Publications Wednesday: social science & digital agriculture

January 22nd, 2020

Dr Emma Jakku, leader of Digiscape’s Social Dimensions project, has joined with Laurens Klerkx of Wageningen University and Pierre Labarthe of INRA to edit a special issue of NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences exploring social
and institutional responses to digital agriculture.

In a stimulating review paper, they identify 5 themes in current social-science research:

  • On-farm: adoption, uses & adaptation. Much of this work focuses on specific digital technologies and there is a strong economic flavour
  • Economics and management of digitalized agricultural production systems and value chains. One strand here focusing on how markets for information products in agriculture might function. A second strand contains economic analyses of specific technologies.
  • Power, ownership, privacy and ethics: The special issue makes it clear that the question of who will hold the power that comes with agricultural information is yet to be answered. The R&D community still has influence over the outcomes…
  • Changes in what it means to be a farmer: “Hands-on” farmer culture is colliding with “hands-off” technologies such as robots. New skills requirements may change who continues to farm & what the professional identity of farmers looks like.
  • How digital changes agricultural knowledge and innovation systems. This research includes macro-scale aspects such as the advent of “responsible innovation“; meso-scale changes in the ways that farmer learning happens in social networks; and micro-scale changes in the practice of individual advisors.

Klerkx, Jakku & Labarthe also nominate four areas needing more social-science attention than has been received to date. Smewhat to my surprise, one of these is policy-making for digital agriculture; another is digital technologies as enablers for transitions to agricultural sustainability.