Capacities for Change, GFAR blog

Expert consultation in Bonn on “Ethical, legal and policy aspects of data sharing affecting farmers”

Group photo (courtesy of BLE)

There are many inter-linked issues in the whole data value chain that affect the ability of farmers, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to access, use and harness the benefit of data and data-driven technologies.

There are policy issues (decisions on making data open and prioritizing types of data to open up to investment decisions); technical issues (availability and accessibility of the necessary data for the development of added-value services and tools that process data and make it usable for different purposes and stakeholders); ethical and legal issues (both farmers having access to data and farmers sharing their data with others); as well as issues related with the capacity of stakeholders, particularly resource poor-farmers, to find and use agricultural data for their own benefit.

Of all the issues, the ethical and legal aspects related to accessing and using data by farmers and sharing farmers’ data have been the least explored. Also in the area of policy, the focus is normally on public institutions’ policies on the sharing of their own data, while policy issues related to ethics and equitability of open data access and use, as they apply to resource poor farmers have rarely been put at the center of the stage.

For this reason, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR), the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (GODAN) and the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) started a consultation process, convening first an online consultation (4-8 June 2018, summary here) and then a face-to-face international expert consultation on ethical, legal and policy aspects of data sharing affecting farmers (10-11 July 2018), bringing together experts from a range of different stakeholder groups and perspectives.

The expert meeting was hosted on 10 and 11 July in Bonn by the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) and supported by the Kuratorium für Technik und Bauwesen in der Landwirtschaft (KTBL).

The objective of the meeting was to have an initial vision and proposed next steps for a collective action on enabling farmers to harness the power of data-driven agriculture.

20180710_140319.jpgParticipants were invited to discuss and then write down their vision for enabling farmers to harness the power of data-driven agriculture and in turn benefit all society, focusing on ethical, legal and policy aspects. Part of the discussion was also around framing the issues and the scope of the potential collective action: what types of data, which actors, where is the focus. Then participants were asked to suggest next steps to start the collective action and recommend initial activities for such an action.

Discussions were stimulated by a few presentations (available soon):

  • Simone van den Burg (Wageningen University) on “Framing the issues”
  • Ajit Maru on “An economics of information perspective”
  • Arianna Giuliodori (WFO) on “The farmers’ perspective”
  • Francois van Schalkwyk on “Open data and economic rights”
  • Ivo Hostens (CEMA) on “Agriculture 4.0: The way forward for the ag. machinery industry in Europe”

Discussions and writing were conducted in groups and it was decided to consolidate the documents after the meeting, collaboratively. The final meeting document will be available by mid-September.

Even though we don’t have consolidated conclusions yet, there seemed to be agreement on some key aspects.

In terms of vision, even if with different emphasis, all participants seemed to agree on the fact that the desired future scenario is that farmers will benefit from data shared by others and will in turn share their farm data in a fair and transparent data ecosystem, thus contributing to and sharing the benefits of a more transparent and sustainable agri-food system.

In terms of shorter-term outcomes, many of the contributions clustered around similar themes:

  • More awareness of farmers and of all 20180711_161925.jpgactors in the agri-food system about data flows, data rights, contractual best practices and good business models
  • Farmers’ aggregations encouraged and taking responsibilities over farmers’ data sharing and data rights
  • More social responsibility and accountability through voluntary guidelines
  • More capacities developed at all levels on ethical, legal and socio-economic aspects of agri-food data flows

And when it came to proposing actual activities and outputs for the collective action, here are just a few examples of the ideas that were put forward:

For the process:

  • Final vision and action plan made into an investable proposal
  • Broadening of the network, inclusion of other actors
  • Joint resource mobilization

For the actual action:

  • Inventory of current policies, laws, contractual practices and business models in different countries
  • Collection of stories, research and think pieces on ethics, applicable law, costs…
  • A map of the data chain to identify the different data and the different uses and who is involved.
  • A “growers’ on-line toolkit” with information and tools, checklists, making existing materials available on line (including legal and ethical materials)
  • Voluntary guidelines on farm data sharing
  • Experiments with legal mechanisms (contract templates / appendices; “legal clinics”, legal actions) as well as certification schemes or social certification mechanisms
  • Local experiments on governance and business models for “data cooperatives” and for technology platforms (big data, blockchain)
  • Feasibility study on an international agreement / Treaty

We now look forward to the final version of the vision document and the action plan so that we can proceed with the formalization of the action, the creation of an initial group of leaders and some joint resource mobilization.

We are grateful to the German Federal Office for Nutrition and Food (BLE) for hosting us and we want to thank all the participants who did a great job in a demanding meeting, in particular the group coordinators (Simone van der Burg, Francois Van Schalkwyk, Leanne Wiseman, Shawn Sullivan), the presenters (Simone and Francois again, Ajit Maru, Arianna Giuliodori, Edward Katende, Ivo Hostens) and our facilitator, Tobias Webb.

Valeria Pesce, GFAR

List of participants

In alphabetical order by first name

Ajit Maru Independent consultant India
Arianna Giuliodori World Farmers Organization Italy
Christian Merz (day 1) GIZ Germany
Edward Katende Uganda Agribusiness Alliance Uganda
Francois Van Schalkwyk “Open Data Intermediaries and Economic Ownership Rights” project South Africa
Frank Begemann German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) Germany
Godwin Cudjoe ESOKO Ghana
Henning Knipschild German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) Germany
Ivo Hostens (day 2) CEMA-AGRI Belgium
Jacques Drolet International Development of Regulatory Globalization (IDRG) Germany
Jeremy De Beer University of Ottawa Canada
Juanita Chaves GFAR Colombia
Kakha Nadiradze Association for Farmers Rights Defense, Georgia Georgia
Leanne Wiseman Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture Australia
Manuel Ruiz Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental Costa Rica
Nicolene Fourie CSIR South Africa South Africa
Shawn N Sullivan Independent lawyer United States
Simone van der Burg Wageningen University, IoF2020 EU project Netherlands
Sipiwe Manjengwa Community Technology Development Organization, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
Tom Van den Steen Rikolto Belgium


Hanns-Christoph Eiden – BLE (welcome speech)
Valeria Pesce – GFAR
Michael Brobbey – GODAN
Chris Addison – CTA
Foteini Zampati – GODAN / KTBL
Daniel Martini – KTBL
Siegfried Harrer – German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food
Gianna Braun – German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food

Facilitator: Tobias Webb – Innovation Forum – United Kingdom


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