FAO’s Approaches in Promoting the Efficient and Effective Use of Digital Tools and Technologies in Agriculture
This post is written by Meng Zeng, FAO.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) appreciates and uses digital tools and technology to create an enabling environment for innovation and to enhance access of stakeholders, especially smallholders and family farmers, to apply innovative solutions. The introduction of digital agriculture has the potential to make agriculture more productive, resilient and inclusive by saving time and using resources more efficiently and effectively. Digital agriculture presents a new pathway to upgrade food systems and value chains. Digital agriculture has the potential to transform the agri-food sector to increase efficiency and ensure sustainability and food security. It also enhances the capacity of smallholder farmers through digital innovations and other emerging technologies (such as blockchain, AI and ML).
FAO’s approach, so far, can be conceptualized in the five-pillar approach on digital agriculture transformation. These pillars are:
- FAO provides leadership on the establishment of the International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture as mandated by the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) Ministers through a communique. The Digital Council will advise governments and other relevant actors on digitalization in the agricultural sector and enhance the exchange of knowledge and experiences, as well as help everyone harness the opportunities presented by digitalization. To launch this initiative, FAO has led the consultative meetings in Rome (Inception meeting and CFS Side Event), Ghana (AGRF-2019) and Budapest (ITU Telecom World event) and recently through an online consultation to gather stakeholder views towards the establishment of this Digital Council. The concept note will be presented at the next GFFA meeting in January 2020. Through the digital council, FAO and partners will work together to create an enabling environment for global digital innovation in food and agriculture.
- FAO empowers youth and women through Digital Innovation Hubs in partnership with KT and Zhejiang University. The digital innovation hubs aim to provide a favorable digital ecosystem for youth and women entrepreneurship, as well as to connect ICT with farming communities, youth groups, and women producer groups by providing necessary services and setting up linkages among value chain actors. To further invest in youth, FAO has organized Hackathons to seek innovative business models and new solutions using digital technologies, as well as to unlock the largely untapped reservoir of youth employment opportunities.
- FAO leads the upgrading of agrifood value chains through applicable technologies such as, blockchain and e-Vouchers. FAO’s Digital Service Portfolio seeks to assist farmers in accessing digital services and from the understanding that ICTs can maximize various social support services for farmers. FAO has developed four mobile apps that cover weather and crops, livestock health, market information and nutrition, to deliver timely information and advice to farmers and extensionists. Meanwhile, e-Vouchers, an e-commerce mechanism based on electronic voucher scheme for small farmers and subsistence farmers to access farming input (such as seeds, fertilizer) using their mobile phones or electronic voucher cards, has also been applied in various scenarios.
- FAO supports its member countries on the development of the digital agriculture strategies. In collaboration with International Telecommunications Union (ITU), FAO is assisting countries like Armenia, Benin and Niger to draft their National Digital Agriculture Strategy. FAO provides a package of toolkits by which countries could assess their needs and obstacles in developing digital agriculture and identify possible solutions and opportunities to address the challenges.
- FAO facilitates knowledge exchange among innovation frontrunners and practitioners to exchange ideas, knowledge and experience. FAO offers both on-site and online engagement through Digital Innovation Dialogue and e-Agriculture Platform. Digital Innovation Dialogue was launched in early 2019 to serve as a forum for increasing and exchanging knowledge between experts around the world and FAO staff to enhance mutual capacity building.
 GFFA Communique 2019: https://oiebulletin.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/Official2019-1/8-1-1_communique.pdf
 CFS Side Event: http://www.fao.org/cfs/home/plenary/cfs46/cfs46se/se040/vn/
 FSN Online Consultation: http://www.fao.org/fsnforum/activities/discussions/digital_council
 #HackAgainstHunger/Africa: http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/youth-in-agriculture/hack-against-hunger/en/
 e-Agriculture is a global community of practice that facilitates dialogue, information exchange and sharing of ideas related to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for sustainable agriculture and rural development: http://www.fao.org/e-agriculture/home