Digital food? No thanks

Digital food? No thanks

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The big winners of the pandemic have been digital platforms, which in addition to making astronomical gains have exacerbated inequalities and injustices - paradoxically, under an idyllic image that we are all connected. Now the agenda of these companies has advanced dramatically, also in the largest market on the planet: agriculture and food.

The largest companies in both sectors are on the move, both in the North and in the South. Microsoft has designed special programs to digitize all work in the field; Several digital companies have contracts with machinery companies, such as John Deere and CNH, for the collection, through their tractors, of soil, planting and climate data in their electronic clouds. The largest global agricultural commodity trading companies, Cargill, ADM, Cofco, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus and Glencore, have a collaboration for the development of digital technology platforms (especiallyblockchain and artificial intelligence) to automate the global grain trade.

Walmart bought the huge electronic retail chain Flipkart in India last year, while supermarket chain Carrefour made a deal with Google to boost online grocery sales. In turn, the French supermarket chain Monoprix signed an online sales agreement with Amazon. Alibaba and China's Tencent are vying for control of China's huge food sales market.

While millions of migrants, informal workers and rural and urban temporary workers, with the pandemic, were left without their minimum sources of income and were driven to hunger along with their families, digital and agribusiness companies reported huge profits in April 2020. Amazon, for example, reported $ 24 billion. Nestlé, the largest global food and beverage company, producer of sugary soft drinks and other ultra-processed foods, serial producer of diabetes and obesity, posted $ 8 billion. A figure, Grain said, greater than the entire annual budget of the UN World Food Program.

However, the largest agribusiness companies, such as Tyson Foods, the second largest global meat producer, complain that the crisis affects them and allege that the food system is broken and, therefore, they need support and tax exemptions by the states. The agro-industrial food system is a true factory of pandemics and they have also been a high source of contagion for their workers during the Covid-19 crisis. But they do not refer to it, but to situations like the ones we saw in the United States, where large dairy and egg producers have thrown away their production and others have slaughtered thousands of chickens or pigs, because it was not economically viable to maintain them if they can sell them at the precise moment they reach the weight and size they calculated.

As Michael Pollan explains, these are parallel food systems within industrial production in that country. On the one hand, companies that supply supermarkets. On the other, those that provide highly specialized inputs (for example, liquefied eggs) to public institutions, such as schools, that closed during the pandemic. Instead of keeping the animals or seeing how to get them to those in need, the companies decided to throw them away, claiming that it was not economical to do something else (https://tinyurl.com/y6wmdzar)

In this context, companies - both digital and agri-food companies - took a new impulse to affirm that the digitization of the entire agro-industrial chain is the key to overcoming the crisis. They already had that agenda before, but now the speech is based on Covid-19, arguing that thanks to them people have been able to make their purchaseson-line, that robots do not get sick (or strike or ask for better conditions), that electronic money does not need personal contact. They claim their essentiality for being food providers and converge with digital platform companies in which states guarantee Internet access everywhere, take over the infrastructure, install 5G networks, to allow much greater volume of data, without interruptions (so that delivery systems withdrones or unmanned vehicles are not interrupted), that decisive steps are taken for the Internet of things in agri-food.

Many evidences and testimonies indicate that the food systems that really worked and work, that have safely brought the highest quantity and quality of food during the crisis to those who need it and generate work and health, are the peasant systems and local networks city ​​field. Which also prevent future pandemics. Those are the systems that are vital to support, not this new attack on agriculture and food.

From the ETC group we describe the progress of the digitization of the agri-food system in the reportEdible Tech Fusions (https://tinyurl.com/y8bwd6k3)

By Silvia Ribeiro

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