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Experts highlight the importance of applying digital solutions and big data to drive agriculture and empower smallholders in a post COVID-19 world

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30/11/2020 Bangkok

Innovative digital technologies will drive agricultural outputs, fuel improvements to food quality and safety, and reach new heights of profitability in the foreseeable future, according to experts speaking at a joint UN forum in Asia and the Pacific on digital agricultural solutions.

The experts, gathered from around the world, have shared experiences on technologies that are driving agriculture innovations during the Digital Agriculture Solutions Forum 2020, a bi-annual event for Asia and the Pacific, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

As the region slowly emerges from the devastation and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be more critical than ever to get digital technologies, inclusively, into the hands of a much wider group of food producers, particularly smallholders.

This will mean greater access to timely, accurate, location-specific information and the associated decision-making capabilities to empower all agriculture stakeholders through better market access, improved livelihood and risk management, increased access to financial services and better adoption of climate smart technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought into sharper focus several opportunities where digital technologies can help mitigate its impact and regain progress towards the sustainable development goals. Indeed, digital technologies will play a significant role, especially in a post COVID-19 world, to better address priorities such as water management for agriculture, increased resilience to ensure food security and nutrition, and building sustainable and resilient food systems. Some 70 percent of the world's fresh water is used for agricultural production.

"Hunger, poverty and inequality are exacerbated by a widening digital divide," said Jong-Jin Kim, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. "We can offset that by bringing digital innovations to smallholders and small-scale enterprises, those that offer a range of solutions to address agricultural challenges in areas of market access, pest management, agriculture-related disaster alerts, financial inclusion, traceability, food safety, and agricultural trade."

Transforming the digital landscapes of agriculture

As countries embrace the digital transformation agenda, emerging technologies such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence, data platforms, distributed ledger technologies (DLTs), mobile applications, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and 5G are fast becoming the core engine driving digital innovations. These offer solutions to the challenges facing agriculture and indeed rural economies in general.

"In the new normal post COVID-19, there is a need to accelerate the digital journey in the agriculture sector. A whole-of-government approach to digital infrastructure deployment would build synergies across sectors and support agriculture sector leverage on innovations within and across the society," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU.

FAO and ITU committed to support digital agriculture solutions in Asia-Pacific

FAO and ITU, two specialized agencies of the United Nations, continue to strengthen their collaboration in the area of digital agriculture in the Asia-Pacific region.

The previously published FAO-ITU E-agriculture Strategy Guide (FAO here and ITU here), which provides a framework for countries in developing their national digital agriculture strategies, has now been adopted by a number of additional countries (e.g. Bhutan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka) in the Asia-Pacific region. Driven by the need to share case studies, FAO and ITU have been documenting digital agriculture applications over many years and have produced several knowledge products under the "E-agriculture in Action" series to facilitate sharing of best practices for technology users. The next in the series focuses on the use of artificial intelligence in agriculture. The agencies have also cooperated in building skills and capacities.

Resources and more information on the Digital Agriculture Solutions Forum are available here.​

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