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Reshaping Swiss Agriculture through a Peer-to-Peer Approach

Wed, September 4, 8:00 to 9:30am, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Five, Grand Ballroom B

Abstract

Swiss agriculture is subject to the pressure of opening borders and increasing requirements on food, health and environmental security. Administrative monitoring burdens producers and restrains competitiveness. Producers must feed multiple information systems of public administrations, control organisations and market actors, often with identical data. Moreover, the emergence of embedded data sources enhances the tensions between database operators’ and farmers’ interests. Sensing business and political opportunities, a recent government-supported private initiative has attempted to centralise and control all agricultural databases; a challenge that farmer organisations countered in early 2018 with a project to connect agricultural information systems in an “open environment”.
The paper studies the socio-technical architectures of this project and of the target information system, that together face two major challenges: (i) guarantee that producers control the distribution of their data and can avoid vertical information integration by large operators, and (ii) harness a multiplicity of potentially competing actors not inclined to dialogue. The result is a fully distributed open-standard platform for peer-to-peer collaboration whose function is to transfer agricultural data between databases under the control of farmers considered as the data-owners.
Based on fieldwork coeval to the project’s beginning and a dialogue between the disciplines of the platform’s architect and of the ethnographer the paper contributes an analysis of distributed systems, with a focus on the co-shaping links between institutional frameworks and peer-to-peer architectures. This subject, under-explored in STS literature, is of interest to both platform and information infrastructure studies.

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