Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

High-Level Dialogue on the establishment of 
the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Intervention by Dr. QU Dongyu
Director-General, FAO

As delivered



Distinguished Guests, 


Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to be with you this afternoon to discuss a topic that I am fond of – that of Digital Economy, Governance and Society

2. ‘Connect’ may seem like any other word. But this year, amid the pandemic, we’ve been very fortunate to be connected with every corner of the world digitally.  

3. These are challenging times. Over the last months,’ we have witnessed how the pandemic has been harming our societies, our economies and our food systems.  

4. As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital services and connectivity has improved dramatically, but digital gaps remain across countries and populations.

5. The digital divide is nowhere more evident than in agriculture.

6. The impacts of digital technologies on agriculture are vast and transformative, as they have tremendous potential not only on the farm, new opportunity of employment,  but on Research & Development, markets, the environment, and consumers. 

7. FAO is already committed to innovation-powered solutions through digital technologies. For instance, an FAO application, Nuru, which can be used with a smartphone, relies on machine learning and artificial intelligence to help tackle Fall Armyworm in sub-Saharan Africa. 

8. Sensorssatellites and the Internet of Things are revolutionizing farming. 

9. Agriculture is becoming data-driven and data-intensive and this can improve efficiency and reduce the negative environmental impacts.

10. E-commerce platforms can reduce transaction costs, increase market access, especially for smallholder farmers, and deliver better outcomes in terms of farm income and welfare.

11. Blockchain technology can improve traceability and promote food safety. It can reduce the time needed to trace the origin of food from days to seconds. 

12. That’s an astonishing development, as food safety will be an area of high priority as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

13. Digital technologies can help agriculture to meet future demand for safe and nutritious food, manage better natural resources and contribute to high quality growth. They can help inclusion and accelerate progress to the Sustainable Development Goals.

14. At the same time, digital technologies also entail risks and challenges. And these challenges can be specific to agriculture.

15. Improved digital infrastructure and digital skills will be essential to enable smallholder farmers to engage in the modern economy and bridge the digital divide.

16. Concerns about farm data ownership, portability, privacy and liability contribute to farmers’ reluctance to adopt digital technologies.

17. More work is needed to address these concerns collectively without undermining innovation and technological progress.

18. Another example is Artificial Intelligence, which can have an enormous impact on increasing productivity sustainably and strengthening resilience to climate change. 

19. But we must ensure that Artificial Intelligence tools are designed, developed and aligned with the universal human rights principles.

20. More specifically, in agriculture, Artificial Intelligence should also be guided by a set of international guidelines, environmental considerations, and food safety concerns.

21. In February of this year, FAO initiated the Rome Call for AI Ethicstogether with the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life and others, focusing on transparentinclusiveresponsibleimpartialreliable and secure use of AI

22. Other challenges are related to economic and social impacts in the longer term. There is no doubt that technology will result in less production labors, lower wages and more competitive.

23. This impact resulting from the transformative effects digital technologies can have on rural economies and social governance, should be prepared to address such economic and social challenges.

24. Promoting the potential and understanding the challenges that arise from digital technologies require enhanced collaboration and consensus among all stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, academia and the farmers themselves.

25. That’s why today, we are gathered to discuss an initiative led by FAO and other stakeholders that holds great weight in addressing such issues.

26. In January 2020, attended by over 70 agriculture ministers of FAO Members, the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture called upon FAO, to work towards the establishment of an International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture.  

27. This initiative will provide an inclusive multi-stakeholder forum for identifying and discussing the potential benefits and risks of digitalizing the food and agricultural systems

28. Its objectives will help policy makers to develop an enabling environment for the agricultural digitalization that is both conducive to innovation and takes into account the specificities and risks this entails. 

29. Through dialogue, the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture will:

a. promote coordination and consensus among all stakeholders, and enhance awareness on issues specific to the digitalization of food and agriculture; and,

b. provide guidance, good practices, recommendations, and voluntary guidelines to support decision-making. 

c. Help farmers to share their technical experiences and kudos. Let smartphone become new farming tool in farmer’s hands.

30. Our societies are deeply intertwined by digital world. As Covid-19 has speed up and scale up. We are more connected than ever before. 

31. The future should be much closer cooperation and deeper integration –another higher level of globalization by digital connectivity.

32. Let us work hand in hand to ensure that this tremendous digital power is used to transform agri-food system for eliminating hunger, reducing poverty and building up a better future for all humankind.

Thank you.