Accepted paper:

ICT4 Empowerment, Enumeration, or, Exclusion? Reconciling technology complexity with dignity of food access in the era of biometric surveillance.


Prashant Rajan (Iowa State University)
Shweta Chopra (Iowa State University)

Paper short abstract:

When and how do ICTs enable equity in food access? Drawing on long-term research in Chhattisgarh, India, we find justifications for technologies that increase beneficiaries' and intermediaries' freedoms to choose when, where, and how choose when, where, and how to accomplish food access.

Paper long abstract:

Food security is a universal human right requiring consistent access to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate nutritional sources. ICTs have emerged as key tools to implement food security policies that improve both the quantity and quality of food access. A key assumption underlying most ICT interventions in food security is that using ICTs ceteris paribus leads to better outcomes for all stakeholders. A corollary of this assumption is that using more advanced ICTs will lead to further improvements in performance. We challenge these assumptions by demonstrating how successive ICT-interventions in procurement, processing, and distribution have both constrained and enabled food access by Chhattisgarhi households between 2011 and 2017. We found that public and private adoption of technological interventions in procurement, processing, and distribution led to significant improvements in household food access. Rural and urban families surviving on incomes below the poverty line (BPL) were highly responsive to smart-card-based interventions that offered freedom of food access i.e., freedom to choose when, where, and how much food to purchase through portability of entitlement claims. Studying the subsequent replacement of smart cards and POS machines with newer devices such as tablets and advanced biometric authentication, we observed curtailment and denial of beneficiaries' freedom of food access in direct consequence of articulation work associated with implementing new technologies including: redundant and resource-intensive practices such as seeding new identification databases, and, managing increased technology costs and complexity; while operating in low-bandwidth, high-latency communication infrastructure.

panel D01
Digital inequalities and development (Paper)