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The Reality of Farmer Data Privacy and Security in a Hyper-Digital Age

By Guest Writer on July 30, 2018

farmer data privacy security

It was the last straw in a tense discussion. She stood up and reached to unbutton her pants.In shock, the others around the table asked what she was doing.

“You’ve asked for everything else. What else can I possibly give you?” she responded.

This wasn’t what you’re thinking. This was a request for data. Personal data.  The questions from the interviewers seemed relentless:

  • How much do you earn?
  • Are your children in school?
  • What was your level of production during the last harvest season?
  • How much fertilizer are you applying?
  • How much did you pay for it?

This exasperated manager of a cooperative of small-scale farmers felt that she’d already revealed so much to the people requesting the data, that surely, the next request could be the clothing on her back.

The story above was a real account of an exchange with a farming cooperative manager and highlights the feeling some have of sharing their information—and sometimes sensitive information—for the sake of receiving support or services.

Despite the importance of having comprehensive data from farmers to effectively design and deliver products and services, respecting and protecting farmers’ time and privacy are paramount.

Experiencing the Farmer Data Reality

We can relate. During ICTforAg 2018, data privacy and consumer protection were on the minds of many, including those that attended our session on “The Reality of Farmer Data Privacy & Security.”

At the outset, attendees were required to complete a 5-minute survey or leave the session. To sweeten the request, Fairtrade chocolate was offered as an incentive. The questions were purposefully tedious and personal:

  • What is your annual income?
  • What percentage of your income do you donate to charity?
  • Do you recycle?

Though the request seemed benign and attendees assumed their data wouldn’t be publicized, there was still some discomfort with the probing questions. Some later admitted to skipping some of the questions. Others pretended to fill them out.

And yet, some shared that they were honest with their answers. And why not?  Attendees acknowledged that they were a bit de-sensitized to the threat of their data being made public or shared without their consent because they were so accustomed to sharing so much of their lives online.

Data privacy and consumer protection are often noted as key risks to the digitization of farmer profile data. In a forthcoming publication from Digital Development for Feed the Future on Data-Driven Agriculture: The Future of Smallholder Farmer Data Management and Use, data privacy is noted as an area that deserves the attention of all service providers. (Watch the related webinar.)

Ironically, a majority of those attending the session were unaware of their organization’s data protection policies and definitions or simply did not see an urgent need to tackle privacy at this stage.

Data Privacy Examples We Can Follow

  • Organizations like the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) are assessing practices in this area and outlining the risks.
  • The Digital Principles for Development provide guidance on the processes that should be considered for protecting data privacy, collecting the minimum of data to respect the farmer’s time, obtaining informed consent and being transparent about how data will be used, among others.
  • The Smart Campaign, while aimed at setting client protection standards for the financial services sector, also offers ICT4Ag service providers a model for collaborative standard-setting and certification.

As the session concluded, attendees all noted that many of us first need to understand our own practices and identify our data privacy gaps.

  • Do we tell the farmers we serve how we will use their data?
  • Do they fully understand how their data will be shared?
  • How do we protect their data once we have it?
  • Can their data ever be “forgotten”?

Meanwhile, we should also aim to reduce the amount of data we collect directly from the farmer, through utilizing other channels as well, such as satellite data and national identification databases. There seems to be a mantra of “the more data on the farmer, the better,” but service providers should aim for “right fit” amounts of data that ensure service providers collect only what is needed.

Technology has given us tremendous power to gather, digest and process copious amounts of data. Yet, we still have an obligation to respect the rights and privacy of the farmers. It’s not just good practice. Farmer’s livelihoods and their trust in service providers depend on it.

 By Bobbi Gray, Grameen Foundation and Stephanie Colish, Fairtrade America

Filed Under: Agriculture, Data
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One Comment to “The Reality of Farmer Data Privacy and Security in a Hyper-Digital Age”

  1. Hii,we have our trust swarajya kokan sanghatna we only do social work