Rights of Farmers for Data, Information and Knowledge A CIARD E-Discussion

Data, information and knowledge (including innovations and practices) collected from farmers are valuable. There are many potential benefits for farmers when they share and exchange their data, information and knowledge especially in market oriented agriculture and farming for complex Agri-food chains. As innovation and technology in generating and using this data evolves and expands, in addition to providing farmers with new management tools, it also makes them vulnerable to exploitation. This becomes more so for farmers who are smallholders, unorganized and constrained by lack of awareness, culture and capacities to assert their rights including those related to data, information and Knowledge.

The rights of farmers to data, information and knowledge have many dimensions to be considered. Sharing data more openly has the potential to bring better services for farming such as in the access and use of farm inputs, in managing production and in marketing produce. Sharing data, information and knowledge can bring mass innovation that, with use of new information and communication tools, can spread rapidly. This is urgently needed to cope with emerging challenges to agriculture such as of climate change, the spread of trans-boundary pests and diseases and participating in highly competitive globalized agricultural commodities markets.

The key issues for farmers related to data, information and knowledge include the need of them to be available, accessible in a timely, fair and equitable manner, being affordable, relevant, useful and trustworthy for famers to effectively use them.  Farmers also need to have the capacity to use the collated data, information and knowledge. They should also be included in processes related to deciding on the information, data and knowledge they want to generate, share and exchange, according to their needs and preferences.

Farmers are not only providers and recipients of current data, information and knowledge. They are also providers of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices relevant for food production and agriculture. Farmers have the right to give their prior informed consent for the access and use of their knowledge, innovations and practices, as well as to participate in a fair and equitable way of the benefits arising from the use of their knowledge, innovations and practices.

Associated with these issues are the instruments of inclusion of farmers in the management of the data, information and knowledge they generate, share and use. The instruments of inclusion include policies at various levels from global to local, strategies, legislation and their implementation, institutions to safeguard and support farmers’ rights, organizations that enable management of farmers’ data, information and knowledge. It also includes building the capacities of farmers and their organizations to participate in the development and management of all these instruments.

There are many mechanisms through which farmers can be excluded partially or fully in the processes of management and use of data, information and knowledge. The same instruments that can include farmers can be used to exclude them. Exclusion to technology can also result in exclusion of farmers to manage and use relevant data and information. This includes access to hardware, software and connectivity needed to use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), development of standards, developing closed information systems that are restricted in access, not interoperable and do not allow integration, sharing and exchange of data and information. To also reiterate for emphasis, not enabling capacities of farmers, especially skills, and their organizations to manage and use the data and information is also major issue of exclusion.

The rights of farmers’ to data and information remain a largely unexplored area. Farmers have traditionally been provided new information through linear, top down extension processes. In most developing counties it is the Government and the public sector that takes the main responsibility of this process and makes it a public service. However, the shift to market oriented agriculture and the information revolution driven by new ICTs has triggered the emergence of pluralistic, networked extension and rural advisory services that use many means for farmers, actors and other agricultural stakeholders to access, share and exchange information.  In the same context, public sector investment in extension in developing countries has been reduced and sometimes abandoned. In many countries private sector supply of agricultural extension is advocated and promoted. This may be also seen as denial of vital public services especially for resource poor farmers and an infringement of their rights.

With the development of more ubiquitous connectivity, new concepts in the use of “big data” and cloud computing, widespread use of sensors and wearable computers coupled to the Internet of Things, the scope and depth of extension and knowledge services for agriculture is being rapidly transformed. However, this transformation is also resulting in increasing infringement of their rights to make their own independent decisions about their farms, farming methods and participating in markets as also in their privacy and security of their assets and livelihoods.

E-Discussion

CIARD with support from GFAR Secretariat and FAO are organizing an E-Discussion between 20 October to 6 November 2014 for global participation on the CIARD E-discussion Forum (http://www.ciard.net) on the rights of farmers to data, information and knowledge. The E-discussion will discuss:

  1. What do we mean by the rights of smallholder farmers to data, information and knowledge?
  2. How do farmers benefit and lose from these rights or the lack of them?
  3. What is the state of the recognition of these rights by the international community and their implementation in different parts of the world?
  4. How should these rights be implemented and protected?
  5. What should be done to include farmers in the mechanisms of data, information of knowledge management to ensure that their rights are included, implemented and protected institutionally and through technology?

The outputs from the E-discussion and supplementary research will be used to develop a briefing paper for policy makers, actors and stakeholders published through CIARD and GFAR as also in advocacy by GFAR and FAO on the rights of farmers to data, information and knowledge. All contributors to the discussion will be acknowledged in outputs from this E-Discussion.
CIARD and the facilitators invite all interested to participate and contribute to this discussion.
Participants will need to login to access the E-discussion. Those who are not yet members of CIARD can become members through a simple registration process through the CIARD Website

The Facilitators are:

Medha Devare, CGIAR Consortium Office

Juanita Chavez, GFAR Secretariat

Johannes Keizer, FAO

Ajit Maru, GFAR Secretariat

The CIARD Team supporting the E-Discussion is:

Imma Subirats

Valeria Pesce

Giampaolo Rugo

The outputs from the E-discussion and supplementary research will be used to develop a briefing paper for policy makers, actors and stakeholders published through CIARD and GFAR as also in advocacy by GFAR and FAO on the rights of farmers to data, information and knowledge. All contributors to the discussion will be acknowledged in outputs from this E-Discussion.
CIARD and the facilitators invite all interested to participate and contribute to this discussion.
Participants will need to login to access the E-discussion.

Those who are not yet members of CIARD can become members through a simple registration process (Sign up) through the CIARD Website (http://www.ciard.net).

If you are a member please join the Working Group “Rights of Farmers for Data, Information and Knowledge” on the CIARD website at http://www.ciard.net after login to participate in the E-Discussion.

Comments

Sonigitu Ekpe (Nigeria)

Data and knowledge enhances ownership and allow for an examination of how all of these flows interact, contribute to progress or reverse trends.

Federico Sancho (Costa Rica)

Indeed is a very good topic for research. We have a full flow chain for data, information, and knowledge. Now it will be interesting to explore the different stakeholders of such chain...starting with farmers is the right place, knowing that under the current conditions they have being the most excluded.

Abubacker Siddick (India)

data sharing / knowledge sharing of small holders in remote areas need to be properly acknowledged. Not by money even by kind/ community asset creating will do.

Ahlam Ismail Musa (Sudan)

Dear colleagues,
Thanks a lot for the information about this interested e-discussion. I am greatly interested for participation and learn about the outcome of this highly interested topic. I wish you all the best. Thanks again with best regards. Sincerely, Ahlam

Walter H. MAYER (Austria)

(1) Sorry for starting this discussion with a rough comment: Valentin Falin, a former Sowjet Ambassador in Germany: "Monopolising the information is the most effective way of dictatorship!" We are at the moment on the best way to monopolize information of smallholders and farmers in general. (2) We can not divide private ownership of land and ownership of information of this land. We need new models incl. legislation about social responsability of private land and what of this responsability is private and what is public and has to be supported by governments! (3) With the uptaking use of ICT within agriculture this question becomes of highest importance - several key organizations in Germany (Farmers Association, Machine Cooperatives, Machine producer´s Ass., Service provider´s Associations etc. - have signed a memo to support this. More details available, I hope to get feedback. WHM

James Kizito-Mayanja (Uganda)

In the previous post, I contributed to what I perceived as rights more so to a smallholder farmer. I hinged mostly on the demand side where the small scale farmers do not have equal access to information on markets as compared to other actors in the agricultural value chains. I gave examples of smallholder farmer groups which have added value to their coffee in Uganda and are able to access dynamic markets. I now turn to the supply side to answer the first question whether small scale farmers have any ownership or rights of the data they provide to researchers, government agents like myself and civil society organizations. In my view, just like one contributor from India submitted, once farmer’s consent is obtained and clear benefits accruing from collection of such information or data is made, there will be a win-win situation. This was also shared by small scale farmers whom we visited in the Andean mountains of Peru in May 2013 while on a study tour organized by GRADE (Grupo de Analylisis para el Desarmolo) and funded by the Practical Action, UKAID, who partnered with a civil society organization (FOVIDA) which connected them to the potato suppliers in Lima, almost 400 km away. The small scale farmers were able to maintain their biodiversity conservation practices and were getting a fair price than those who were not in this contractual arrangement. FOVIDA would also train them in estimating their costs and returns which enabled them to be competitive in the market. This example also addresses the second question of the benefits that accrue from having access to information.

Small scale farmers will always lose if they are not in groups. That is why governments like in Uganda take keen interest in empowering small scale farmer groups and cooperatives by providing a favourable regulatory framework, monitoring them and also build their capacity to produce sustainably.

In my view the international community is taking an informed action after realizing the unequal share of the global agricultural income between producers and retailers, a mere 10% in the coffee sector globally. This emanates from the information asymmetry that exist in most agricultural value chains which lead to lack of rights on part of smallholder farmers since they are price takers. This is different for instance from the oil sector where oil producers are price setters. Small holder farmers’ rights are eroded in this way.

The need to have strong farmer organizations, conducive regulatory and policy framework (formulating completion law and policy) and involvement of civil society organizations and development partners need not be over emphasized. In situations such as in the global coffee crisis in 2001 where farm gate prices were lower than the cost of production, OXFAM came out strongly to advocate for an increase in farm gate prices which resulted in an upswing in prices only checked by the global financial crisis of 2008/09 and supply related shocks.

FAO does recognise small scale farmers’ plight and I believe that is why 2014 was declared the International Year of Family Farming. UNDP, IFAD and even World Bank have teamed up to address the inequalities which arise from lack of access of small scale farmers to information and data. On part of knowledge, I would like to submit that technological transfer has been initiated in some parts of the world for example India. But researchers also tend to ignore Indigenous Knowledge (IK) which is critical for sustainability of small holder farmers.

What should be done to include farmers in the mechanisms of data, information of knowledge management to ensure that their rights are included, implemented and protected institutionally and through technology?

What should be done is establishment of a platform in which researchers, farmers and policy makers dialogue and have a common development agenda. The civil society organizations ought to play their role effectively to address the small scale farmers’ concerns. Development partners also ought to continue giving assistance to developing countries with a strong monitoring and evaluation system that ensures the intended beneficiaries are reached (issues of accountability). Strong farmer organizations are a prerequisite for effective technology transfer on the supply side and bulk marketing on the other. In this way the Millennium Development Goals (especially the 1st, 3rd , 7th and 8th) would be attempted to be achieved.

James Kizito-Mayanja