Agribusiness mega-mergers and data consolidation are major roadblocks for global sustainable agriculture, says a group of sustainable food policy experts in the European Union.
The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems collaborated with more than 400 farmers, scientists, activists, and policymakers to build “Toward a Common Food Policy for the EU.” Released last week, the report outlines how the EU can build a more sustainable food system.
The report contains dozens of short- and long-term proposals, among them refocusing research and innovation policies on participatory agroecological research.
The report claims agribusiness mergers lead to over-consolidation of farming data, making it inaccessible for organizations like U.S. Department of Agriculture and university extension services, on whom farmers historically depend for data.
As the report points out: “70% of the global agrochemical industry is now in the hands of only three companies, and up to 90% of the global grain trade is controlled by four multinational corporations.” These agribusinesses – like Bayer, DowDupont, and BASF – use agricultural data to create their own ag-tech platforms, and some partner with companies like John Deere to host software on their equipment.
For farmers, the potential benefits of these software programs are enormous. They can aid in analyzing soil conditions and crop yields and how much water, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides their crops need. Collectively, they can even identify which plant varieties perform best in a given region.
Food and Power points out that farmers using sustainable farming practices are already left out of research, development, and market access conversations. As agribusinesses continue to drive data-based farming, this gap will widen, explains professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School Peter Carstensen.
“If [agriculture information] sources are themselves tied to … Monsanto or BASF,” Cartensen said to Food and Power, “what you are going to get are systems that make it increasingly hard for independent suppliers to supply for farmers who want to do other things — that is, be organic, be sustainable.”
The iPES Food Systems panel proposes promoting open source data systems as a solution to the data consolidation problem, to make large agriculture data sets more accessible to all.