Small Farmers, Big Tech: Reshaping agrarian commerce, knowledge and connection through Myanmar Facebook

Authors: Hilary Faxon*, UC Berkeley
Topics: Food Systems, Development, Environment
Keywords: agritech, farmers, Myanmar, Facebook, digital geography, political ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Internet connection provides a new terrain for agrarian information and relations. In Myanmar, a country with a predominantly rural population, liberalizing economy, and recently-shattered telecoms monopoly, new digital technologies have enabled a range of practices that are changing farming both economically and ecologically. Today, farmers can participate in corporate-organized digital cooperatives, learn to make organic compost on agricultural advice apps, or purchase seeds on Facebook, which dominates Myanmar’s internet. This paper examines famers’ Facebook groups, drawing on interviews and content monitoring to explore how these online communities are structured by historical relationships of agricultural capital and knowledge, the political economy of Myanmar internet, and the technological affordances of social media. I compare these groups with emergent agricultural advice apps, and argue that while interactions on both sets of platforms are facilitating market connections and eroding the state’s monopoly on agricultural expertise, Facebook groups provide an important arena for cultivating solidarity and re-politicizing farmer identities. In doing so, I contribute to new theorizations of data infrastructures and digital agriculture by incorporating insights into smallholder practices and identities from Southeast Asian agrarian studies.

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