Study: Don’t exclude small farmer from agtech innovations

Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

A recent study by the UN shows why the (in)ability to adopt digital innovations can increase inequality and poverty in Brazilian agriculture.

The research ”Current status of digital agriculture in Brazil: Inclusion of family farmers and small producers” shows that the ability to apply new technology is crucial for small farmers to keep up with digital innovations in agriculture.

The study was carried out by the ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) of the UN (United Nations). According to the authors, like the distribution of land has been the main the cause of “inequalities in Brazilian agriculture in recent decades, the main factor now is the capacity to absorb innovation in general”.

Different studies analysed

To support these arguments, researchers Antônio Márcio Buainain, Pedro Cavalcante and Letícia Consoline compiled and analysed different studies on the process of technological adoption in Brazilian agriculture in recent decades.

Examples of studies used are the Brazilian Agricultural Census 2017, the ”Trends, challenges and opportunities in digital agriculture in Brazil” and “The mind of the Brazilian producer in the digital Era” surveys and Radar AgTech 2021.

In their conclusion, the researchers warn that if small farmers are not included in the process of digital innovations in agriculture, it will exacerbate inequality and poverty.

However, the researchers in their study also point to a group of small producers who stand out because they have financial capacity to apply innovations and do so, thus contributing a substantial share to the gross production value of Brazilian agriculture. “This group is concentrated in the South and Southeast regions, but is also present in the Northeast, mainly in the irrigated perimeters, and could benefit from digital technologies”, the study points out.

Agtech companies

In order to support programs and policies, the study identifies what can be done to democratize the process of innovation in agriculture and ensure that small producers also benefit. According to the researchers, in addition to the traditional stakeholders, such as federal and state governments, conventional companies and cooperatives, innovation in agriculture also has new players such as agtech companies. “These agtech companies are flexible and creative enough to identify problems. With no past to tie them, they have permeated the entire agricultural production system”, states the report.

Another important role is reserved for the farmers themselves. Whereas in the past innovations came mainly from outside, it is now often the farmers themselves who proactively seek innovations, stimulated by market demand for, for example, sustainably produced foodstuffs. “Agricultural producers work in a competitive sector, which ensures that there is a strong incentive to produce as economically as possible. But producers have no choice but to meet the demands of the market, and the market requires that the way food is being produced, changes”.

Factors that slow down agtech innovation

The study identifies 6 factors that can slow down innovations in agriculture: institutional barriers, infrastructure (connectivity), technology aimed at small farmers, technology diffusion, digital education/training and financing. In this regard, the researchers are not optimistic, despite listing at least 10 innovation programs, whether public, institutional or private. “The structural heterogeneity in Brazilian agriculture increases the risk of concentration and inequality when the process of innovation is left to the market alone”, the study concludes.

Daniel Azevedo Freelance correspondent in Brazil
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