FAO in China

2019 Dialogue on the Application of AI in Agriculture


The food and agricultural sector is going to face enormous challenges to feed a growing population of 9 billion people by 2050, with the need to increase the food production by 70% while preserving the environment and adapting to climate change. What if technology could be used to answer some of these challenges? This is where artificial intelligence (AI) and digital agriculture comes in. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a mobile app to monitor fall armyworm in some croplands of Sri Lanka and to give early warnings to local farmers.

In China, FAO is taking actions in exploring the use of AI and other Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in agriculture, including establishing an innovation lab in agriculture (AgLabCX) and fostering exchanges among stakeholders to better tackle the global challenges of the agriculture sector in the 21st century thanks to the use of digital technologies. On 17 and 18 of September, FAO China Office in close partnership with China’s Academy of Agricultural Planning and Engineering (AAPE) gathered around 60 representatives from government, institutions, academia and private sector in Beijing and held the 2019 Dialogue on the Application of AI in Agriculture.

“AI is emerging as part of the innovative solutions towards improved agricultural productivity. Applying AI in agriculture will benefit both the economy and the environment, and can contribute to eliminate poverty and hunger, if done in an inclusive way, taking into consideration the needs of small holder farmers. This is why FAO is proactively promoting the concept of digital agriculture in the new era of agriculture 4.0,” highlighted Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China and DPR Korea.

The Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of agricultural digitalization, reflecting in its national policies such as the National Informatization Development Strategy. According to the official data, in 2018, the digitalization level of agricultural production in China reached 18.6%. “Smart agriculture is booming in China, and its market is expected to reach USD 26.8 billion in 2020, with an annual growth rate of over 14%.,” said Zhang Hui, President of AAPE. He also emphasized that China is gearing for higher independency in basic research, agricultural information infrastructure upgrading, as well as industrial development acceleration. This year, AAPE established the Remote Sensing and Digital Villages Research Institute and Agricultural Engineering Information Research Institute.

Besides the insights from public sector, founders of leading enterprises in the industry also shared their practical experiences, cutting-edge technologies and concerns. For instance, developing agricultural drones for fertilizers / pesticides spraying, using satellites for cropland survey and monitoring, and technologies for automatically detecting animal / crop diseases. These technologies have greatly increased the agricultural productivity and changed the traditional image of agriculture. However, how to apply these new technologies more widely, how to integrate the resources and use them more effectively, and how to make these technologies affordable to and benefit smallholder farmers, are still some of the challenges these companies are facing.