• Digitalisation of the agrifood sector: what does Twitter tell us?

    catalanspanish

    Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and offers the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to make its production more efficient and sustainable. Moreover, the arrival of COVID-19 has shown that the most digitalised companies were able to continue their activities more readily than the rest. In this article we examine the degree of popularity of the different digital technologies used in the primary sector and agrifood industry based on a text analysis of over 2 million tweets on Twitter. All these technologies are essential to create a connected ecosystem that will make up the Food Chain 4.0 of the future.

    Plantilla

    plantilla_article_vs05

    Temática
    Etiquetas
    Miniatura
    Área geográfica

    The unexpected arrival of the pandemic has shown that the most digitalised companies were more prepared to adapt to the new situation and were able to continue to operate much more smoothly than the rest. There is no doubt that, in this new environment, the digital transformation of companies is now unavoidable in order to boost their competitiveness.

    Big data, robotics, the internet of things and blockchain are just some examples of the new digital technologies gradually being adapted by firms, particularly in the agrifood sector. Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and is offering the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to produce more efficiently and sustainably. However, statistical information on the degree to which such technologies have been taken up, and the most comprehensive official statistical source1, does not provide information on the primary sector. Below we present a novel analysis of the «popularity»  of new digital technologies in the agrifood sector based on data from Twitter.

    • 1. Survey on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and e-commerce in companies, compiled by the National Statistics Institute.
    Twitter as a source of information to detect future trends

    Data from Twitter can be extremely valuable in detecting new trends as it allows us to analyse the popularity of certain terms according to how frequently they appear in tweets. However, it is true that «talking about something» is not the same as successfully implementing the various digital technologies in a company's recurring operations. For this reason the results presented below should be interpreted simply as an indication of new trends that may be taking root in agrifood companies.

    Data from Twitter allow us to analyse how popular the different digital technologies

    are in the agrifood sector according to how often they are mentioned in tweets.

    For this study, data was processed from over 24 million tweets sent by individual users and digital media during the period 2017-2019. Among these, 2 million corresponded to the agrifood sector. Using natural language processing techniques, the tweets were categorised according to mentions of different digital technologies and to the business sector.2 The key to obtaining relevant data from social media is to first define «seed» words or phrases to identify texts corresponding to each of the business sectors, as well as «seed» words or phrases related to the different digital technologies of interest.3 Using a machine-learning algorithm, other words and phrases related to the concept in question that were not initially included were also identified, thus broadening the spectrum of texts analysed. At this stage, it is important to carefully screen for polysemous words (i.e. those that have more than one meaning, such as the word «reserva» in Spanish, which can be used to refer to a hotel booking as well as an aged wine).

    • 2. This analysis was carried out in collaboration with Citibeats, a company specialising in unstructured natural language processing.
    • 3. For example, the «seed» woods and phrases used to identify big data were: analytics, arquitectura de sistemas (system architecture), data mining, database, inteligencia empresarial (business intelligence), Python and SQL, among others (as well as the term big data per se).
    What is the degree of digitalisation of the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    To assess the agrifood sector's degree of digitalisation according to data from Twitter, we first need to know how common tweets about digitalisation are in other business sectors. The most digitalised industry according to our analysis is the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector: 3.2% of the sector's tweets contain terms related to digitalisation, a result that is not surprising given the very nature of the industry. Next comes finance and insurance with 2.7% of the tweets.

    This percentage is obviously lower in the primary sector at 0.6% but it is similar to the 0.7% for professional, scientific and technical activities. In the case of the agrifood industry, the percentage of tweets on digitalisation is only 0.3%, very close to the basic manufacturing sector (which includes the textile, wood, paper and graphic arts industries), with the lowest percentage among the sectors analysed, 0.2%.

    p 26
    Which digital technologies are most popular in the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    The wealth of data obtained from Twitter allow us to identify the most popular digital tools in each business sector according to how frequently they are mentioned in the tweets examined. According to our analysis, a large proportion of the primary sector's tweets about digitalisation tend to include issues related to big data (45% of all tweets about digitalisation). One clear example of the application of big data in the sector can be found in «precision agriculture» techniques which require large amounts of data to be analysed to optimise decisions and thereby increase production and, in turn, ensure sustainability. These techniques are used, for instance, to calculate the irrigation requirements of crops by taking into account climatic conditions (sunlight, wind, temperature and relative humidity) and crop characteristics (species, state of development, planting density, etc.). To carry out this calculation, real-time updated meteorological data, a large computing capacity and fast data transmission speeds are all required for an automatic irrigation system to be properly adjusted. This technology helps to use water more efficiently, a highly relevant aspect in areas with a Mediterranean climate that are extremely vulnerable to climate change and where water is in short supply.

    Big data, the internet of things and robotics are the most popular technologies in the primary sector,

    indispensable for advancing the application of precision agriculture techniques and smart automated farming.

    Other popular technologies in the primary sector are the internet of things (16% of tweets) and robotics, including drones (10% of tweets). The new digital technologies promise to revolutionise the field of agriculture and stockbreeding by the middle of this century, the same as the mechanisation of farming in the xxi century. Agricultural Machinery 4.0 (which is closer to the robots in science fiction films than to the tractors we are used to seeing on all farms in the country) helps to increase productivity whilst also improving working conditions in the field. This trend towards more automated agricultural tasks has become stronger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as the difficulty in recruiting seasonal workers due to international mobility restrictions has led to increased interest in robotics and agricultural automation. In fact, companies that manufacture robots for agriculture have seen a sharp increase in orders, such as robots that pick strawberries while removing mould with ultraviolet light.14 

    The use of drones warrants particular attention as this has grown exponentially in recent years and applications are increasingly widespread: from the early detection of pests and the aerial inspection of large areas of crops to locating wild boar with heat-sensitive cameras to prevent the spread of African swine fever to domestic pigs.5

    • 4. See Financial Times Agritech «Farm robots given Covid-19 boost», 30 August 2020.
    • 5. See http://www.catedragrobank.udl.cat/es/actualidad/drones-contra-jabalies

    The popularity of various digital technologies in the agrifood sector

    p 28

    Blockchain is the technology that stands out most in the food sector (30% of the total number of tweets on the sector's digitalisation) and this comes as no surprise as it has many different applications for the food and beverage industry. Producing a chain of unalterable, reliable records, blockchain makes it possible to guarantee the complete traceability of products throughout all the links in the food chain. Simply scanning a QR code provides access to all the data regarding the origin, production method, veterinary treatments received, ingredients used, etc. A large number of agrifood companies are already experimenting with blockchain as it offers clear benefits in terms of transparency regarding origin, product quality and food safety, aspects that are increasingly valued by consumers. Blockchain technology is also being used to limit food waste, another essential challenge for the sector.

    Blockchain enables the digital verification of food products,

    making them traceable throughout the links in the food chain.

    Compared with other sectors, which tools are particularly significant for the agrifood industry?

    There are some digital technologies that are not very popular across all economic sectors, perhaps because they have a more limited or specific range of application. These are technologies that, despite having a low percentage of tweets in absolute terms according to our study, may be relatively popular for a particular sector compared with the rest.

    To detect such cases, we have calculated a new metric, namely a concentration index which takes into account the relative popularity of technologies in a sector compared with the rest of the sectors.6 By using this methodology, we have found that the primary sector continues to stand out in terms of big data. Specifically, the primary sector concentrates 9.2% of the total number of tweets mentioning big data made by all sectors, a much larger proportion than the 3.1% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (as can be seen in the following table, in this case the concentration index is 3). We have also determined that the sector is particularly interested in the internet of things, as already mentioned, but have discovered that nanotechnology is also a relatively popular technology in the primary sector. In other words, although only 3.8% of the tweets in the primary sector deal with nanotechnology, this percentage is high compared with the 1.7% share of nanotechnology tweets out of the total (in other words, this technology is not very popular in general across all sectors but is slightly more popular in the primary sector than the others). This find is not surprising since genetic engineering is one of the fields in which technology has advanced most in order to boost crop yields. For example, by optimising the yield of vines it is possible to develop plants that are much more resistant to extreme weather conditions and pests.

    • 6. The concentration index is calculated as the ratio between (1) the percentage of tweets related to a particular technology and sector out of the total tweets for this technology, and (2) the percentage of tweets by a sector out of the total tweets of all sectors. Values above 1 indicate the technology is relatively more popular in that sector.

    Concentration index for tweets related to each technology in comparison with the other sectors

    p 29

    Finally, virtual and augmented reality is also a relatively popular technology in
    the agrifood industry.
    Specifically, the agrifood industry concentrates 6.2% of the total virtual and augmented reality tweets made by all sectors, a percentage that more than doubles the 2.5% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (the concentration index is equal to 2.5 in this case). This technology uses virtual environments (virtual reality) or incorporates virtual elements into reality (augmented reality) that provide additional knowledge and data that can be used to optimise processes. At first it may be surprising that this technology is relatively popular in the agrifood industry but its uses are spreading as the industry implements digital technologies in its production processes, in the so-called Industry 4.0. One specific example of how this technology is used is in repairing breakdowns. When a fault occurs, operators can use augmented reality goggles to follow the steps contained in virtual instruction manuals that are projected onto the lens to help resolve the incident. The glasses recognise the different parts of the machine and visually indicate to operators where they should act to solve the specific problem.

    There are numerous examples of new digital technologies being applied in the agrifood sector. We are witnessing a revolution that is destined to transform the different links in the food chain: from the exploitation of data and the use of drones to make harvesting more efficient to implementing blockchain technology to improve the traceability of the final products that reach our homes. In short, the future will bring us the Food Chain 4.0, a totally connected ecosystem from the field to the table.

    Destacado Economia y Mercados
    Desactivado
    Destacado Analisis Sectorial
    Desactivado
    Destacado Área Geográfica
    Desactivado

From barter to cryptocurrency: a brief history of exchange

Content available in
Cristina Farras
May 15th, 2018

Money. What do you think of when you read this word: «money»? Perhaps you have thoughts of a pleasant situation, such as an evening in an elegant restaurant or a holiday on a beach paradise. But not only that. Quite possibly, you will also have visualised the image of a banknote, some coins or a credit card. Money is not a car, or a tasty meal, or even an exotic holiday for that matter. Money is a metal coin, a paper banknote, a plastic card, that is, an object with no intrinsic value whatsoever. Imagine if the richest person in the world were to travel back in time and encountered the men and women of the Stone Age, loaded with bags full of bundles and bundles of banknotes: where today we see wealth, they would see little more than paper to make fire with. What for them would be making the best use of the banknotes, for us would be the destruction of a fortune. What has happened to cause people to see such different things in a piece of paper? We will find the answer in key moments in the history of money.

The birth of money

We begin this story a long time ago when there was no money; a time when it was not possible to sell a product, such as a sack of wheat, and obtain an object (called money) whose only use would be to exchange it again to buy the desired product, such as a set of leather boots. At that time, trade was carried out through barter: if the owner of the sack of wheat wished to obtain some leather boots, they had to find someone who possessed some boots and wanted to buy wheat. For barter to work, each party had to want exactly what the other party was offering, and in the quantity and at the moment in time they were offering it (the so-called «double coincidence of wants»). As you can imagine, this state of affairs imposed severe restrictions on economic activity, specialisation and technological development. In an extreme example, someone devoted themselves exclusively to studying the laws of the universe might have had a challenging life as it could not have been easy to find many ranchers and farmers willing to exchange meat and vegetables for long and complex discussions on theoretical physics.

The diversity and complexity of the economy accentuated the problems of barter to find a mutual coincidence of wants, and long lists of exchange prices were drawn up (if Charlie exchanged carrots for peas with Hailey, who in turn exchanged some carrots for wood with Amelie, how many peas should Charlie offer for a piece of wood?). At this juncture, money offered a technology to facilitate exchanges: it emerged as an object which, as it became accepted by more people, made it possible conduct exchanges between more types of goods. With its appearance, a butcher could buy vegetables, footwear, clothing, and so on, without having to find a farmer, a shoemaker or a tailor who wanted to sell their goods in exchange for meat. In this way, the butcher no longer had to devote time to producing his own footwear and clothing and could specialise even more in the production of meat. In other words, money not only acted as a catalyst for the economy, enabling all kinds of transactions to be carried out, but it also enabled workers to become more specialised.

In addition to offering a means of payment, money also fulfils two other important functions: it acts as a unit of account (it fixes the price of all goods and services in the same unit) and as a store of value (which makes it possible to easily move resources between different regions and moments in time). However, the implementation of this technology was not easy and there is a long and curious list of objects which served as money in different regions and eras: whale teeth, grains of rice, cowry shells, livestock and even slaves. In fact, it must have required some courage for someone to agree to the sale of the product of their own work (meat, vegetables, tools, clothing, etc.) in exchange for a whale tooth or a few cowry shells for the first time. This act highlights the importance of trust in one’s neighbour, something which we will discuss later on. In any case, the object which ended up dominating was the metal coin (gold, silver or an alloy of both, such as the Lydia currency of the 6th century B.C.), possibly favoured by its intrinsic value (the precious metal itself) and the fact that it was small, durable, and easy to transport and to divide into smaller units.

From the decline of the coin to the emergence of a new form of money

The strong expansion of trade in the European age of Renaissance meant that the market was flooded by coins from a wide range of territories. In addition, the trade of the time required a broader spectrum of coin denominations that would facilitate both small transactions (with coins of little value) and large transactions (with high-value coins). Despite the high demand for low-denomination coins (which were used to carry out the majority of exchanges), for coin producers it was much more profitable to produce higher denomination coins (since it offset their production cost better). Thus, this often resulted in shortages of small coins and fed the incentives of private agents to produce their own coins.

With all of these elements combined, merchants found themselves in an environment in which a wide variety of different coins coexisted. For example, in 1606, a report by the Dutch parliament identified 341 different silver coins and 505 gold coins. In addition, the coin producers showed a systematic tendency to degrade their value by reducing both the precious metal content and the size of the coins themselves (see the case of the English penny in the chart below). The coexistence of so many different coins began to be problematic because it became increasingly difficult and costly to determine each one’s true gold or silver content. Furthermore, this uncertainty was heightened by the fact that it was the low-quality coins that dominated the market: everyone wanted to get rid of the bad coins and hoarded the good ones, which paradoxically led to the low-quality coins being used the most in transactions (this is known as «Gresham’s law»).

At this juncture, there were two major innovations. On the one hand, the emergence of the cylinder press allowed the production of coins to be mechanised and standardised, leading them to become much more similar to each other and, therefore, more difficult to counterfeit. Also, governments took advantage of this innovation to increase the production of their own currency, at the expense of other rivals on the market. This reduced the diversity of coins in circulation and began to lay the foundations for the monopoly that central governments would eventually impose.

On the other hand, in 1609, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in the Netherlands. In this important trade city of the time, the bank opened accounts (backed by deposits of cash), allowing its customers to channel their exchanges and transactions. This saved them from having to exchange cash because the transactions were settled with entries in the bank’s accounting books: for buyers, a reduction in their deposits was recorded, and for sellers, an increase. A crucial feature of this system was that the Bank of Amsterdam was responsible for analysing the metal content of the coins and for certifying that the accounts only contained good-quality coins. In doing so, the Bank reduced the uncertainty and gave its clients a sense of security and trust. Not only that, however: by processing the transactions through the accounting books, it implemented a new form of money that was no longer directly embodied in a physical object.

The Government takes control: the creation of central banks

Other cities such as Rotterdam followed the example of the Bank of Amsterdam and, later, central governments joined the initiative by creating the first central banks. Little by little, these central banks would gain a monopoly over the issuing of money and would eliminate the great diversity of coins in circulation. The first of these was the Riksbank, the central bank of Sweden, which was created in 1668 tasked with providing credit to the government and a system of payments to merchants. It was followed by the Bank of England in 1694, which was also born with the aim of providing credit lines to the government in order to finance the war against France. In addition, although it was created as a private entity, the Bank of England received government authorisation to issue banknotes backed by gold, which it held in reserves (a privilege that no other bank had). Similarly, in 1716, John Law got the support of the French monarchy to found the General Bank in Paris. This was a private bank which he used to grant credit to the government and to issue banknotes which, in addition to being backed by gold deposits, were attractive because the French government accepted them as a means for paying taxes.

Although the banknotes of the Bank of England were not the first (in fact, historians pinpoint the birth of paper money in China some time before the 10th century B.C. and, in the western world, in the US colonies in the late 17th century A.D.), its good reputation was key for the consolidation of paper currency. In fact, the Bank of England, which was governed by a gold standard system (it held gold reserves, which could be exchanged for banknotes at a fixed rate), gained a monopoly over the issuing of money in England. It achieved this thanks to the support of the government, which amended the legislation to prevent other agents from issuing money, as well as thanks to its good reputation for satisfying requests to convert banknotes into gold and the fact that the paper currency issued by the central bank could be used to pay taxes.

The central role which the Bank of England carved out for itself in the international financial system of the 19th century gave way to the domination of the Fed in the 20th century. Through their actions, both made it clear that the central banks had taken control of the supply of money. The emergence of the central banks not only reduced uncertainty regarding the quality of the money in circulation, but also imposed a mechanism for stabilising prices, since the convertible nature of the banknotes tied the supply of money to the reserves of gold. In this sense, the steady supply of gold prevented an explosion in the supply of money, which would result in runaway inflation. In addition, by having a monopoly over the issuing of money, the central banks became the banks that served the banks, since they supplied them with liquidity. This put them in the ideal position to manage monetary policy (by influencing interest rates with the liquidity provided to retail banks) and to play the role of lender of last resort in the event of a bank run. All in all, in little more than 200 years, central banks went from being a source of funding for governments to being independent entities that were key in order to establish an environment of greater macroeconomic and financial stability.

In God We Trust

With the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, under which the Fed undertook to convert dollar bills into gold, the world moved on to a monetary system purely based on fiat money: today, if you were to go to the counter at the Fed to convert a dollar bill, you would only receive an identical dollar bill in exchange. In other words, fiat money is backed by itself. Its only value lies in the fact that we all trust that everyone else will accept that piece of paper as a means for conducting exchanges. This has led some economists to say that fiat money requires faith in eternity: faith in the concept that tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the next day and the next, and so on, citizens will accept the banknotes we possess today as a means of payment. In fact, there is no clearer illustration of this faith than the very inscription that appears on the US dollar bill: In God We Trust, which also shows that the good reputation of the central banks was key to generating a climate of trust that made it possible to abandon the gold-based collateral of money.

Conclusion

We end this story by returning to the question with which we began: why, when we think about money, do we immediately conjure up concepts such as wealth and happiness, instead of thinking of a piece of paper, metal or plastic? The answer can be found in the (almost) infinite liquidity of these objects in which money is embodied. They are so easy to convert into any kind of goods or services, that we see them directly as what they can become, not as what they are: objects with no intrinsic value whatsoever. This leap is the result of technological and institutional improvements that have led us to evolve from an economy based on barter to the current payment systems based on fiat money and, increasingly, on digital money (such as credit cards or payment systems through mobile phones), as well as from hand-written entries in the accounting books of the Bank of Amsterdam to the electronic records of today’s bank accounts. What will be the next step in this history of money? Will Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies be the next revolution? We invite you to continue your journey into the future in the next articles of this Dossier.

Cristina Farràs and Adrià Morron Salmeron

CaixaBank Research

Cristina Farras
    im_1805_d1_01_en_fmt.png
    im_1805_d1_02_en_fmt.png