The Digital Agri Hub, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR), the University of British Columbia, and the Agroecology Coalition facilitated an e-conversation on "Digitalization and agroecology: a challenging marriage?" from 17 July to 2 August 2023.
The e-conversation took place online and by email (hosted on the D4Ag dgroup). Above is the link to read a summary trying to capture the main points and some conclusions out of the 53 interventions from 32 participants. The original document of the summary is available on the Digital Agri Hub website here.
The main points raised in this discussion will contribute to the outcomes of the GFAR Collective Action on Inclusive Digital Transformation of Agriculture.
The debate on whether digital solutions are compatible with agroecology is quite polarized. It has to be said from the onset that the level of polarization also depends on which area of application of digital technologies is considered: precision farming is the area where opinions diverge the most, but digital agriculture has many areas of application (sales/marketing, finance, knowledge sharing, learning).
Some people believe that precision farming technologies, which use digital tools to improve agricultural practices, can be beneficial for agroecology: they can help farmers manage soil and crop health, reduce chemical use, optimize resource efficiency and get context-specific information and recommendations. Many also observe that digital communications tools and online platforms improve access to markets, direct producer-consumer linkages, and knowledge exchange. On the other hand, critics argue that precision technologies prioritize productivity over ecological considerations, leading to monocultures and increased chemical use, and digital technologies in general perpetuate the concentration of power, including on data and insights, in the hands of a few big corporate actors. They also highlight the risk of a lock-in effect of precision agriculture, i.e., the need for farmers to conform to pre-built agtech solutions, and subsequent devaluation of farmers’ knowledge.
Participants were asked the following questions:
Q1: Which aspects of digital agriculture do you see as potentially most incompatible with the agroecological approach? Is it mainly precision farming? Is it the technologies themselves or the business models behind them?
a) How can digital technologies be more supportive of agroecology? For instance, which could be appropriate business models? What about experimenting with alternative providers, different forms of governance, collective ownership? Should we consider what is valued/measured and how? The degree of participatory design?
b) What examples if any have you come across in your communities? Please share if you have experience or knowledge of uses of digital technologies in line with the agroecological approach.
Q3: What can policy makers on the one hand, and farmers and the agroecology communities on the other, do to make the most of what digital technologies can offer without risking the perpetuation of an industrial “productivist” and power-asymmetric landscape?
Read the report here.