Big Tech, big ambition

by New Straight Times | 10 Mar 2021
An elderly farmer rests inside a parked trolley as they block a highway during a call for a nationwide 'Chakka Jam', or road blockade as they continue to protest against the new agriculture laws, in Amritsar, India. - EPA pic


Corporate capture — the exercise of inappropriate influence — is a dangerous thing, but when Big Tech gets involved, it becomes lethal on a global scale.

Nowhere is this threat more visible than in agriculture. Big Tech's goal? Control the very thing that feeds the world: food. From farm to fork, the technology companies will call the shots. How food gets produced, shipped, retailed and delivered. Big Tech is the Goliath of the 21st century.

Big technology companies — they are not just from the United States — are smart and devious. Asia has some smart control freaks too. Calling in aid smart technology and scale, they are trying to argue the very people who have been feeding us for the longest time — small farmers — out of existence. Their goal isn't just national; it is global.

To Silicon Valley companies and their imitators elsewhere, size matters a lot. We are only too familiar with how Big Tech kills off its small competitors. We are familiar too how it bullies its users into submission. Big Tech will do the same to small farmers.

Read the lips of the Indian farmers. And if GRAIN, a non-profit organisation that supports small farmers, is right, there are some 500 million small farm households around the world who may be annihilated thus by Big Tech. Four GRAIN staffers were concerned enough to pen an op-ed in Al Jazeera, saying Big Tech's takeover of agriculture is dangerous. We see danger there, too.

We are not against technology. Smart technology can and does guide farmers when to sow, when to harvest and do everything in between to get a healthy produce. This isn't our concern. Our worry lies elsewhere.

It is how Big Tech uses its power of bigness to control what brand of spades is used in the farm, which companies supply the fertilisers and a million other things that go to make the produce that gets consumed. Even which shippers ship and which retailers retail the produce. The poor farmer will not even be in a position to price his produce. "You just toil, we will do the rest", is Big Tech's ad copy no one gets to read. We have seen this happen so many times as smart device users. Remember WhatsApp's new privacy policy gimmick? Take it or leave it, owner-Facebook shouted down its users.

Big Tech will similarly shout down the poor farmers. At least there are alternatives like Signal and Telegram for WhatsApp users. For farmers, the alternative is as perishable as their produce. GRAIN's January report on Big Tech's encroachment on food and farming is telling.

It talks of four ways Big Tech leaves the farmers behind. Firstly, farmers' data is relayed to chemical companies to enable them to hawk their products. It is Hobson's choice for the farmers. Sounds familiar?

Secondly, data is used to hook farmers to e-finance and online payment systems. Again, they are Big Tech's businesses or those of the partners in the control game.

Thirdly, Big Tech creates a group of new middlemen who buys the produce directly from the farmers. Guess who determines the price? Finally, Big Tech's control reaches the end user through e-commerce — who gets to sell what and to whom.

If you think this is menacing, think what it means to the 500 million helpless farmers. No harvests but thorns, to borrow a title of a local novel.
Author: New Straight Times
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