More regulations, more data: what digitisation brings to the table

Following the first episode of our Lunch Talks about Data Ownership, episode #2 explores the significance of data collection for farmers amidst new regulations. Based on experiences from Ugandan cooperatives, we discussed how the rising request for data is being answered at the farm-level and how digitisation and data responsibility go together in this transition.

With the newly passed EU laws asking companies to not only identify, but also prevent risks in their supply chains, companies are racing to put strong traceability systems in place. But what do these new requirements mean at farm level? To answer that, we invited Derrick Komwangi from the Ankole Coffee Producers Cooperative Union (ACPCU), who shared his experience of the obstacles and opportunities of digitisation and data collection, and we discussed how to better include farmers into data sharing processes. 

You can now replay the 30-minute session and learn how to work with supply chain partners to navigate this transition. ACPCU represents 26 cooperatives, and 26.000 coffee farmers in Uganda. Supporting these farmers means overviewing a multitude of certifications – think of EU Organic, Fairtrade or the Rainforest Alliance certifications. Data requests to back up these claims are strongly felt by Derrick. Yet, he stresses that as no single certificate covers all aspects, farmers and co-ops must be supported as a greater need for data is still to come.

Below are some takeaways to inspire your next moves.

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1. Supporting farmers with the rapid pace of digitisation

The potential of digitising agricultural systems is immense. With data in hand, improvements are felt from decision making to risk management, pricing and seasonal planning for ACPCU. “All producer organisations want to have a fully traceable and transparent value chain. But at what speed this transition is coming is a shock.”

The short timeframe for the transition requires specific manpower, digitising large amounts of data, establishing the necessary infrastructure and training. As they navigate new demands, co-ops are struggling to embrace digital transformation while protecting the interests of their member farmers. The success depends on partners who support this transition – such as Fairfood, working with ACPCU’s to digitise Certifications around their organic products, and verify if a Living Income Refere Price is paid to farmers; and Fairtrade Original, ensuring that there’s a market demand for this organic and fair priced coffee.

2. Beyond certifications: exploring the potential of data

Cooperatives, Derrick reminds us, exist to maximise benefit to farmers. An increase in requests of data, thus, must come with a way to maximise these benefits. ACPCU is aware of the potential of data, and each new request is evaluated based on their capacity, safety considerations, and the credibility of partners requesting it, for example.

“Farmers are rational and they will keep on ticking the boxes. If data brings a considerable return they know that it is for the greater good. If there is no additional benefit with the requirements, farmers are likely to chicken out.” How are you incorporating cooperatives in your data processes? Making sure benefits outweigh any potential harm is the first step towards responsible data practices.

3. Making privacy, security and compliance walk together

Think of a deforestation law. Providing detailed information while respecting the farmers privacy is a new challenge for co-ops. Think of tree counts per farmer, production data, input costs, and non-coffee related income. “Every three days, as a project manager, I am asked about data,” Derrick shares. 

Requests can include sensitive information that brings farmers’ concerns over their privacies. Farmers are seeking assurances regarding data delivery frameworks and protection measures. ACPCU advocates for regulations that not only protect producer networks but also prioritise data security. This means farmers trust the process, the foundation of a smooth transition.

So, what’s really in it for the farmer?

Data has a lot of value for the sector, but this value is not equally distributed throughout the value chain in an open and secure way. Sharing information with farmers can break production related challenges around, for example, fertiliser usage, or land management. “For us, it is not about the commoditisation of data: farmers will engage in something that is productive to their end,” Derrick shared. 

As farmers are interested in accessing data, cooperatives such as ACPCU are exploring the financial benefits and market access that can come with it. In times of new metrics and standards, we invite you to think of these two when measuring if digitisation is truly reaching its potential in your project.

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