Digital innovations are bringing youth back to agriculture


How digital apps and services are boosting rural employment

A growing youth population needs fruitful employment; bringing digital innovations to food and agriculture has the potential to offer new services for youth and smallholder famers. ©FAO/Alioune Ndiaye

Youth around the world are increasingly turning away from agriculture. Traditionally requiring tough manual labour and offering low wages, agriculture does not often appeal to new generations who generally prefer to try their luck finding jobs in cities.

Yet, agriculture has the greatest potential of all sectors to reduce poverty, for example in Sub-Saharan Africa where over sixty percent of its 1.2 billion population is under the age of 25. This growing youth population needs fruitful employment, and food and agriculture, perhaps re-conceptualized, have the potential to offer this to the youth.

The key is innovation.

There are already new ways of working in agriculture that harnesses digital and technological innovations, rendering it more efficient and, not as a small byproduct, providing new opportunities and services for young entrepreneurs.

Here are 5 examples of how harnessing the power of digital technology can revolutionize agriculture.

1. Drones – Some estimates suggest that the food and agriculture sector will be the second largest user of drones in the world in the next five years. FAO has already utilized drones in many countries to collect real-time, in-depth data on food and agricultural challenges such as risk of natural disasters and assessment of damages after them.

Left: FAO has been using drones to assess risk of natural disasters or to survey damages done after them. ©Veejay Villafranca/NOOR for FAO
Right: A new talking app helps farmers detect whether their crops have been infected by Fall Armyworm. ©FAO/Tamiru Legesse

2. Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) App - Fall Armyworm is a devastating pest destroying maize and other important crops across parts of the Americas, Africa and Asia.Only farmers in their fields can successfully manage FAW.  That is why FAO has developed a tool to capture data uploaded by farmers in their fields. The information added to the app is transferred to a global web-based platform and analysed to give real-time situation reports, calculate infestation levels and suggest measures to reduce impact.

3. Nuru App – Along with FAMEWS, FAO and the Pennsylvania State University have developed a complementary, talking app called Nuru that, when held next to a damaged plant, can immediately confirm if Fall Armyworm has caused the damage. Nuru combines machine learning and artificial intelligence. It runs inside a standard Android phone and can also work offline. In addition to English, Nuru will also soon be able to speak French, Swahili and Twi and it is learning new languages all the time to better reach farmers in their own tongues. Nuru will soon be linked to FAMEWS, where all the data will be validated by national Fall Armyworm focal points and stored in a global web-based platform.

4. Abalobi App - Abalobu, which is Xhosa for “fisherfolk”, is a mobile application for small-scale fishers to record what they caught, when, where, using what method and for how much they sold it. All that information is stored in the app and made available to other small-scale fishers. There are currently 30 000 artisanal fishers along South Africa's coastline living off of the sea, on a thin line between commercial and subsistence fishing. By producing their own knowledge on fishing, they are helping to build resilient communities, especially in the face of climate change.

FAO has developed four new apps to provide farmers with real-time information on weather, livestock care, markets and nutrition. ©FAO/Alioune Ndiaye

5. Agricultural Services Apps - Four new apps are providing farmers with real-time services through information on weather, livestock care, markets and nutrition. The weather and crop calendar app combines information on weather forecasts and crop schedules, providing early warning of potential risks. The cure and feed your livestock app helps reduce losses by providing information on animal disease control and animal feeding strategies. AgriMarketplace enables farmers to obtain better information about suppliers for raw material purchases, marketplaces to sell their products and market prices. e-Nutrifood gives rural people recommendations on producing, conserving and eating nutritious foods.

The youth are just the ones to offer new ideas. During the #HackagainstHunger event this week in Kigali, Rwanda, FAO and its partners are engaging young people from different countries in Africa to find innovative solutions that address challenges in food and agriculture. These Hackathons aim to develop ideas into tech solutions to produce youth-led and youth-focused employment opportunities while offering mentorship from private and public sector experts.

Digital technologies are already our present and innovation is imperative for the future. New ideas from our youth and from organizations, universities and companies all over the world are helping to unlock the potential of food and agriculture for reducing poverty, to bridge the rural divide, to employ and empower youth and to give equal access to information, technology and markets.

FAO is creating and promoting these innovative solutions to address the ever-dire challenges facing our future of food and agriculture.


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