E-Agriculture

Lee Babcock

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Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

Great questions. The view at Grameen Foundation when I was leading digital agriculture was that we should, instead, define the unit of measurement as the 'plot manager' as opposed to farmer.  Often the woman does the actual work on the plot but is not the unit of measurement because she is not the 'farmer' thus propagating gender inequity by the very way we define the unit of measurement.

As to your other query, my view is that anything that promotes greater efficiency, better economics, higher quality, safety and transparency for the supply chain.....results in benefit to the plot manager.  My rationale is that by digitally connecting plot managers/farmers to the supply chain they become for the first time formal, transparent participants in the supply chain and its economic activity.....as opposed to the current disconnected and cash based reality that dooms them to informal and non-transparent supply chain relationships.     

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

You are very welcome.  This June 7 article in CoinDesk 

https://www.coindesk.com/software-giant-sap-launches-blockchain-as-a-ser...

describes SAP being another wild mushroom given their launch yesterday(!) of a blockchain-as-a-service product.  

SAPs design, on behalf of the multi-lateral African Cashew Initiative, of a software-as-a-service farm(er) management database platform for cashew farmers,  as part of the African Cashew Initiative, is portrayed in this 6 minute video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbefxfhACi0

I am very comfortable in guessing that SAP will establish a link between their cashew platform on the internet cloud and their new private blockchain.  Our challenge as agriculture civil society is to not get so far behind our understanding of these technologies that we fail to provide a healthy and robust counterbalance to the private sector's aggressively relentless pursuit of monitizing farmer data on behalf of their shareholders profit expectations.    

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

Continued dialog should map out a legal framework for asset backed tokenization on blockchain.  This will be the natural progression of the work we are already doing with farm to table traceability for food safety, organic certification and other reasons.  An application programming interface (API) from the traceability database can immutably record that data onto the Stellar blockchain (e.g. SmartLands)

https://smartlands.io/

, the Ethereum blockchain (e.g. SweetBridge)

https://sweetbridge.com/

and a crop of other blockchain service providers that are sprouting up like wild mushrooms after a rain.  This will unlock the economic potential of farmer property and assets, immutably recorded as data on a blockchain, that Hernando de Soto describes in his book The Mystery of Capital.  So, legally binding asset backing constructs, trustless registrar framework or such other thinking as might be suggested by the agriculture blockchain practice of the international law firm Perkins Coie 

https://www.perkinscoie.com/en/industries/technology-media-entertainment...

I think representatives from those entities and others would welcome the opportunity to join GFAR, GODAN, CTA and KTBL's discussion in July in Bonn.    

 

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

To extend your excellent point number 2, to ensure positive benefit to farmers we must consider the ethics of artificial intelligence as regards avoiding the unintentional - as well as intentionally malevolent - bias coded into the algorythm.   While the 'highest use' of blockchain is giving farmers ownership and control of their data, the 'highest use' of agriculture artificial intelligence is that we program it to have better ethics than we have.  The flip side is that the 'lowest use' of blockchain will be if the private sector monopolistically controls the flow and ownership of agriculture data and the 'lowest use' of artificial intelligence will be its unchecked intentionally malevolent design so as to manipulate outcomes not unlike financial marketplace manipulation.

For 2018 - 2021 it seems we should design and support a research path specific to our sector as is being discussed in medicine, transport, real estate and elsewhere.  Such research will further inform our thinking.  Finally, that thinking should be multi-disciplinary and include inputs from blockchain and data science experts.    

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

Robert and Peter, 

Its still early days but in keeping with the spirit and philosophy of the Satoshi whitepaper I would like to see farmers receive a private key for their know-your-customer (KYC) identity data that any financial institution will require to open an account.  The private key on the blockchain is analogous to the private key you have for your safety deposit box at a bank.  Central bank regulators globally require that financial institutions 'know' their customers.  This highest level of farmer data (name, age, description, address, etc.) they should have exclusive ownership and control over so that they can monetize themselves.  

From a farmer data perspective we should have guidance that directs any entity that collects KYC information on a farmer should provide the public service of placing that data on a blockchain and giving that farmer the private key. 

Thereafter, the farmer can provide an opt-in to any entity that wants access to his/her identity and the data streams underneath.  To provide the opt-in the farmer can require payment or not. A practical application of this is a bank that wants the KYC data and data stream underneath to evaluate for a loan.  For this the farmer might provide an opt-in for free.  Another  application might be two competing input suppliers offering products to the farmer and the farmer offering his/her KYC customer data to the input supplier that pays the most for the farmer to opt-in.  There is probably a better way to explain this but the point is......we need to figure out agriculture data guidelines that ensure the farmer will own, control and can monetize his/her KYC (and other?) data.   

 

 

 

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

As regards the deployment of blockchain we have the same challenges as regards the deployment of e-agriculture (digital).  In fact, digital agriculture needs to be deployed before we can realize the potential of blockchain.  In many countries there is high cell phone penetration and it continues to grow.  The key challenge now is uptake of the specific digital agriculture solution for which the challenges are illiteracy, financial illiteracy, digital illiteracy and lack of trust.  If there is no uptake of the digital solution by the farmer then we have no e-agriculture.  For our digital savings and payments service in Western Uganda we serve 200,000 farmers and the numerous agribusinesses that use our service to pay farmers for their coffee and cotton.  We started six years ago believing we needed a technical business model.  We have morphed into an 'education' business model because we learned that until we transfer knowledge about our product there would be no uptake.  Our current management discussions about aligning our service provision with the Stellar blockchain - to broaden our customer product offering by including international remittances -  are only possible because we've engaged with a trained and educated customer base.   

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

The question about how to ensure farmers benefit from agriculture data in the future goes hand in hand with how to ensure farmers can benefit from digital solutions in the first place.  We can't have one without the other.  To this point I recently published an article specific to agriculture digital finance and the need for more human capital but it equally applies to the broader agriculture digital solution space.  The article is here

https://medium.com/@leebabcock/digital-agriculture-finance-more-human-ca...

During 2018-2021 our farmers will be served if we think about how to transfer knowledge to farmers about agriculture data and digital solutions.  Maybe a starting point is the knowledge transfer we currently do about good agriculture practices year after year, season after season.  Maybe another starting point is to amend the national financial inclusion strategies that countries are crafting to integrate agriculture data into their awareness raising and education about the feature and benefits of agriculture digital finance.      

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

At end last year I attended a US State Department day long event 'Blockchain in Diplomacy and Development'.  One of my many takeaways was that there is a whole of goverment embrace of blockchain.  As such, I surmise that the next time the USDA weighs in on the definition it will be something like:  "Data-driven agriculture is the thoughtful use of big data - whether centralized or decentralized - to supplement on-farm precision agriculture".  

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

These concerns about the strata of data align with the reality of public, consortia and private decentralized ledgers.  I have a global agribusiness client that captures alot of data on their proprietary platform that will eventually move onto a private blockchain.  As part of their data collection they have also geotagged schools, churches and health clinics - that have been largely 'off grid' -  which they would be happy to make available as a public service.  Policy guidance should include govt support behind a national public blockchain(s) so that entities like my client could share those geotagged location data.  In addition, my work with the client has included network orchestrating a digital agriculture strategic alliance with multiple partners for which in the near(er) future will be served by a partially decentralized (consortia) blockchain whereby partners have mutually agreed on various strata of data validation, verification and consensus. 

Lee Babcock
Lee BabcockLHB AssociatesUnited States of America

The GDPR provides a structured approach to how we can think about privacy and other issues from the perspective of the farmer.  Through the agriculture data lens our reference to the 'baseline' of GDPR-like thinking will inform, for example, cell phone user interfaces that empower farmers with choices about their data, privacy and so on.  An operating assumption is that e-agriculture is ideally defined as farmers being digitally onramped onto formal, transparent economic activity by way of a digital connection (primarily a cell phone but other means as well) directly with other supply chain actors.  The farmer will not be knowledgeable about, or perhaps might not even be aware of, decentralized ledger technology.  Rather, decentralized ledger technology will simply be one part of an overall menu of digital service provision that helps farmers make better decisions on their farm.  The key is farmer uptake of improved decision making based on data and information the farmer has access to through a digital channel.    

A significant constraint to the vision we all have regarding e-agriculture relies on the transfer of knowledge about the features and benefits of digital to farmers.  We already do extensive transfer of knowledge to farmers about good agriculture practices (e.g. better quality/quantity of product, post harvest handling, how to kill pests/diseases, etc.).  Should we not consider digital agriculture as just another subject matter content that we transfer knowledge about during the provision of agriculture extension service provision?  Should not this discussion of ethical, legal and policy issues related to agriculture data result in some kind of output that provides a framework and guidance for agronomists and  others to understand and think about digital and all the other great and new technologies like sensors, drones, satellites, blockchain and more?