Rome – The capacity & potential of digital technologies to help solve many complex problems in our agrifood systems came under the spotlight at a special event of the World Food Forum’s Science & Innovation Forum.
The Digitalization of Agrifood Systems event hosted last Friday by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at its Rome headquarters, explored the digital capabilities & opportunities to usher transformational impact for vulnerable populations in bridging the rural divide & empowering youth & women to access information, technology, & markets.
Through an emphasis on science, technology & innovation, the event offered a platform to spark discussions & showcase concrete examples of digital technologies that are accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) & the FAO Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, & a better life, while leaving no one behind.
Data-driven agriculture promises opportunities of more efficient, inclusive, resilient & sustainable agrifood systems, positively affecting food markets & agricultural productivity to enhance food security.
Addressing the event, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu highlighted “the centrality of science, technology & innovation for agrifood systems transformation globally”. He further noted that “Digitalization makes the business fit to the purpose, to the benefit of all. It enables trust-building between consumers & producers, & it empowers governments to undertake quality control through digital governance systems”. Finally, Qu added that through the new Digital FAO “all 194 Members can access all information online; all meetings are held virtually & can be accessed by capitals across the world. This is full transparency.”
Also in attendance were some Permanent Representatives from FAO’s 194 Member States as the event focused on the existing hunger crisis facing eight percent of the world’s population through the means of digital agriculture.
FAO’s technical expertise & credibility as a knowledge & evidence-based organization enables it to translate the vision of digital agriculture into concrete action for Members & promote policy agendas to address the digital gap & “massify” digital benefits.
Transformation in action
The Digitalization of Agrifood Systems event brought together representatives from the Ethiopia Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), Uganda Development Bank, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) & Cornell University to share their practices & outcomes in further supporting each other’s common agenda for enhancing agrifood systems through digital technologies.
Temesgen Gebeyehu, the director of digital agriculture of ATA shared a solution that was introduced in Ethiopia, a “call-in automated helpline for famers which can be accessed in six languages” to provide agricultural advice or COVID-19 information. The hotline system is also able to use farmers’ personal data & “send out warnings informing them about crop diseases & pest infestations”.
The Uganda Development Bank is in the process of digitizing loan appraisals by using a “credit scoring algorithm” obtained from “farm data, household data & transaction history” to help farmers in rural communities with crop & livestock insurance, said Francis Mwesigye, UDB Chief Economist.
”Linking nuclear & digital techniques for enhancing the use & conservation of soil & water resources is key to enhance agricultural productivity, resilience to climate change & remediation of environmental pollution,” said Gerd Dercon, Head of the Soil & Water Management & Crop Nutrition Laboratory at the FAO/International Atomic Energy Agency Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food & Agriculture, presenting examples of agency’s work. This includes using cosmic ray neutron sensor for soil moisture monitoring, linking cosmic ray neutron sensors & satellite imagery data & agricultural water management with the AquaCrop productivity model.
More collaboration is now expected between FAO & IAEA to make long-term real-time soil moisture & relevant observation data available on FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, as well as on the GEO-AI challenge or benchmarking on soil moisture remote sensing inversion using the UN OpenGIS GEO-AI platform.
FAO & Digital Agriculture
FAO is championing transformational changes & digital has now been fully incorporated into the organization’s Strategic Framework 2022-31, & is reflected in its day-to-day work, with the new Digital for Impact stream supporting policy-making, providing key information & connecting various stakeholders, but also providing digital tools to farmers – all in the context of accelerating progress towards the SDGs.
At Friday’s event, FAO’s Chief Economist Máximo Torero cited examples of FAO’s digital projects such as the 1000 Digital Village Initiative which is helping to bring digital services to rural communities enabling economic livelihoods & social cohesion. In making digital technologies more inclusive, it can support rural development & transform agrifood systems in low & middle income countries. In particular, FAO Representative in Ecuador, Agustin Zimmerman, showcased the successful impact of this initiative in the Latin American & Caribbean where since 2021, 52 agrotourism projects, from 14 countries involved, participate with the aim of supporting & promoting digitalization in rural tourism experiences that are linked with agrifood systems.
FAO together with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has created the E-Agriculture Strategy Guide to assist countries in developing their national e-agriculture strategy. These strategies are helping to rationalize resources, generate new revenue streams & improve rural livelihoods. In addition, FAO has developed applications, platforms & databases to increase access to useful information, maps & statistics such as the Digital Services Portfolio, presented at the event by FAO Representative in Rwanda, Coumba Sow, who highlighted the importance of bringing those products closer to the farmers in the field, as well as citing several examples of successful digitalization initiatives in Africa to facilitate information sharing & acquiring loans.
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