Three questions to Isabelle Piot-Lepetit, coordinator of Challenge 7: “Integrating agriculture into value chains”

Isabelle Piot-Lepetit is the new coordinator of the #DigitAg Challenge 7 on the integration of farmers into value chains. She presents her vision of the challenge, its issues and the priorities for the coming year. The first of these is exchanging and building together through a workshop planned for 25 January 2019.



How do you envisage research in digital agriculture driven by Challenge 7 through the integration of farmers?

As an economist specialising in management, I have conducted studies on the structuring and management of organisations, most of which are multi-site: how can we optimise the running of these organisations using digital tools and data analysis?

We can draw a parallel between the world of business and the world of agriculture. Both have underutilised data and lack the skills needed to use existing tools and to understand this data. How can we process this data and deliver relevant information (heterogeneity, standardisation, format, etc.) to make the right decisions?

Integrating farmers into value chains is about more than just providing them with digital techniques for product traceability. To ensure farmers are truly integrated into value chains, we need to build solutions and tools together with them. This concerns both upstream product management and downstream sales.

The challenge is to optimise value enhancement, either by delivering products with higher value added or by reducing supplier costs for producers. Over and above farm management, digital tools must also support decision-making regarding farm economics. In France, there are tools for monitoring and managing stocks, solutions for publishing financial statements (such as Ekylibre), but still very few digital tools for optimising farm management as a whole, using techniques provided by analytics.

Digital tools exist for producers selling their products on short-term markets (especially in the US). In Africa, at present, mobile phone technologies are the preferred option, with a service offering that is not exactly the same. Indeed, orality is still the basis for relations and the large number of local languages remains a challenge, which the vocal social network for the digital economy in Africa, Lenali  is attempting to tackle.


What are the cross-disciplinary linkages required to meet this challenge?

For the humanities and social sciences, four disciplines are concerned: economics, sociology and management science (see research axes 1 and 2 of #DigitAg), assisted by geography for the spatial dimension (local specificity studies) (see Challenge 6).

These HSS must able to draw on information processing tools capable of sorting and selecting the relevant information according to the target audience. For this reason, Challenge 7 requires scientific competence in data security, but also in big data and artificial intelligence: competence that is delivered by areas 4 and 5 of #DigitAg.

The appropriation of digital tools by farmers and the role of these farmers in value chains are emerging issues on which we are increasingly consulted. Different organisations, such as the European Commission and the OECD, are looking very closely at these issues, and researchers are the leading actors who can provide scientific support and propose specific solutions to ensure farmers strengthen and develop their position in value chains.


What will your priorities be?

Upstream, two priorities have been identified, and will be further explored during the workshop on 25 January 2019:

Mapping companies and their services. Which companies provide digital services to farmers? Where are they? Which companies are from the digital sector in general, and which develop solutions specifically for agriculture? They clearly have different relationships with farmers. This will be discussed during the workshop, to potentially identify Masters subjects that can help to answer these questions.

The issue of traceability. We have information on the quality of food, its environmental impact (product life cycle analyses) and its social impact, but how can producers communicate in simple terms to tell people that the product proposed is healthy and high quality? Currently, farmers are not “equipped” to use the data available. How can we help them?
Downstream, the workshop will address the issue of tools for local food and short supply chains.

How can we provide farmers with simple digital tools to help them to make product information available online for consumers? Do we need intermediaries? Which ones?
Currently in this sector, m-commerce (using mobiles) is developing at the same time as e-commerce (electronic transactions through the Internet in general). However, these two marketing tools have different approaches and objectives that are specific to the tools used. How can we optimise the use of these marketing tools to put farmers in touch with consumers and/or farmers with processing companies?

Contact : isabelle.piot-lepetit [AT]



Dr. Isabelle Piot-Lepetit a Senior Research Scientist in the Economics and Management division of an international research institute located in France. I have over 25 years of experience in research and consulting for public, private, and non-for-profit organizations as well as for the European Commission, OECD, and FAO.

Dr. Isabelle Piot-Lepetit is an applied micro-economist with a specialization in modelling, econometrics, and frontier methods, especially Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA). I have done research focusing on efficiency and productivity measurement and benchmarking of organizations. I have applied my competencies to a large range of empirical topics: polluting wastes reduction and environmental performance of firms, technical change and innovation adoption, financial sustainability and social impact of microfinance institutions, optimal organizational form of chains or networks, carbon strategic management and energy efficiency of firms, and producers’ willingness to adopt certification and new environmental practices. She has published in academic journals such as Annals of Operations Research, European Journal of Operational Journal, Food Policy, Journal of the Operational Research Society, Journal of Small Business Management, and International Transactions in Operational Research.

Dr. Isabelle Piot-Lepetit has also developed several analytical tools and created analytics solutions for organizations helping them embed these initiatives in their organizational structure and culture. She has a large experience in management of projects involving international and multidisciplinary teams of academics, research scientists, and consultants.

She currently does empirical research and consulting on the organizational and strategic management of multi-business organizations as well as the integration of decision support tools within organizations and organizational changes involved by digital transformation.