FAO Liaison Office in Brussels

Dejan Jakovljevic, FAO Director Digitalization and Informatics explains how data, innovation and technology are applied as cross-cutting accelerators for the Four Betters


Agrifood systems have been heavily affected by the shocks created by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, exacerbating the divides between urban and rural areas. This has forced us to reconsider our priorities and approaches and has highlighted the importance of transforming agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable.  

To achieve this, science, including data, innovation and technology, must be at the heart of our actions.

Digital technologies, in particular, are key accelerators for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and can have a transformational impact on our economies and societies, including agriculture and agrifood systems.

In addition, digitalization and use of data in agriculture and artificial intelligence (AI) have an essential role to play in supporting evidence-based policy, planning and implementation to improve efficiency and reduce negative environmental impacts.

These innovative tools can help us to identify challenges and opportunities to ensure that the planet can continue to sustain us, now and in the future.

Geospatial technologies and agricultural data represent an opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty through more accessible and integrated data-driven solutions.

They also offer potential for transformational impact and further opportunities to help smallholder farmers and rural communities, with tools and knowledge products ‘in hand’.

Digital innovations can significantly improve access to information, advisory and financial services. They can also help agricultural producers to upgrade their farms and gain access to the upper levels of value chains. 

In this context, it becomes essential to leverage the potential of data and AI as accelerators and to support digital transformation of agriculture. Such an approach will actively work towards the removal of barriers to Internet adoption, including for women, youth, rural communities and vulnerable population groups. It will do so through support to initiatives that improve affordability, user capabilities and infrastructure, in order to leverage the potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to contribute to achieving the SDGs.

Science and innovation provide the backbone of the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 and have cross-sectoral relevance across the Organization’s programme of work.

FAO’s new thematic Science and Innovation Strategy will provide a framework for strengthening the Organization’s capacities to support Members in harnessing science and innovation.

FAO has a leading role to play in promoting the use and adoption of digital technologies to facilitate the transformation of agrifood systems, as well as in advising on and promoting a policy agenda and policy investments to address the digital divide and ‘massify’ digital benefits, while being sure to leave no one behind.

The Organization has the unique ability to make use of the considerable synergies that exist between key data, information and knowledge through its digital tools and knowledge products.

Technology, innovation and data are applied as cross-cutting accelerators across all FAO’s programmatic interventions to accelerate impact on the Four Betters and all our Programme Priority Areas, and to promote rural transformation on the ground.

The Organization has introduced a number of programmes and initiatives that are helping us to translate this vision into concrete support and delivery for our Members.

For example, FAO is developing and championing Digital Public Goods (DPGs) to enable knowledge transfer from data and knowledge platforms to the field. In May, FAO joined the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), a multistakeholder initiative with a mission to accelerate the attainment of the SDGs in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in DPGs.

FAO’s open-access Geospatial Platform is a Digital Public Good that provides advanced information, federating food security indicators and agricultural statistics, combining geographic information and statistical data on more than ten domains, including food security, crops, soil, water, climate, fisheries, livestock and forests.  

The Organization is also working on developing the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative. This aims to convert villages around the world into digital hubs to support the acceleration of rural transformation and reduce the digital divide, including the gender and rural gap.

FAO’s International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture will soon be operational. The platform will serve as an inclusive multistakeholder forum to promote dialogue on digitalization for agriculture and facilitate the exchange of knowledge, best practices and policy approaches between stakeholders. 

Digital innovation holds the potential to unlock employment opportunities, bridge the rural divide and empower youth and women to access information, technology and markets. Under its Strategic Framework, FAO is striving to leverage digital technologies to build a dynamic and transparent organization, and to promote rural transformation, where it is needed.

However, in order to unleash the full capabilities of digital innovation we need to collectively leverage digital cooperation with all stakeholders. It will also be critical to commit to working in partnership for a transformation towards more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems that can lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for everyone, wherever they live in the world.