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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-09212023-152723

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
email address
m.metta@studenti.unipi.it, matteometta@hotmail.it
Thesis title
Digitalisation and on-farm diversification. Challenges and opportunities for multifunctional and diversified agricultures
Academic discipline
Course of study
supervisore Prof. Brunori, Gianluca
supervisore Prof. Dessein, Joost
  • digitalisation
  • on-farm diversification
Graduation session start date
No matter how ambiguous it can be, the digitalisation of agriculture continues to be a top priority of industrialised economies. More and more evidence on the direct and indirect effects of digitalisation is emerging, and this feeds into all sides of the debate on the future trajectories of digital agriculture. However, the body of scientific research in digital agriculture tends to be less concerned with digital applications to, and impacts on, farming styles that are integrating agriculture, food, and rural development, such as on-farm diversification. On-farm diversification consists of mobilising farm assets, labour, and outputs in extra-farming activities related to the farm, such as food processing, social farming, agritourism, recreational and educational work, landscape management, and so forth. By using a qualitative and grounded theory approach in a journey marked by COVID-19 pandemic, this research explores the experiences of diversified farmers on the use and impacts of digitalisation in 13 farms across different contexts (Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Japan). The findings reveal that digitalisation can be adapted to the relational, creative, and on-site nature of diversified farms. At the same time, farmers are quite conscious of the costs, flaws, and potential threats to their own autonomy. What are quite important for diversified farmers are also elements outside the agri-tech realms, such as landscape features, housing conditions, wellbeing, and the relations with the living beings. These on-site, socio-physical elements are pre-conditions for diversifying and cannot be eclipsed by the hype of digitalisation. In terms of impacts, the research sheds light on the ambiguous role of digitalisation in on-farm diversification by exposing the positive and negative experiences of farmers. At least four typologies of impacts were identified: enabling and disenabling, boosting and depleting effects. To deal with these ambiguities, policy-makers can create an enabling framework to balance these positive and negative effects, as well as take responsibility in the direction setting of digitalisation, by starting from agri-food and rural policies. For instance, the thesis suggests that an EU-wide target to substantially increase the share of farmers engaged in on-farm diversification could be integrated into the EU Farm-to-Fork strategy and CAP, and monitored through available Eurostat data.