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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Towards the establishment of an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture

Neth Daño
Neth DañoAction Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group)Philippines

Inputs of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) 
Online Discussion: Towards the establishment of an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture
8th November 2019

1.    What are the potential entry points for government to address challenges and foster the development of digital agriculture?

Addressing systemic inequalities
In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  agreed by UN member-states as the overall framework for all UN agencies and programs, efforts toward the establishment of an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture must be guided by the vision to “Leave No One Behind”.  This is directly relevant to the theme of agricultural digitalization in a context characterized by serious systemic divides that underpin the so-called “Digital Divide”, between the global North and the global South, between rural and urban regions, and between gender.  

Tackling corporate power in global food and agriculture
Systemic inequalities are often exacerbated by the application of digitalization and other new technologies in agriculture as can be seen in the continuous domination and consolidation of corporate power in seeds, agrochemicals and farm machineries as well as in livestock and animal pharmaceuticals. The increasing role of data and technology platforms  in the food and agriculture through control of Big Data are strategic concerns that need to be tackled.

Respect for peoples’ rights
The promotion of digitalization in agriculture must be based on recognition and respect of peoples’ collective and individual rights. Citizen’s rights to privacy, protection of personal information and collective data, and prior informed consent are the most obvious rights-related issues that need to be addressed and promoted in agricultural digitalization.  More fundamentally, human rights including farmers’ rights and right to health must be respected and protected as enshrined in international laws and norms.

2.    How can the establishment of the Digital Council address the numerous barriers to adoption of these technologies?

A fundamental question that need to be addressed by any governance measures in agricultural digitalization is whether the adoption and promotion of new technologies can address the systemic problems that beset agriculture? Uncritical approaches that embrace these technologies without question presents blinders to seeing the big picture and the horizon in agricultural digitalization

3.    Do you think that the roles identified for the Digital Council are suitable for facing the agrifood systems challenges outlined above?

Form should follow function.  A thorough consideration of whether digitalization presents an effective a solution to challenges in food and agriculture, whether it will truly address inequality, corporate control and the assault to farmers’ rights should predicate any discussion on governance structure. In the case of the idea to establish an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture, the Ministerial Declaration by the 2019 Global Forum for Agriculture (GFFA), exploring means to conduct impact assessment of digital technologies is an explicit component and should be an inherent part of any discussion on the proposal for a Digital Council and should define its roles and mandate. Horizon scanning is an key capacity that international and national institutions on agriculture current lack.  There should be a mechanism to provide information on digital technologies and their potential impacts on farmers and rural communities, biodiversity and the environment. It should also include assessing digital technologies and corporate power behind them, along with countries/governments that are producing and selling these technologies. Assessment should not be ex ante when impacts are already felt after a digital technology application has been deployed commercially but early in the research and development process.

4.    What governance structure should be in place in order for the Council to serve its purpose?
Any governance mechanism on agricultural digitalization should be within the UN system, to be governed by UN rules and established norms. There should be balanced representation: North-South, regional, gender, farmers movements and civil society, including those that represent critical views.  The central role of small-scale farmers should be explicit. Transparency, inclusiveness and public participation should be key guiding principles.

5.    Please add any other comment or relevant content you think should be included in the Concept Note.