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What is Our Role in Protecting Farmer Data Privacy and Security?

By Wayan Vota on May 30, 2018

farmer data security privacy

In value chains with high levels of competition, agribusiness field agents and other buyers often collect a wide range of information on farmers. For example, new research from GSMA mAgi on farmer digital identities in Sri Lanka, showcases how agribusinesses already have databases on farmers that include:

  • Farmer’s name
  • Location
  • Income history
  • Size of plot
  • Monthly production levels
  • Fertilizers and other inputs used
  • Full transaction and production histories

More forward-thinking agribusinesses in Sri Lanka are digitizing their collection and payment processes already, to improve transparency, monitor individual farmer performance and crop quality, and help farmers access formal services such as bank loans.

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The Reality of Farmer Data Privacy & Security

Farmers were aware that detailed information is being collected and stored by their buyers and due to a high level of trust instilled in agribusinesses, farmers were comfortable with the idea of their buyers sharing personal information with other organisations, so long as there was a clear benefit attached to this.

For example, most liked the idea of their tea factory or vegetable buyer sharing transaction histories and other farm-related information with banks or MNOs to help them access loans, believing the factory or buyer knew them well enough to act on their behalf and for their benefit.

How Can We Be Good Data Steward Role Models?

While GSMA found a generally positive relationship between farmers and agribusiness, few farmers understood the potential for their data to be used in a way that benefits them. Should we let agribusiness have unfettered control over such information? Or can we increase farmer trust and reduce power imbalances between them and agribusinesses?

There is an opportunity for civil society and non-governmental actors to promote responsible data practices in our work and focus on engaging farmers in systems that both protect income they have and increase new income opportunities.

For example, Sri Lankan farmers want institutions to recognize their financial solidity, but do not want to show they’re earning too much, especially if income information is shared with the government. Why?

Poorer farmers in Sri Lanka are heavily reliant on government subsidies to support their farming activities. However, poorer farmers often face several barriers accessing these services and they are concerned that a good year will put them over the threshold for assistance payments, even if they fall back below that threshold the next year.

The Farmer Credit Data Opportunity

Civil society could improve farmer understanding of data privacy and increase farmer access to government services to which they are entitled, by working with farmers to store key credit information on individual farmers, such as assets, repayment success, and long-term income, and then sharing it – with permission – with appropriate government service providers.

This credit profile would be very valuable to financial institutions too. Sri Lankan banks were primarily interested in having better access to traditional data points that measure creditworthiness:

  • Farmers’ savings and income patterns
  • Transaction history
  • Loan repayment history

Banks currently pay a per-transaction fee of 150 rupees (approximately USD $1.00) to check each loan applicant’s credit history on a database maintained by the Credit Information Bureau of Sri Lanka (CRIB). GSMA found that banks are willing to pay an equal rate to partners – such civil society – for similar data.

Banks were also interested in more farming-related data that could be used assess a person’s economic profile, including farm location, plot size, crops grown, training and certification received, and the number of years in farming, to offer more complex digital financial services.

Will civil society lead the way towards a equitable solution for banks? Or will farmers need to trust agribusiness to act in the farmers’ best interest?

If you’ve read this far, you should be at ICTforAg 2018

Filed Under: Agriculture
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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