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Economic policy, "alternative data" and global agriculture: from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to agroecology

Chang, Marina; Huang, C. H.; Mian, I.S

Fiscal policy refers to government actions regarding taxation and spending whilst monetary policy refers to central banking actions regarding the money supply and interest rates. These two main strands of economic policy determine and influence agricultural policy: laws and activities relating to domestic agriculture and imports of foreign agricultural products. Here, we address the challenge of using heterogeneous public data sets and information (re)sources to aid the task of identifying technical, legal, financial, policy and other mechanisms capable of serving the diverse needs of practitioners of agroecology (primarily small holder farmers) and advocates of food sovereignty. We show how disparate material in the public domain and open source software tools can be integrated to tell a story of interest to audiences ranging from the general public to policy makers. Specifically, we employ a variety of financial and non-financial (“alternative”) data sets to explore the past, present and future of agriculture. In particular, we utilise some of the historical data released by the Bank of England in conjunction with other freely available data to paint a broad brush strokes picture of the impacts of Britain on the lands, agricultures, and economies of peoples and regions across the globe over five centuries. Our narrative considers three overarching and interconnected topics, (i) the trans-Atlantic slave trade and European Empires, (ii) 21st century large-scale land acquisitions, and (ii) traditional farming systems, agricultural biodiversity, and climate change. The three sets of background notes and data-driven visualisations – cartograms and timelines overlaid with event data – are autonomous yet interlinked and complemenary. By weaving together various historical, geographical,
political, economic, and social threads, this triptych illustrates how the Bank of England is integral to the weft and warp national and global agriculture. We conclude by discussing how data science could contribute to two poorly investigated but critical important aspects of agricultural policy: the Community led London Plan, a grassroots effort to transform the whole food system in a large and complex city and the public infrastructure pertinent to the science, development, financing, and practice of agroecology. Keywords: Economic policy; agricultural policy; alternative data; Bank of England; trans-Atlantic slave trade; British Empire; Large-scale land acquisitions; Traditional farming systems; agricultural biodiversity; agroecology; Community-led London Plan; Visualisation

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