The digital agriculture project

Image: Oto Vale


Family farming in the crosshairs of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.

In recent weeks, much has been said about Law 14.048, called Assis Carvalho[1], which establishes emergency measures for family farming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more so was the repercussion on the president's full vetoes of PL 735/2020, especially on the article that extended emergency aid to farmers who had not received the benefit and the program to promote productive activity. In an interview given to the Central Única dos Trabalhadores, Marcos Rochinski, general coordinator of Contraf-Brasil (National Confederation of Workers in the Financial Sector), highlighted the profound disregard for the sector: “Disregard because it absolutely ignores the reality that family farmers go through, the entire process of mobilization of Brazilian society around the approval of these measures, and completely ignores a unanimous position of the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate and prefers, based on a unilateral decision, to completely veto a construction that was made from the organizations of family farmers, various parliamentarians and parties that were involved in this process”.[2]

In fact, vetoes may at first have this appearance of neglect, however it must be made clear that this government's economic political project is centered on other interests, although the president has realized that "emergency aid" leveraged its popularity among the most vulnerable sectors of the population. If we remember the whole process for the benefit to be approved, we remember not only the government's inability to deal with urgent social issues, but also the frustrated attempt not to allocate any resources to the most vulnerable population. Or, when it seemed impossible to prevent its effectiveness, negotiating an inexpressive value at a time when the poorest are experiencing an unprecedented drama caused by the impacts of the pandemic on their lives.

The justification used for the vetoes on the Assis Carvalho Law by the presidency of the republic was that the articles represented “contrary to the public interest and unconstitutionality”.

Brazilian family farming has been one of the most important sectors of the economy and has ensured the supply of many Brazilian municipalities, as most of the commodities produced in the national territory are destined for export. To better understand its power on a larger scale, family farming corresponds to the 8th largest food production on the planet, according to the World Bank[3].

However, it is important to point out that the presidential vetoes and their arguments are in line with the most recent policies of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAPA). On August 18, the Digital Agriculture Project (PAD) was launched, co-authored by economist Michael Kremer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019, an important academic ballast to legitimize the initiative. The economist, recognized for developing strategies to reduce poverty and hunger through technological developments, presented some considerations in conversation with the director general of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero, and highlighted that “ mobile farming can be useful not only for farmers, governments and extension services trying to influence farmers, but also for private companies”.[4]

The project is the result of a MAPA/IICA-PAD partnership[5] and Brazil will be the first country in Latin America to receive digital solutions for the development of family farming and agribusiness. The northeast region was chosen for the pilot plan that aims to reach around 100 rural producers of goats, sheep, corn and beans. Technical assistance and rural extension in the form of R&D (Research and Development) is one of the steps towards integrating Family Farming into the Global Agro Value Chain (CGV).

The digital transformation and the new platforms contribute to the formulation of new business and management models that respond to the market reality, keeping the agribusiness environment competitive, technologically uniform and capable of guaranteeing investments, now also counting on the subordination of family agriculture, integrating it and concentrating them as producing players in Latin America that serve the interests of the global market.

Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply and the Inter-American Institute of Cooperation form the national and international political-legal conditions that create the paths for technological cooperation, for the promotion and investments that influence each link of the agribusiness value chain. Since family farming is a sector that produces so much and that has revealed its great potential at this time of pandemic, the institutional context acted strategically to influence and create ways to integrate the sector as another link in the production system and the value chain.

The agribusiness startups that act in this dynamization are accelerated by companies such as Microsoft, Java, Amazon Web Service and Intel, which with projects with the Ministry of Science and Technology, condition the growth of innovative entrepreneurship that focuses on research, development and innovation with the objective of increasing productivity, helping to reduce costs and, consequently, determining the adjustment parameters necessary to integrate the value chains of other global companies.

It is no coincidence that the rural sector has also been adopting governance models considered efficient in urban management over the last two decades, as Simone Wolff very well highlighted in her article entitled “Local development, entrepreneurship and urban 'governance': where is the work in this field? context"[6]. Digital agriculture is considered a service in the agribusiness value chain that the farmer/exporter will necessarily use to involve and integrate his farm and his productive activity into the global agribusiness model. The adoption of highly technological production models is a path to the internationalization of products – as happened in the 1990s in Brazil, based on the productive restructuring and the necessary adoption of ISO's (International Organization for Standardization), one of the milestones in the standardization and globalization of the production chain.

This whole universe now extends to Family Farming, as a form of productive control and of social subjects who will certainly have their cultivation forms and practices – as well as their appropriate work activities – resized and precariously integrated and subordinated to global power . As one more piece in the production chain, it will economically feed the large transnational capitalist class that once again demonstrates its power over peoples, territories and nature. One more element in the capital production process and its antisocial metabolism.

From the perspective of neoextractivism, transnationalism, agribusiness and Agriculture 4.0, which consists of all the technological machinery that is now widespread in the production process and in its fundamental links of accumulation, it is worth highlighting what Marx pointed out in his first book d'The capital, when he dealt with the production process of capital and the dual origin of manufacture, mainly of what he called heterogeneous manufacturing, which originally combines dispersed crafts, reducing the spatial separation between the particular stages of production. In the current configuration of global power, transnational companies (industry, commerce and services), large private and public banks, financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, government and many other agents of the system are articulated and integrated. In the capitalist system, the accumulation of capital is an incessant process and driving force that occurs in a combined and uneven way.

For William Robinson, the new phase of expansion of transnational capital is a new stage of the capitalist system, which drives new productive forms, a new global financial system, a new transnational capitalist class and the emergence of apparatuses of a transnational state, triggering new relationships unequal forms of domination and exploitation of global society and promoting globalized circuits of accumulation[7]. It is the expression of the undemocratic nature of the international system, despite the adoption of concepts such as multistakeholder governance[8], the government in which all parties participate. The capture of democratic institutions is one of the main strategies of the global economic elite[9].

The productive force is fully based on cooperation not only between the links that correspond to the global value chain, as Garry Gareffi pointed out in “The global apparel value chain, trade, and the crisis: challenges and opportunities for development countries”[10]. In addition, it submits, coordinates, determines and controls the entire antisocial metabolism of capital, which has reverberated in the world of work as precariousness, which is the servitude of our days.[11]. The globalized circuits of accumulation determine the new relations of inequality, domination and exploitation in global society. This process includes the cost of the workforce that is geographically located. In the case of agribusiness, in addition to being a highly technological sector, it also stands out for being the one that employs the most informal workers. According to IBGE data from the beginning of 2020, eleven Brazilian states surpassed the 50% informality mark[12]. Of the nine states that make up the Legal Amazon, which is the new Brazilian agricultural frontier, six have an informality rate above 50%. They are: Acre (50,2%), Amapá (54,3%), Amazonas (57,6%), Pará (62,4%), Rondônia (50,3%) and Maranhão (60,5%) .

It is necessary to know the historic structures and recognize them in ongoing projects. The figure of Jair Bolsonaro is just the distraction line for a much denser political project, for deregulations of all kinds, for privatization of large public companies and systematic deregulation of industrial and agricultural economic apparatuses, as well as for the destruction of rights social and environmental issues, resulting from national and international pressures that are reflected in the political behavior of our congressmen. This year, Brazil broke a record for its soy crop in the middle of the pandemic, as I highlighted in a text recently published on the website A Terra é Redonda[13].

It is urgent that Contag (National Confederation of Rural Farmers) and its federations, the Landless Workers Movement and social movements in general recognize what is happening and articulate themselves. Presidential vetoes are closely linked to the PAD (Digital Agriculture Project). Presidential approval would mean going against ongoing projects at the Ministry of Agriculture.

* Fabiana Scoleso is a postdoctoral researcher in Sociology of Work at UNICAMP and professor of the International Relations course at UFT.

Originally published in the GMARX-USP Bulletin, Year 01 nº 45/ 2020. []


[1]Available in:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[2]Available in:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[3]Available in:–maior-produtora-de-alimentos-do-mundo_407989.html>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020. 

[4]Available in:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[5]Available in:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[6]Available in:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[7]Available in: . Accessed on 2 Sept. 5.

[8]GLECKMEN, Harris. Multistakeholder governance and democracy: a global challenge. New York: Routledge, 2018.

[9]For more information, see GLACKMAN, Harris. “The governance of the multiple interested parties: the corporate offensive towards a new form of global government”. In: State of Power. Transnational Institute, 2016. Available at:>. Accessed on 02 Sept. 2020.

[10]Available in: . Accessed on: 2011 Sep. 20.

[11]ANTUNES, Ricardo. The privilege of serfdom: the new service proletariat in the digital age. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018.

[12]Available in:>. Accessed on: 02 Sep. 2020.



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