Director-General  QU Dongyu

The digital road ahead for the world’s agri-food systems


20 November 2020, Rome/London – People-centered intensification of digital technologies is the path to making the world’s agri-food systems capable of delivering heathy diets for all and using our planet’s finite natural resources more efficiently, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said today. 

“The Fourth Agricultural Revolution is a marriage between data and technological innovation with farming that will further transform the industry and help us to achieve a new level of productivity, quality, diversity, efficiency and environmental sustainability,” the Director-General said in opening remarks on the last day of the Sustainable Innovation Forum

The Forum featured participation by Charles, the Prince of Wales, Egypt’s Agriculture Minister Yasmine Fouad, and a large number of senior executives from the private and public sectors as well as from non-governmental organizations. Friday’s session focused on accelerating transformations in agriculture and land use that serve as a cornerstone to broader decarbonization around the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term impacts on food security and exacerbate the vulnerability of the most at-risk communities, including farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters, who are already highly exposed to climate shocks and natural hazards, the Director-General said. “We need to work hand-in-hand to find bold, transformative, sustainable solutions that are holistic, equitable and inclusive,” and harnessing innovation and digital technologies will be necessary, he added.

“The digital world should be based on digital communities, villages, towns and agri-food systems,” he said, noting that FAO is working with many partners to develop rural digital inclusion initiatives on the ground, aiming to bring innovation “much closer to the needs of small-scale farmers through enabling policies, enhancing capacities, increasing affordability and improving infrastructures.” 

What FAO is doing

The Director-General highlighted a set of FAO activities, including a Digital Services Portfolio offering 169 products, Earth Map, launched in collaboration with Google, the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, the Rome Call for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics, initiative with the Vatican, IBM and Microsoft, and an open-source Big Data tool providing access to global agricultural, environmental and climate information. 

He also pointed to the FAO Green Cities Initiative, unveiled at the last session of the United Nations General Assembly- which promotes urban and peri-urban food-systems to increase urban resilience- the FAO 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, and work towards activating the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture.

Digital potential in agriculture ranges from real-time climate information networks, extension networks, blockchain ledgers to build trust and increase food safety, financial products that make it easier for smallholders to access insurance and credit products, and e-commerce, which can leverage market linkages, shorten the food value chain, strengthen business engagements, support market intelligence systems and promote market access. 

The vast potential must be tapped on the basis of human empathy, solidarity and ingenuity to build a better future, the Director-General said. “The most sophisticated digital systems are only as useful as we humans make them to be,” he added.  

FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero also spoke at the virtual panel Data-based and Nature-Based Solutionsat the Sustainable Innovation Forum, while Zitouni Ould-Dada, FAO Deputy Director, Climate Change and Environment Division, made the opening speech at the virtual panel The Coming of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution: Now or Never?.