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Digitalisation: The way of the new life and the new economy

FAO Director-General emphasises responsibility and opportunity to overcome digital divide and make technologies available for rural smallholders.

Participants at the event acknowledged how digital technologies played an important role in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo by FAO

Participants at the event acknowledged how digital technologies played an important role in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo by FAO

Digital agriculture can drive the transformation of agri-food systems necessary to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty and build a better future for all humankind, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) said.

“Digitalisation is the way of the new life and the new economy,” he said at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2021. “This is both a tremendous responsibility and an unprecedented opportunity for all of us.”

ICTs for Inclusive, resilient and sustainable societies and economies is the theme of this year’s Forum, organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It has been chaired by Maxim Parshin, Deputy Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation, and has drawn more than 11 000 participants from 80 countries in a series of virtual events over recent months. Speakers at the recent event, marking the Forum’s final proceedings, were ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and heads, deputies and senior officers from other UN agencies including UNESCO, UNIDO, UNDP and UNCTAD.

Participants acknowledged the damage and disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and how digital technologies played an important role in the response. They emphasised that the world will not return to business as usual when the pandemic ends and warned of a digital divide as half the people in the world are not connected to tools that are now playing a bigger role in people’s everyday lives.

What FAO is doing?

Nowhere are the digital gaps persisting across countries and communities more apparent than in agriculture, FAO’s Director-General said, noting that agriculture is becoming more data-driven and data-intensive, which can improve efficiency and reduce negative environmental impacts.

ICTs can help the sector meet the growing need for safe and nutritious food, better manage natural resources, contribute to high-quality productivity growth and also to ensure inclusion and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he added.

“Our action needs to be collective and holistic in harnessing science, technology and innovation,” Qu said. He pointed to a number of programmes and initiatives that FAO has introduced to translate its vision into concrete support and delivery for its members, including FAOs COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, the flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative, the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture and FAO’s 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative (learn more here), as well as a robust scientific and digital agenda in its traditional areas of expertise.

FAO has also actively deployed programmes to spread access to ICT’s potential for smallholder farmers and other participants in agri-food systems.

The e-Agriculture Community of Practice, for instance, is a knowledge-sharing platform with 18 700 members from more than 190 countries.

In addition, as co-facilitator of the E-Agriculture Action Line C7, FAO with the ITU and Zhejiang University recently hosted a webinar on the benefits of rural e-commerce as a way to improve income and welfare of smallholder farmers, at which a report on the experiences of business models and results of innovation in China were offered as a reference for other countries. China is home to around half the world’s e-commerce with a booming rural market thanks to enabling infrastructures.

Promoting rural e-commerce “accelerates the transformation of mobile phones into new agricultural tools to ‘reach the last mile’, helping small-scale and family farmers to benefit from economic and technological development,” the Director-General noted.