Eco-Digital Platforms

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


David Bollier:

"It is not widely appreciated how tech platforms can alter ecological stewardship and production practices in positive ways. To be sure ICTs (information and communications technologies) have many negative ecological impacts, at least as deployed by capitalist enterprises today – lots of electricity, rare earths, transport costs, pollution and planned obsolescence. But it is also true that these systems, when used in commons-based forms, could help usher in new, more ecologically benign forms of decentralized production and consumption. They can reorient people toward more cooperative, post-capitalist modes of life and culture while still hosting needed types of technological innovation.


The dynamics seen in SRI and Farm Hack are also playing out in many open design and manufacturing commons. Using open source principles on Web platforms, designers and practitioners are inventing and building low-cost hardware products such as modular automobiles, furniture and housing.30 The goal is to design globally and build locally. Amateurs and artisanal entrepreneurs self-organize themselves into small-scale workshops known as Fab Labs, which function as managed commons of shared equipment and production using desktop manufacturing technologies such as 3D printers and CNC milling machines. The Fab Lab Network based at M.I.T., comprised of about 200 Fab Labs in more than 40 countries, describes itself as “an open, creative community of fabricators, artists, scientists, engineers, educators, students, amateurs, professionals, ages 5 to 75+.”

Here, as in other open source communities, there are commercial pressures to capitalize on the fruits of social collaboration without necessarily supporting it. There are libertarian factions in these spaces committed to “simplistic economic individualism and hypercapitalistic politics,” in the words of some critics.

Yet as mentioned earlier, there are also less-prominent forces committed to “platform cooperativism” and social justice within these frontier spaces. Part of the struggle going on in the maker movement is to enact this latter vision, so that its innovations and identity are not swallowed up by Google, Facebook, Apple and other tech giants. To date, these commons are showing an enormous capacity to democratize access to the tools for technical invention and build a (nonmarket) system of technical education, distributed research, and apprenticeship for the next generation.

This movement breathes the same air as “citizen-science,” a grassroots movement to crowdsource information for various scientific research projects. The efforts take many forms: counting birds and butterflies to assess migration patterns and biodiversity; classifying the size of craters on Mars for NASA; monitoring celestial phenomena to complement the tracking done by professionals; gathering field data about air and water quality. Open Source Beehives is an international collaboration of ecologists, beekeepers, makers and open source advocates who track the health of bee colonies (threatened by disease and chemicals) and promote their international recovery. Participants build their own 3D printable smart beehives and use Internet-connected sensors to compile data about bees, which project teams in Denver, Barcelona and Brussels use to develop solutions and policy proposals.

Conventional wisdom may dismiss these projects as too small and outlandish to be consequential. But as I describe below, the “replicate and federate” approach of so many digitally networked projects could yield a rapidly scaleable yet coordinated “social organism” of like-minded, locally adapted, constantly evolving commons." (


Farm Hack

David Bollier:

"One example is Farm Hack, a global design and manufacturing community that has applied open source development principles to agricultural equipment. To date, the Farm Hack network has produced designs for over 100 tools – an organic no-till roller, garlic planters, an “extinct” oat huller, greenhouse automation systems, sensor networks and business models for organic egg enterprises, among others. As Dorn Cox, a founding member of Farm Hack, writes: “Farm Hack is an emergent, networked culture of collaborative problem-solving…. Building on models of voluntary reciprocity, Farm Hack implicitly challenges the prevailing norms of conventional agricultural economics and research. The Farm Hack community believes that the tools, seeds and techniques used in agriculture should both reflect and benefit those who intend to use them, not just those intent on selling them.”

Cox explains how the open, social collaboration of the Farm Hack community “creates the potential for every farm to become a research farm, and every neighbor to be a manufacturer, drawing upon a global library of skills and designs.” The preindustrial and modern are conjoined through a marriage of agrarianism and maker/hacker ideals." (

==System for Rice Intensification==?

David Bollier:

"Another potent eco-digital commons is the international network of farmers who practice a kind of open-source agronomy for rice cultivation. The System for Rice Intensification, or SRI, is a vast network of thousands of farmers in Cuba, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and dozens of other countries who share their ideas for improving the yield of rice without the use of GMO seeds, pesticides or herbicides.

With the help of Cornell University, farmers collaborate through an online platform,, on which they share lectures, seminars, emails, publications and other materials, on an international scale. It is a bottom-up driven process without the sponsorship of government ministries or corporations. Even though SRI methodologies must be locally adapted, they are easy to understand and implement – and the impacts impressive. Crop yields are 20% to 50% more than conventional rice farming while using less seed, water and fewer chemical inputs. SRI is an example of how open-source collaborations, when applied to agricultural challenges, can yield practical, ecologically benign answers that do not even occur to commercial vendors and state authorities – perhaps because SRI is a commons-based system that is not profit-driven or hierarchically governed.

SRI is but one of many examples of Agricultural Crowdsourcing. Using network platforms to aggregate data and interpret them, farmers in diverse localities around the world can apply their own best judgment in selecting the most adaptive crops as the atmosphere becomes warmer. A similar idea animates the Open Ag Data Alliance, which is trying to help farmers access and control the data about the crop yields, open source style, instead of agribusiness vendors owning and controlling that data through their own proprietary, non-interoperable platforms.

A data ?commons is a highly effective way for farmers to assess and improve their agricultural practices. It helps to put these fledgling models into perspective: An estimated 2 billion people around the world depend upon commons of forests, fisheries, farmland, water, wild game and other natural resources for their everyday subsistence, according to the Alliance for Land. Such types of resource-governance are far more ecologically minded than global corporations whose “rip and run” extractivism is the norm. Yet introductory economics textbooks all but ignore these commons because they are for householding or subsistence, not market exchange, and thus are not regarded as interesting enough. If digital networks can empower local natural resource commons, and help them mutually support each other, as SRI and Farm Hack do, it would help elevate this “invisible commons sector” into great prominence." (