Nobel laureate outlines how new technologies measurably boost farmers
FAO Impact Evaluation Task Force invites Michael Kremer to lecture on shifting focus from results to impacts
15 October 2020, Rome – Mobile technologies & digital agriculture hold great promise for the world’s farmers, making it all the more important to foster appropriate institutions able to generate innovation whose benefits reach smallholders & disadvantaged groups, Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Kremer said today in a special lecture hosted by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
“Digital agriculture has allowed governments to support smallholders during this pandemic, & it should also be a path to creating a better system for the future,” said Kremer, who drew on recently published research that found information sharing through mobile telephony catalyzed significant & measurable improvements on yields & adoption of recommended agro-chemical inputs across sub-Saharan Africa & India.
“Digital technology is not only about economics, but digital governance, digital society & a digital world” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. He also noted his invited guest’s lecture was held on International Day for Rural Women, who often have limited access to mobile phones- which he calls a “new farming tool”. Emphasizing the importance of rural areas & smallholders, he urged that the “development deficit” between countries must not be replicated in a similar digital divide.
Kremer discussed future prospects for digital agriculture, including the provision of higher-resolution weather information, customized pest-control advice, opportunities to improve supply chains & ways to improve extension services.
Now a professor at the University of Chicago, he won the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel together with Esther Duflo & Abhijit Banerjee in recognition of work that took experimental approaches to alleviating global poverty, including the innovative use of randomized control trials to answer key development questions related to agriculture, water, education & health. His personal & professional output also involves leading roles in organizations that promote precision agriculture, advanced market commitments to stimulate development & distribution of vaccines in the developing world, & private philanthropy to effective charities.
Under Qu’s leadership, FAO has accelerated promotion of digital agriculture & the use of smartphones to boost the productivity & livelihoods of the world’s poorest – an effort that became even more critical due to the disruptions to the world’s food systems – as well as work methods at FAO & other organizations – caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Highlights include the creation of an Office of Innovation headed by the first ever FAO’s Chief Scientist, the launch of the Hand-in-Hand geospatial data platform – which provides public, verified & impartial data as part of an initiative to bring more stakeholders into development efforts – & an agreement backed by more than 70 agriculture ministers to establish an International Platform for Digital Food & Agriculture – which Qu invited Kremer to join.
Ongoing FAO work uses mobile & digital technologies to help Members & farmers to combat invasive species & deforestation, optimize water management & land use patterns & spread knowledge on food safety standards & e-commerce opportunities.
Professor Kremer noted FAO’s leading role in investing in research into “global public goods for the future.”
The Director-General said that Kremer’s work – which elicited a lively question-&-answer session with Permanent Representatives, FAO directors, technical staff – is “close to our heart & mandate” & highlighted the importance of understanding that “farmer, agriculture & rural”, while interlinked, are three distinct issues articulated in local cultures.
From results to impacts
While open to the public & webcast on FAO’s web site, Professor Kremer’s virtual seminar was hosted by FAO’s Impact Evaluation Task Force, set up last year with the aim of fast-tracking an agile culture of evaluation & improve the value-for-money proposition the Organization makes to Members & stakeholders as well as to partners in the United Nations system & beyond.
The task force, which reports to FAO’s Chief Economist Máximo Torero, aims to bolster within FAO – both across headquarter divisions & including regional, liaison & country offices – a culture of evaluation that moves beyond reporting on outputs & results towards an emphasis on impact & outcomes. The task force members organize impact evaluation clinics to analyze & assess actual projects & programmes, as well as a seminar series featuring guests such as Professor Kremer & other leading international experts.