Digital technologies: key accelerator of agrifood systems transformation and rural development

By Food and Agriculture Organization

Digital technologies: key accelerator of agrifood systems transformation and rural development

Digital agriculture has great potential to foster the transformation of agrifood systems and promote rural development, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), emphasized at the high-level international conference Vision for the future: transition to digital agriculture, held in Azerbaijan.

“Data, digitalization, and innovation are key accelerators to achieve this transformation and are the core of FAO’s actions across all our areas of work, in line with our mandate,” the Director-General said at the opening of the event.

FAO is supporting several countries to develop national digital agriculture strategies, which Qu described as “the first step to ensure delivery of meaningful services and data to people in rural areas, and to promote bottom-up technology-driven innovations.”

The Conference was convened by the Government of Azerbaijan with FAO’s support. Azerbaijan has been a leader in this field, having introduced an ambitious Electronic Agricultural Information System (EKTIS), which allows the government to support the agricultural sector in a more transparent, targeted, and swift manner.

“Azerbaijan is in the process of transforming the country’s agriculture to modern and digital agriculture,” said Inam Karimov, Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in his opening remarks.

A host of ministers are participating in the forum designed to share global experiences, visions, and developments in the area of agricultural and digital transformation, present the Azerbaijani e-agriculture model and seek to identify sustainable and inclusive pathways to accelerate the digital transformation of agrifood systems.

“Developing human capital is essential to unleashing the potential of digital agriculture,” Qu said, pointing to FAO virtual learning centers and targeted digital literacy initiatives to strengthen the capacity of farmers and other actors to respond to the challenges.

FAO has also helped Members develop e-governance tools such as identification systems for animal health and farm accountancy data networks, he added. FAO’s International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture will soon be fully operational, he noted. Other FAO initiatives include the provision of digital public goods such as the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, the ongoing 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, the e-Agriculture Strategy Guide, and other contributions to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

“The challenges our agrifood systems face require our collective, efficient, effective, and coherent action and response – we must do more, together,” said the Director-General, who will also make field visits to Azerbaijan during his official visit.

Ministerial Roundtable

“In rural areas, digital technologies can be leveraged to address multiple market failures and facilitate smallholder farmers’ integration into markets,” Qu said in remarks at the Ministerial Roundtable that took place after the opening session.

FAO’s aim, he added, is to “massify” digital benefits to ensure no one is left behind, doing so through promoting the use and adoption of digital technologies and promoting a policy agenda and public investments.

“The acceleration of digitalization in agriculture must also safeguard basic human rights by ensuring affordable access to digital technologies, digital literacy, and digital public goods for everyone.”

Convened by Minister Karimov, participants included the Deputy Prime Ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Poland, Ministers from Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan, as well as the heads of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the FAO/IAEA Center on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

“Digital innovation can unlock employment opportunities, bridge the rural divide and empower youth and women” and can support evidence-based policy, planning, and implementation to improve efficiency and reduce negative environmental impacts, FAO’s Director-General told them. “FAO is committed to leveraging the potential of digital technologies to achieve the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all, leaving no one behind,” he added.