"The use of ICTs for agriculture is a multi-stakeholder initiative..." an interview with FAO's Gerard Sylvester


"The use of ICTs for agriculture is a multi-stakeholder initiative..." an interview with FAO's Gerard Sylvester

e-Agriculture interviews  Mr. Gerard Sylvester (Knowledge and Information Management Officer) who is based at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Gerard has worked over the years in the area of e-Agriculture and recently co-organised the E-agriculture Solutions Forum 2018 with ITU and partners.

Gerard sheds insights on a number of issues in ICTs for agriculture and especially the support to the formulation of the FAO-ITU E-Agriculture National Strategies. Gerard is published in ICTs for agriculture and a publication on "Blockchains" is in the press.

Q1: could you briefly introduce yourself? And your work related to ICTs in Agriculture

I am currently positioned as Knowledge and Information Management Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) at its regional office for the Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok. Having worked extensively on ICT related development projects in Africa and Asia in the last 14 years, at FAO, I am responsible for initiating and managing collaborations with partners around the region to improve sustainable development through the application of modern information and communication technology (ICT).

Also responsible for the conducting information assessments, formulated knowledge strategies, increasing the impact of good practices, and expanded the dissemination of the Organization's regional information and for promoting efficient and effective methodologies in ICT4D among member countries in the region through FAO's activities. I am one of the authors of the E-agriculture Strategy Guide and is involved in assisting member countries develop their national e-agriculture strategy using this framework.

Q2: How have countries in Asia and Pacific adopted the ICTs in Agriculture? What are the plus and challenges Growth of ICTs in the last decade has been phenomenal.

Countries have also increasingly adopted ICTs and digital solutions in agriculture. However, a lack of a clear national strategy in implementing e-agriculture services has given rise to many pilot projects that weren’t sustainable.

Given the adoption of digital solutions not only in agriculture and ICTs but also in sectors (e.g. banking, weather monitoring and prediction), a much more strategic approach is needed that significantly enhances the outcomes as compared with a single solutions driven approach. To help develop a strategic approach and an integrated action plan, FAO and ITU partnered to develop the FAO-ITU E-agriculture Strategy Guide.

The Guide provides a framework based on which countries could develop their National E-agriculture Strategy and identify and implement sustainable e-agriculture solutions to address the challenges faced in achieving their agricultural goals. The countries have responded very positively to developing e-agriculture strategies. Bhutan and Sri Lanka were the first two countries to have developed and adopted their strategies. This was followed by strategy development work in Afghanistan, Fiji, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. The interest of countries continue to grow.

E-agriculture strategies will help to rationalize resources (financial and human) and address holistically, the ICT opportunities and challenges for the agricultural sector in a more efficient manner while generating new revenue streams and improve the livelihoods of the rural community as well as ensure the goals of the national agriculture master plan are achieved. The existence of e-agriculture strategy and its alignment with other government plans will prevent e-agriculture projects and services from being implemented in isolation.

Q3: How could FAO and ITU and other multilateral institutions continue to support the adoption of ICTs

The challenges in-terms of eradicating chronic hunger and malnutrition, including achieving SDG 2 needs a coordinated multi-stakeholder effort. We need partners to come together at the global, regional and national level to come together to support the adoption of sustainable ICTs that would help address some of the challenges faced in agriculture. The collaboration between FAO and ITU in promoting and supporting sustainable ICTs for agriculture, related country technical support, compilation of case studies through “E-agriculture in Action” series of publication and a range of awareness raising (E-agriculture Solutions Forum) and capacity building exercises has been a very successful partnership. We hope to build on these to continue to strengthen national capacities to address challenges in agriculture through emerging technologies.

Another interesting outcome of the partnership has been to support the International Girls in ICT Day initiative by providing skill based training to girls and young women on Agritech using ICTs. In Thailand, for example Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (Thailand), FAO and ITU in partnership with other UN agencies (UNESCO), Government agencies (NECTEC), Industry (DTAC) and other organization (GIC-AIT) have trained close to 300 girls and young women since 2017. We look forward to replicating it in other countries. This would facilitate bringing in more youth into agriculture given the technology appeal.

Q4: Looking at the needs of Asia and the Pacific, what are the emerging needs for the adoption of ICTs and also adoption of favorable policies?

Use of ICTs for agriculture is a multi-stakeholder initiatives, bringing together various national partners in addressing these challenges are very critical. From our work in Asia-Pacific we see that the partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture (& related ministries/divisions), the Ministry of ICT (or related ministry/divisions) as well as the telecom regulator and mobile network operators have been very successful.

There has been some fantastic outputs from these collaboration in Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our bi-yearly E-agriculture Solutions Forum and related regional capacity development trainings on the use of emerging technologies have greatly benefited these efforts. 

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