4 November 2020, Tashkent/Budapest/Rome – The Director-General of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao, as well as representatives of governments, international organizations, civil society, young farmers & the private sector from Europe & Central Asia today made a strong case for harnessing agricultural innovation & digital technologies.
They described innovation & digital technologies as essential for boosting smallholders’ livelihoods, improving food security & nutrition, & building resilience to climate change in the region, at a virtual special event on innovation & digitalization during the 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe, which wrapped up today.
In his opening remarks, the FAO Director-General encouraged FAO Members in the region to scale up new technologies, including digital ones & biotechnologies.
Qu highlighted that innovation also encompasses “innovation of policies & business models for agri-food systems”. Qu stressed that Europe & Central Asia is a region “so important for FAO & for the global agricultural transformation.”
ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said that ITU was “committed to turning the digital revolution into a development revolution”, including by helping farmers to take full advantage of new technologies such as 5G & Artificial Intelligence (AI) so they can increase their food production whilst respecting the environment.
He also stressed that infrastructure, investment, innovation & inclusiveness were crucial for enabling all smallholder farmers to benefit from Information & Communication Technology (ICT) services, which are out of reach or too expensive in many rural areas.
FAO & ITU published earlier this year a study on the Status of Digital Agriculture in 18 countries in Europe & Central Asia, which found that most countries covered in the publication have not yet implemented a national strategy for the agricultural sector’s use of ICTs.
How to drive innovation & digitalization in Europe & Central Asia
Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture & Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli gave concrete examples of how his country was applying innovative & digital agricultural solutions, recognizing that the agricultural sector was behind others when it came to the adoption of digitalization.
One such solution adopted in Turkey is the digital agriculture market that covers the entire food supply chain. The blockchain based market brings together buyers & sellers, & provides finance, insurance & transportation services. Another example he presented was an e-learning academy that offers farmers training in some 200 titles in many food & agriculture fields.
Turkey is also developing a national e-agriculture strategy for 2020-2025, with support from FAO, added the Minister.
Doris Marquardt, Programme Officer at the Directorate-General for Agriculture & Rural Development of the European Commission stressed the need for creating an enabling environment to drive digitalisation in agriculture – from strengthening broadband capacities, building digital skills to bringing researchers & end users together.
Speaking on behalf of the private sector in Uzbekistan, Murod Khusanov outlined innovative start-ups such as an agriculture machinery sharing platform & cited Agromart – a digital platform that provides a range of services & information, such as market updates on major commodities, as well as free online consultations & training for Uzbek farmers.
Andrea Ferrante, Coordinator of Schola Campesina APS, who represented the civil society & smallholder farmers, highlighted the need for social innovation, digital inclusion & well-regulated digital innovation. In this respect, he stressed the need for rules that protect farmers’ rights on data – to avoid “data grabbing”.
Jannes Maes, President of the European Council of Young Farmers, noted that youth have the capacity to use digital products & services if they are affordable.
He also described the value of digital technologies for young farmers, including, for example, animal diseases early warning systems; the provision of vital market information, & access to communication, giving youth the chance to live in remote rural areas but still be connected to the world at large.
Leaving no one behind in the digital age
In closing, FAO’s Chief Economist Máximo Torero highlighted several FAO-led innovative solutions that aim to double down on hunger- & poverty-fighting efforts.
The Hand-in-Hand Initiative, an evidence-based initiative, aims at accelerating agricultural transformation & sustainable rural development, including by deploying sophisticated tools such as advanced geospatial modelling & analysis.
The Data Lab for Statistical Innovation uses artificial intelligence amongst others to provide new data sources that can help for example to measure food loss or land degradation in a timely manner. The Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform brings together thousands of statistics – from FAO & partners – on food security, crops, soil, land, water, climate, fisheries, livestock or forestry. Amongst its many uses, the platform provides vital information to monitor agricultural systems at risk due to human pressure on land & water, or to analyze weather-related trends.
The Hand-in-Hand tools are key for furthering knowledge & understanding on where agricultural investments are most needed.