Digital Crowdsourcing and Inclusion in Global Food Markets

Volume 2      Issue 10      October 2017

The OECD suggests that regulations and the industrialisation of agriculture have contributed to both economic growth and poverty reduction. However, with time, regardless of the higher connectivity and spread of ICTs, many people have become more detached from the land and from the farmers who cannot yet be replaced by machines. Many such farmers are still living in poverty in the Equatorial belt, although some of their exotic products such as coffee and cocoa are sold at premium prices in supermarkets in the richer countries.  A rethinking of digital platforms and ICTs could help to re-establish the relationship between consumers and farmers in global food markets.

The idea of using ICTs in agriculture for development is not new. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has always had a keen interest on ICT Uses for Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains.  e-Agriculture also undertakes valuable research and policy work on ICT for sustainable agriculture and rural development. Kiva Labs has identified three problems where crowdsourcing can help: flexible credit, access to market infrastructure, and training. However, for a better understanding of ICTs for inclusive innovation in global food markets the focus needs to shift away from countries and regions, and towards entrepreneurs, the farmers and their interests.

Crowdsourcing is often presented as a mean for entrepreneurs to access resources from the many, the crowd. In agriculture it can help farmers to access capital for growth, innovation and better access to global food markets, and also improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners. Patch of Land, a real estate crowdsourcing platform promotes projects like Athena Organic Farm + Eco-Retreat in Canada as setting the stage by businesses offering a farm-based experience rather than only products, expanding into the digital space through crowd social entrepreneurship and innovation. But can farmers from developing countries harness the power of digital crowdsourcing to come closer to global food markets and consumers?

In developing countries such as Indonesia, the idea of crowdsourcing has been seen particularly positively. While several international crowdsourcing platforms offer global mutual programs, Indonesia has various local platforms in the Bahasa language. Some of them focus on a particular issue such as health ( and  culture (GerakanSejutaBudaya), while others focus on important general social issues supporting personal or social creative issues (GandengTangan, KitaBisa). Some of the crowdsourcing platforms are even available in applications from smartphones, making them more reachable.

In a pilot study conducted for this Briefing we decided to focus on two initiatives in Indonesia. First we examined BigTreeFarms a sustainable agriculture U.S. company sourcing organic cocoa, coconut and other ingredients for their products sold in global markets. Talking with their Head of Corporate Quality, Food Safety and Management, it was clear that one of their key challenges is educating their 10,000+ local farmer partners about organic food producing standards and ensuring that such practices are followed. Second, we spoke with GandengTangan (meaning ‘Hand-in-Hand’). This is a relatively new crowdsourcing platform designed to help individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to secure funding for growth and better access to local and global markets. Testimonials from successfully-funded projects on the platform show that the scheme has provided new hope to expand businesses in a different way. The two case studies lead us to ask whether the micro-crowdsourcing model and the large sustainable farming investment model can be combined together for a more integrated system.

Regardless of the many crowdsourcing initiatives and inclusive innovations in developing countries, few farmers use and leverage ICTs to expand their skills and gain better access to funding and global food markets. The challenge for crowdsourcing platforms in developing countries is not only to link the global crowd to fundraisers, but also to educate and mentor both parties to collaborate better in the international market arena. Further consideration of important aspects such as local culture, contexts, and trust, as well as useful training or mentoring that might help support them including language, global marketing, farming entrepreneurshis, information and financial literacy is necessry. There is much that ICTs can do, but further research is needed in this direction.

Digital Innovations for Financial Inclusiveness

Volume 1   Issue 2   November 2016

Digital innovation is often seen as something that does not happen in developing regions, because, so it is argued, radical innovations require advanced resources, considerable finance and the right infrastructure, which can only be managed by large organisations that are absent in developing regions. However, digital innovations for financial inclusiveness in developing countries have the potential to change this perspective.

Collaborative entrepreneurship financing is one of the areas where technological advancements in ICTs, social capital and economic capital can be combined to bridge inequalities in the global digital economy.  Safaricom’s M-Pesa in Kenya for example offers peer-to-peer transfer options comparable to what banks in developed countries have traditionally done.  BKash in Bangladesh is similar, allowing users to transfer money or make payments using their mobile wallets or agent shops. Such solutions do not try to replicate what already exists in developed countries, but they build on what is available in emerging economies: a high level of mobile penetration without many smart devices, strong social capital links and local cultures.

The traditional model in developed countries where payments are effected using a debit card, a credit card, a PayPal account or mobile payment apps all connected to a bank account does not work in cash-based emerging economies. In these regions only 3% of the population uses digital payment options  according to a report on ‘Digital Finance for All – Powering Inclusive Growth n Emerging Economies’ by McKinsey Global Institute (2016). Yet, from the same report referring to the World Bank’s Financial Inclusion Index (Findex), digital transactions between developed and developing regions are expected to be balanced by 2025 thanks to the use of low-cost mobile technologies for financial inclusion, expecting 91% of adults in emerging economies to have access to some form of financial account compared to around 55% today.

Differences in digital innovations for entrepreneurship financing and inclusiveness in emerging economies deserve more attention from researchers.  Those looking at crowdfunding, for example, need to explore hybrid models between, for example, the Village Fund by the Government of Thailand matching locally-sourced donations, and mobile wallet solutions. Research on platforms such as Kickstarter for reward-based crowdfunding in the USA, or Kiva, a US-based charity for micro-finance for development might be a good starting point, but they do not explain why similar platforms in emerging regions such as in Latin America, DemoHour in China or Zoomal in Arab countries do not have the same popularity despite serving larger regions. Does “culture” matter in these circumstances?

Today we live in an increasingly cashless society. Transactions are becoming streams of information transferred and secured via digital devices and big data analytics is putting increasingly more value on information produced in networks. Exploring synergies using existing ICT infrastructures, embracing differences between developed and developing countries without necessarily trying to change them, promoting open and inclusive innovation and redefining financial inclusiveness beyond money could all really bridge gaps in the global digital economy.

Background and collaboration opportunities

Since 2014 I have been researching on crowdfunding platforms for entrepreneurship in an international context, publishing with Prof Paul Robson in Entrepreneurship and Regional Development on ‘Social identity and signalling success factors in online crowdfunding’ , and presenting comparative studies in international conferences like eChallenges 2015 or LAEMOS 2016. To understand and addresses current changes, closer collaboration between multidisciplinary researchers, businesses and policy-makers working on ICTs for development is necessary. I am currently exploring a research project proposal on digital innovations and ICT solutions for entrepreneurship in emerging economies, which builds on the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s network of organisational partners such as ITU, UNCTAD, and the British Council, as well as connections with researchers and practitioners in Central Africa, North Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. I would welcome collaboration with researchers and practitioners working on digital innovations for financial inclusiveness and entrepreneurship in developing countries. It would be good to explore this topic together as well as the broader scope of our work at the UNESCO Chair in ICT for Development at Royal Holloway University of London.