Digital Agriculture Policies

The digital disruption of agri-food systems will require the public and the private sectors to adjust regulatory frameworks to effectively govern and address new problems and concerns.

Join our discussion on digital agriculture policies below!

Open Data

Many existing policies, notably in Europe since 2003, prescribe that public sector data – or, data that are of a public-good nature – should be open and reusable. Open data can enable more data equality by providing data that actors like farmers cannot access in other ways and leveling the playing field for startup companies to reduce the risk of monopoly. However, currently, not enough “high-value” datasets are published. The public sector can intervene in many policy spaces to improve open data initiatives, big data governance, and strengthening of farmers’ rights: public investment in the development of open databases, data ownership policies, data integrity policies, standards for handling and using data, data protection and privacy policies, competition laws, and public-private partnerships in ensuring data is a public, not a private good. At the same time, developing governance arrangements that build users’ confidence and trust in digital technologies would facilitate demand for digital technologies in the food system.

Government Adoption of Digital Technology

By using digital technologies, governments can improve service delivery and encourage the adoption and familiarity of digital technologies by other actors in the agricultural value chain. Well-functioning public institutions in rural areas are critical to agricultural development and sustainability. However, these public institutions are often neglected as a result of underfinancing, isolation, a lack of technical support, and low levels of human capital. ICT helps governments decrease bureaucracy, cut transaction costs, and spread information to other stakeholders. While improving service provision and rural livelihoods, these technologies also form more efficient relationships between the government and citizens, producers, private enterprises, civil society, employees, and other public agencies. Citizen participation and demand for public goods is incredibly important in the agriculture sector. Because so few resources are available in remote locations, the quality of governance often depends on citizen involvement. ICT holds great promise for enhancing democracy in rural areas, providing people with faster, real-time capacity to involve themselves in democratic initiatives, meaning that more stakeholders can affect local governance processes.

Government-led support for the development of digital identification for farmers will allow farmers to access financial services, register land and cattle online, access detailed geographic and soil-related information, reduce fraud, and improve efficiency in the delivery of goods and services while helping governments to better target agricultural support. Digital technology has an increasingly important role in improving the operation of land administration (land tenure systems, land registration, and cadaster) and in making information services more readily available in support of land markets to reach out to excluded segments of society. 

The use of satellite imagery paired with digital applications revolutionizes the way governments can assess, monitor and plan the use of their natural resources, including monitoring deforestation and desertification. Access to easy-to-use digital tools that monitor forest cover, land-use patterns and their changes over time will become increasingly important as countries around the world implement measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Agricultural Entrepreneurship

Digital applications can facilitate the growth of agricultural entrepreneurship particularly when the right enabling environment is in place. The following are important entry points for the public sector to intervene in creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurship: a predictable regulatory environment for investment in ICT, the presence of digital infrastructure and network coverage, access to financing, removal of entry barriers for new entrepreneurs, digital regulations designed around functionality, skills development, and farmer-firm consultation to ensure appropriate design of digital technologies. Laws and regulations influence the private sector development for agribusinesses, affecting agricultural entrepreneurs and producer organizations. Supportive policies such as making it easy to start a business, business-friendly tax policy and infrastructure taxes, investment in complementary infrastructure, improving access to finance for start-up and early maturity ag-tech enterprises, removal of import duties on ICT equipment, and strong patent protection can help facilitate entrepreneurship in ICT. While effective policies regarding safety and the quality of agricultural inputs, products and services can facilitate agribusinesses by increasing farmers’ productivity and profits. Public investment may help crowd-in private investment as the innovation ecosystem requires collaboration among investors, governments, companies and developing partners. 

Ensuring Inclusive Benefits & Risk Mitigation

National governments’ policies should harness the opportunities of digital agriculture at the same time managing the possible threats created by digital farming, such as the exclusion of certain groups and over-concentration of service provider market power. The public sector could help in reducing the costs of digital technology adoption in order to reflect the public good nature of a particular digital service for farmers. The government can provide support to smallholder farmers, women, youth, and minority groups that are at risk of exclusion from digital technologies through extension and advisory services. Governments should offer greater support to geographic areas that have historically been underinvested. Targeting support to poor farmers, especially women, can help reduce disparities in adoption. At the same time, it is important to address the increased competitive advantage of large-scale corporate farms vis-à-vis family farms. Government policies can shield smallholder farms from an unfair competition through securing their land rights, as well as enforcing environmental, labor, and antitrust regulations for corporate farms. Public-private partnerships can also help farmers gain a presence on e-commerce platforms, leveling the playing field. It is crucial to balance the trade-off between protecting vulnerable groups and not stifling innovation. Policies should focus on avoiding unnecessary barriers to entry, access to intellectual property, and investment in public R&D.

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