April 11, 2024

Trojan Horses on the Farm

Challenging the digitalization of agriculture: six key questions
Artist's impression of a digital Trojan horse on the farm

ETC’s new research shows that digitalization is progressively entering farms, big and small, now in areas of the Global South as well as in the Global North. It comes disguised as an alluring high tech input, a Trojan farmhorse, with fleets of drones, smart ‘data-driven’ tractors, fancy apps and sensors. But in the belly of the beast lies the huge agribusiness corporate sector which has joined forces with the Big Data giants to strengthen its grip over our food systems.

Our new discussion paper, “Trojan Horses on the Farm: Challenging the digitalization of the agrifood chain”, is offered as a resource to social movements, providing information and perspectives to help foster exploration of these complex issues. We find that the implementation of digital technologies across a wide range of agriculture and food sectors risks being deeply disruptive, as many farmers, food producers and food workers are likely to find themselves unexpectedly impacted.

To be clear, the issue is not with the pros and cons of individual technologies or the use of peer-to-peer digital communications platforms, or digital devices that might be used in food production such as temperature or humidity sensors, or cattle trackers. It is the extractive business model within which they are being deployed that is the issue: this ‘Big Data’ model is a very different beast.

Our paper shows that digital agriculture comes with a heavy price. Farmers entering corporate digital agriculture usually have to sign a contract with a company, forcing them to buy seeds and agrochemicals from that same company, to implement its ‘advice’, and to give free access to their data. Knowingly or not, they allow a tight surveillance of their farm, their environment and every move they make. 

As a result, farmers lose autonomy and knowledge. They become mere implementers of Big Ag and Big Tech. This goes completely against the practice of food sovereignty which is based on communities controlling the way food is produced, traded and consumed.

  • Listen to our 4-podcast miniseries  “Who will feed us” to see how the digitalization of food and agriculture is spreading and how social movements are responding. 

  • Watch our animated video: Big Brother is Coming to the Farm now in 12 languages! – Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese, Bisaya, Filipino, Bahasa Indonesia, Italiano, Kiswahili, Français, Espagnol and English, which can all be found here, and Japanese, which can be found here.


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