This member participated in the following discussions
FIAN International submits the following comments to the concept note concerning the establishment of an International Digital Council:
Regarding question 1: What are the potential entry points for government to address challenges and foster the development of digital agriculture?
- Structural inequalities and discrimination are the main causes of hunger, malnutrition and violations of the human right to food and nutrition (RtFN) worldwide. These are determined and reflected by power imbalances between different actors in society. Any development of digital agriculture needs to acknowledge that digital technologies are deployed in contexts of structural inequalities and discrimination. Therefore, such developments must address the digital divide – which has, among others, rural and gender dimensions – and at the same time ensure that improved access to and use of digital technologies and (digitized) information is part of a coherent set of policies aimed at overcoming the structural causes for hunger and malnutrition, such as unequal distribution of land and other natural resources; gender, race, ethnic and other forms of discrimination; lack of protection of rural people’s (peasants, indigenous peoples, small-scale fishers, pastoralists etc.) agrarian, pastoral, forestry, fisheries, and livestock systems; environmental destruction; corporate-controlled food systems; and discrimination against territorial food markets.
- While presenting some potential benefits, digital technologies and their application entail the risk of deepening existing inequalities and creating new forms of dispossession. For instance, digitalization of land and land administration data, as well as automatized land transactions using blockchain technology and smart contracts risks facilitating land grabbing. In addition, digital technologies are used to increase surveillance of farm workers as well as food processing and retail facilities, reducing their space to freely associate in trade unions and struggle for their labor and human rights. Another example is the sequencing of genetic information, which is happening at a fast pace, and which, in combination with patents on genetic sequences/native traits, undermines peasants’ and indigenous peoples’ rights over their seeds, and poses additional threats to the protection of their knowledge, innovations and practices. Without adequate and effective regulatory frameworks, the digitalization of food and agriculture therefore risks to consolidate, or even deepen, existing inequalities and injustices.
- The concept note should further acknowledge that the information and communications technology (ICT) sector and its ownership structure are highly concentrated. The fact that a small number of corporations hold oligopolies or even monopolies over digital platforms, data flows and digital infrastructure constitutes an important challenge to realize the potential opportunities of digital technologies, in particular for marginalized groups and developing countries.
- The concept note rightly points to data security and privacy issues as important concerns in the context of digitalization of food and agriculture. However, it should acknowledge that models based on the exclusive ownership of data and digital information as well as their use are not the only response to overcome existing challenges, and may not be the best option to serve the achievement of the RtFN and connected human rights, such as indigenous peoples’ rights, the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, women’s rights, as well as environmental rights. Approaches that are based on collective rights to access and use data, as well as transparency, need to be developed as well because they can provide solutions that prioritize the public interest and communities’ wellbeing (“Bien vivir”), while ensuring broader participation in decision-making and in the potential benefits of digital technologies.
- We miss a reference in the concept note to the environmental and health concerns of digitalization. Debates on the potentials and risks of digitalization, including in the proposed International Digital Council should take into account the large environmental impacts related to the manufacture and use of ICT/AI hardware (e.g. micro-chips, semiconductors, liquid crystal displays, mobile phones, computers, batteries, etc.), which include impacts from mining, emissions of volatile compounds, acid fumes, solvents and metals into the air and water, high energy consumption, waste generation/disposal and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and storage. It should further recognize the growing body of studies pointing to health risks related to technologies such as 5G.
Regarding question 2: How can the establishment of the Digital Council address the numerous barriers to adoption of these technologies?
- FIAN considers that the proposed Digital Council should be established within the UN system, and its mandate and principles be based on the UN Charter as well as the international human rights framework. Given that its focus will be on food and agriculture, it should contribute to the realization of the RtFN, in accordance with the FAO and CFS mandate. The proposed Digital Council should further be clearly anchored in a human rights-based accountability framework.
- The proposed Digital Council should recognize, in its composition, principles and ways of working, the protagonist role of small-scale food producers as well as those most affected by hunger and malnutrition, and other marginalized groups. The Council should be built on the principle of self-determination, which means that peoples have the right to decide which technologies they need and want.
Regarding question 3: Do you think that the roles identified for the Digital Council are suitable for facing the agrifood systems challenges outlined above?
- FIAN considers that the proposed Digital Council should build on the increasing scientific and political consensus that a transformative change of food systems is needed to address the social, environmental and food crises that the world is facing. Digital technologies can play a role in supporting the transformation of food systems, but they will not do so automatically. The proposed Council should provide guidance for technologies and regulatory frameworks that advance the RtFN and connected rights such as women’s rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, labor rights and environmental rights. In order to do so, the proposed Council should have the following roles:
- Track and analyze ICT developments that are relevant for food and agriculture.
- Assess impacts of different digital technologies, in particular their impact on the rights of small-scale food producers and marginalized groups, as well as their capacity to develop sustainable and just food systems based on agroecology. The proposed Council should help identifying technologies that present opportunities, but also those that entail risks, and may be detrimental to advance the RtFN and food system transformation based on agroecology, as well as those which entail the risk of consolidating and even deepen marginalization and injustice.
- When assessing digital technologies and their impacts, the proposed Digital Council should take into account the socio-politic and economic context in which digital technologies are applied, including existing power imbalances between different actors in society, structural inequalities, discrimination based on gender, race, ethnic and other grounds, etc.
- The proposed Digital Council should gather the views of different actors, placing a particular emphasis on the needs and aspirations of small-scale food producers and marginalized groups, in order to identify and contribute to develop technologies, digital platforms and infrastructure that are accessible to these groups and serve to advance their rights.
- Based on its assessments, the proposed Council should provide guidance to states on which digital technologies as well as public policies related to digital platforms, data flows and storage, and digital infrastructure may serve best the advancement of RtFN and connected rights; as well as on the regulatory frameworks required to ensure outcomes that are conducive to the realization of the RtFN and human rights, the public interest and the protection and regeneration of nature.
- The proposed Digital Council should put forward norms and principles that should guide research and development, in particular public research, as well as the use/application of digital technology to advance the RtFN and agroecology.
- The proposed Council should further explore the potential of innovative approaches that are based on collective rights to access and use of data to provide solutions that prioritize public interest and ensure broader participation in the potential benefits of digital technologies.
Regarding question 4: What governance structure should be in place in order for the Council to serve its purpose?
- As stated before (see question 2), FIAN considers that the proposed Digital Council should be established within the UN system, and its mandate and principles be based on the UN Charter as well as the international human rights framework. Given that its focus will be on food and agriculture, it should contribute to the realization of the RtFN, in accordance with the FAO and CFS mandate. The proposed Digital Council should further be clearly anchored in a human rights-based accountability framework. This requires, among others that there is a clearly defined mechanism of how it will interact with the UN and regional human rights systems, including the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, among others. As stated before (see question 2), the proposed Digital Council should recognize, in its composition, principles and ways of working, the protagonist role of small-scale food producers as well as those most affected by hunger and malnutrition, and other marginalized groups. The Council should be built on the principle of self-determination, according to which people have the right to decide which technologies they need and want. This requires to ensure adequate participation of organizations of small-scale food producers and those most affected by hunger and malnutrition.
- Applying an accountability framework based on human rights, the proposed Digital Council should consider states as duty bearers that are accountable to the rights holders (the people). If other actors participate in the Council, they would do so as third parties. The different roles and responsibilities of different actors need to be clarified, and the Council should take into account power imbalances between different actors (e.g. agrifood corporations and small-scale food producers). This is particularly important in the context of digitalization due to the high concentration in the ICT sector and its ownership structure.
Please find attached a contribution from FIAN International.