On 9th October 2018, Pat Mooney, laureate of the Alternative Nobel Prize, presented the study “Blocking the chain – Industrial food chain concentration, Big Data platforms and food sovereignty solutions”, jointly published by GLOCON, ETC Group, INKOTA-netzwerk and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, to nearly 100 people.
News from Oct 16, 2018
Pat Mooney is the author of the study and founder of ETC Group, a Canadian NGO working on socioeconomic and ecological issues around new technologies. In his presentation, Mooney depicted the effects of Big Data platforms for food and agriculture. Using many examples, he emphasised that currently, digitalisation enhances corporate power instead of strengthening smallscale farming or consumers. According to Mooney, the ongoing cross-sectoral merging processes of companies lead to Big Data platforms that control the whole industrial food chain, which has far reaching repercussions for production, retail as well as food sovereignty. Three sectors were specifically relevant in this regard: machinery, software including genetical modification and financial technologies.
Using robots and other machinery, field workers lose their source of income which they cannot replace with another employment. Also, machinery is essential for collecting data, thus with the ongoing mechanisation and automation, algorithms might soon decide on the usage of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. The access to those data is hence fundamental for competitive advantages.
In order to analyse the collected data of farms, crops, weather, climate and consumers, the fitting software is necessary. Therefore, as per Mooney, IT and Internet companies are already active in the food and agricultural sectors: “Google cooperates with pig breeders to optimise the meat production and Microsoft works together with Carlsberg on developing new yeasts for the beer production.”
New gene editing methods such as CRISPR/Cas9 and synthetic biology will increase artificial production of food, such as vanilla or stevia. While this would lead to the loss of livelihood for smallscale producers, companies would profit from the production and promotion of the synthetic substances. In this context, Mooney warns that the number of patents will increase.
It will also be mainly companies that will profit from new financial management technologies, Fintech: “Even if there is the possibility that peasants stay in contact via blockchains, we should – as always – ask who can make use of what kind of digitalised information.”
Finally, Mooney highlighted that we need to critically examine the commonly used narrative that digitalisation contributes to combatting climate change and hunger crises through increased efficiency. Criticising digitalisation meant nothing else than to change power relations in a society and to ensure that the invented technologies were used to the advantage of the whole society and not to that of a few companies.
Jan Urhahn, advisor for agriculture and world nutrition at INKOTA-netzwerk, added that it was highly problematic to entrust few enterprises with the food production. However, he also saw potentials in digitalisation. If digital technologies were controlled by peasants, they could facilitate certain parts of agricultural production.
Examples of successful poverty-oriented digitalisation in the Global South were presented by Geraldine de Bastion. The consultant for the strategic usage of information and communication technologies emphasised, as did the other speakers, that an open access to the collected data is vital.
All speakers agreed that a future without digitalisation is impossible. Thus, we need to structure it in an equitable way.
Further debates took place in Hamburg on 10th October and in Cologne on 11th October 2018.