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Virtual Farming Networks for Smallholders through Digital Communities of Trust

Project Team

  • Dr. Adam Davis, Professor, Dept. of Crop Science
  • Dr. Lav Varshney, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Abstract

Crop yields in Nepal and other regions of the world are well below production potential on smallholder farms. Low yields are attributed to several factors, including minimal adoption of agricultural technologies and increasing rates of land fragmentation. Small landholdings prevent farmers from benefiting from economies of scale and are unable to support even subsistence agriculture. Low yields exacerbate rural poverty, leading to outmigration to cities or other countries. Outmigration reduces the agricultural labor force, further limiting agricultural productivity. Land aggregation offers farmers economies of scale and the ability to pool resources to invest in agricultural technologies; they may also benefit from more efficient farm management systems while seeking employment in other sectors. However, land aggregation will only be effective if trust among smallholder farmers and potential farm managers is established.

This project aims to create virtual shared services or complete virtual farms, where smallholder farmers in Nepal voluntarily aggregate land under single management. We propose to use blockchain technology to create transparent and immutable land holding records including satellite-based maps, which guarantee participating farmers ownership and profit from increased yields. Smart contracts will guarantee contracts between smallholders and managers are upheld, and also provide contractual mechanisms for sharing revenues based on inputs provided. A transparent land aggregation and farm management platform can lead to a community of trust among stakeholders.

The pilot project will first develop an intuitive user interface for an existing blockchain platform, such as Hyperledger. Then it will identify ten villages in the Terai Belt to test the benefits of blockchain-supported virtual farms. Five villages will be selected to participate in the project with the other five serving as a control. Farmers’ landholdings will be mapped, and the virtual farm will be added as a second layer to maps in treatment villages. Once community members agree on the final map, it will be made immutable using blockchain. Farmers will then select a single farm manager, likely a local service provider. Smart contracts will be created to ensure farmers receive payment based on the share of land and other inputs they contribute toward the virtual farm. We predict smallholder farmers in Nepal will ultimately benefit from increased yields while being able to seek more lucrative employment opportunities elsewhere.