Holiday time

Krijn Poppe


It’s holiday time, which brings many of us abroad, perhaps flying from Schiphol Airport. Some of the Farm Digital staff joins you there – not only for holidaying but also on their way to test the Farm Digital concepts in South Africa and Costa Rica. 

Not only farmers in the Netherlands have to deal with compliance data, but also those outside the European Union are confronted with data requests for the audits on food safety, organic and fair trade systems. For their national retail chains, but especially if they want to export to Europe. Dutch importers of fruit and vegetables have an interest in supporting the farmers in those countries to make compliance easy. We therefor carry out tests with growers of table grapes in South Africa and melons in Costa Rica.

Also from a research perspective it is interesting to learn what challenges and chances such an international collaboration raises. From an ICT perspective, that is first of course a language issue: English and Spanish have to replace Dutch, but in modern software development, that is not so very difficult: the software only has to call the correct language file.

More interesting is the fact that global standards like Globalgap have in reality differences between countries: some sustainability issues in South Africa are not relevant in the Netherlands or the other way around. Or questions and audit points are phrased in quite a different way, to accommodate national work processes. That leads to interesting governance issues: who should decide on changes in software to adapt to local circumstances? How flexible should software be, to be able to be adapted for local circumstances?

If necessary the project staff don’t mind working for a week in countries like South Africa or Costa Rica for the research project, in a commercial situation it is clear that local organisations should market the software and train farmers and auditors in using the software. That leads to a network of involved companies: a central hub in the Netherlands, responsible for the central software development and spokes (in what is called a hub-and-spokes model) in different countries or regions (or sectors like cocoa or coffee). These decentralised spokes could be representative offices of a multinational or independent companies that have a franchise contract with the central hub. Whatever the exact solution, there is a trade-off between local autonomy (with very flexible software or even software-clones like there are different Android-versions) and central decision making (more standardized, less costly).

Such insights and experience are not just important for compliance systems. If data becomes essential in the agri-business, it is important for the competitive position of the Dutch economy that we learn to manage the global data-flows and use them for big data analysis and management. Otherwise the value added will flow to others, in Silicon Valley California or elsewhere.

Schiphol is one of the main hubs of the Netherlands, like the port of the Rotterdam. If you fly back from holiday, your luggage will be labelled AMS; whenever you send data to the Netherlands, it is probably labelled AMS-IX, as one of the largest internet exchanges in the world is in Amsterdam, handling a large part of Europe’s intercontinental data traffic. The infrastructure for managing the world’s data on agriculture, in connection with the trade flows, are here. Let’s try to use it cleverly, to improve our competitive position and to help farmers abroad to earn a living and produce in a more sustainable way.