35th FAO regional conference calls for leveraging technology

Choki Wangmo 

Digitalisation of the agriculture system could be the way forward to address challenges faced by the global food system to provide enough and adequate quality of food to feed an ever-growing population.

This is the key takeaway message from the last day of the 35th FAO regional conference for Asia-Pacific (APRC) yesterday.

Digital technologies, agriculture experts said, offer unique opportunities for improving food production and trade, particularly to smallholder farmers, and in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Technologies such as sensors, drones, and satellites are expected to transform how people, businesses and governments work by reducing the costs of information, transactions, and supervision while having optimum benefit.

For example, sensors and satellites provide information on soil moisture, temperature, crop growth and livestock feed levels, enabling farmers to achieve better yields by optimising crop management and reducing the use of fertilisers, pesticides, feed and water.

Member countries discussed the potential of digital technology applications for promoting sustainable agricultural productivity and approaches to develop national digital agriculture strategies and socio-economic and ethical challenges of digitalisation among others.

The FAO Director-General urged member countries for sustained and stronger collaboration, including leveraging agricultural technologies and innovations, to end hunger and tackle Covid-19’s impacts.

“We need to take full advantage of the digital age through innovative partnerships with national governments, farmers, the private sector, academia, NGOs and many others,” he said.

Digital applications could transform and promote climate smart agriculture technologies which are information- and knowledge-intensive, stated a FAO document.

FAO reported that many countries were in the process of developing digital agricultural strategies to design, develop and apply innovative ways to use digital technologies. “Such strategies promote digital infrastructure improvements and the development and application of digital tools in agriculture and rural areas, and attempt to bridge the gap of digital divide.”

With creation of more jobs in rural areas, digitalisation could improve incomes and rural economic growth to contribute to poverty eradication. Last year, there were more than 820 million chronically undernourished people in the world, an increase of 10 million in the previous year.

In showing the way forward for member countries, FAO and the International Telecommunication Union have developed the E-agriculture strategy guide to assist countries in designing and implementing digital agriculture strategies. “The strategy will help rationalise resources, address digital technology opportunities and challenges for the agricultural sector in a more efficient manner.”

At the conference, delegates from member countries acknowledged the important role innovation and technologies could play in improving food production and security.

The APRC is being held once in two years on a rotational and voluntary basis amongst the member states.

The four-day conference which ended yesterday was hosted by Bhutan with support from FAO regional office in Bangkok, FAO-Bhutan office and FAO Secretariat in Rome.

The 36th APRC will be held in Bangladesh in 2022.