The agricultural innovation landscape is rapidly evolving, and a host of new actors are diversifying a space traditionally dominated by government agencies, public universities, and established agribusiness firms. Globally, investments in agtech start-ups amounted to $30 billion in 2020, representing a 34.5% increase from just the year before (Investable Universe, 2021). Intermediary actors, often referred to as incubators (and accelerators), have arisen in this context to fill a gap in the innovation ecosystem. These incubators often position themselves as mission-oriented – that is, their goals are not only to spawn successful commercial ventures but also to produce positive societal impact by supporting enterprises that contribute to solving social and ecological problems. There is growing interest in metrics, oversight, and reporting protocols to address the challenges of securing and communicating social impact, but these practices are very uneven and very little is known about their performance. This research project stands to generate insights into how entrepreneurs, investors, and innovation intermediaries anticipate, negotiate, and address social impact goals in order to strengthen accountability in innovation ecosystems.
This project focuses in emergent agritech initiatives in Myanmar, a nation that came online only after a democratizing government shattered the military telecoms monopoly in 2014. The research contributes to the growing fields of digital political ecology, digital agriculture, and critical data studies by ethnographically investigating how new farmer extension apps, drone-spraying services and digital cooperatives are reshaping relationships between people, food, and land. Building on interviews and participant observation, a case study will be developed into a manuscript to be submitted to the Global South to Agriculture and Human Values or Geoforum in Fall 2020.
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