer: production-related data alerts on threats, such as pests and weather; data that could affect access to finance, including facilitating credit and insurance; data related to market access, such as data on market prices or to improve traceability; and finally registration data to improve organisation and logistics. Through further field work with the PanAfrican Farmers Organization and Agricord in the Data4Ag project, CTA discovered that smallholder farmers needed to be convinced of the value of sharing data and reassured about how the data was being used.

Improved productivity and market access

Sharing crop data not only enables extension information to be better targeted to farmers but, with access to yield data, farmer associations and agribusinesses can aggregate access to markets and better represent farmers’ interests. For example, with their data service, e-granary, the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation has found buyers for their farmers’ produce by securing a better supply based on better yield forecasts. They are working with local government on food security issues, using data shared by their members on yields. The company have also used farmers’ data to provide insurance for the benefit of their members.

CTA has also been working in Samoa with Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI),where we have seen the value for farmers in sharing data to access new markets. Here the data allows WIBDI to organise a constant supply of organic produce to hotels and restaurants through their ‘WIBDI Farm To Table’ app. The farm registration data is used to ensure each farms’ organic certification is kept up to date. This integrated approach to value chain management is why sharing data brings benefits.

Ensuring data ownership by farmers

But data does not need to be open to all and there is a need to consider what the Open Data Institute calls the ‘data spectrum’. This means that different rights can be associated with different data sets and uses. CTA has worked together with Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition(GODAN) and, more recently, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation(GFAR) to look at how the benefits of data sharing for farmers can be supported. In a GODAN paper, Jeremy de Beer explains a number of safeguards that are in place to preserve farmers’ rights and, at the same time, examines different models to govern shared data, which range from international agreements to social certification.

At a recent workshop in Bonn,convened by CTA, GFAR and GODAN, we considered what could be done to ensure farmers could benefit from the opportunities provided by data sharing, while guarding their interests. Simone van der Burg from Wageningen University and Research and Fonteini Zampati of GODAN summarise some of the findings in this webinar.

Building farmers’ trust

The opportunities created for farmers by sharing data are clearly wide ranging, but it seems that there is a need for trust centres to play a role in preserving their interests. Various approaches are being made to fill this gap. At CTA, we have been looking at the ability of farmers’ cooperatives and farmer-led businesses to play this role. New technologies can potentially play a role as well. We have recently featured a number of blockchain applications in agriculture, which show how farmers could benefit from new tamper-proof records in the value chain. There are also opportunities for consumers to capture farmers’ data using trust systems in software to ensure traceability in the value chain. This can be used to ensure more inclusion of farmers in the value chain and prevent fraud; for example, farmers working with Moyee coffee (the first Ethio-Dutch fairchain coffee farming and roasting company) receive tips from consumers drinking their coffee through a blockchain app.

The take home message is that there are a myriad of opportunities for farmers if they share data. These can provide access to finance, insurance, new markets and extension, but the data sharing should be on their terms and ensure rights protection.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.