Creating Sustainable Data Cooperatives in the Global South: Frameworks for Institutional Support

Data cooperatives offer an alternative to the enclosure of data in digitalized agricultural supply chains by large agri-tech platforms. Despite their potential, experiments in data cooperativism face challenges in a rapidly privatizing technopolitical ecosystem. In India, platforms addressing this issue often focus on producer organizations, such as Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs).

Collaborating with the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) Federation, we developed a techno-institutional model for a data cooperative, emphasizing the digitalization process from the ground up. Our qualitative data collection involved interviews with frontline workers, SEWA staff, and technical advisors, focusing on a women's agricultural cooperative in South Gujarat.

Our research reveals the limits of digitalization and the importance of safeguarding data creators. The federated FPO model facilitates digitalization that combats the privatization of digital public infrastructures. A deliberate, partner-agnostic approach to digitalization allows the cooperative to center the interests of its shareholders, demonstrating the significance of a slower-paced strategy. At the same time, incomplete or redundant digitalization processes persist, by virtue of the ongoing, incremental nature of the process. The cost of these inefficiencies in the internal workings of cooperatives, digital protocols, as well as infrastructures is borne most heavily by frontline workers. In addition, state infrastructures create enabling and boundary conditions within which data cooperatives can function. Our report argues that any attempt to digitalize must take into account the stated objectives and needs of those most affected by digitalization – imagined end users and beneficiaries, through meaningful co-design processes. Data must remain accessible only in a federated manner. Data governance measures must also be put in place to safeguard the profiling of farmers and users in general, both from collectives as well as third-party users. Finally, care must be taken to see that the ostensible ease of digitality should not be predicated on bodily taxing and time-intensive work performed by frontline workers. Apps should not just make data collection and access to data easier, but should also enhance and simplify existing workflows.

Read the complete report here.


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