Directeur général  QU Dongyu

Director-General highlights the transformational potential of digitalization and calls for tackling the digital divide in a speech to the World Summit on the Information Society Forum

Rome – The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today called on global stakeholders to help bridge the digital divide to leave no one behind - especially women, youth, rural communities and the vulnerable - and as a means of getting the world back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Digitalization, the effective use of data in agriculture, and artificial intelligence play a key role in supporting evidence-based policymaking, planning and implementation to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as reducing negative environmental impacts,” Qu said in a speech to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, an annual event involving UN agencies and global multi-stakeholders designed to advance sustainable development.

However, while such technologies can have “a transformational impact by creating opportunities for smallholder farmers and rural communities,” we still have a “large digital divide,” Qu said.

To date, only 47 percent of developing nations and 19 percent of Least Developed Countries have access to the internet, with barriers to digital adoption due to a lack of electricity in rural areas, literacy, digital skills, and lack of proper content.

Promoting the global digital agenda is especially important at a time when multiple shocks due to the pandemic, economic slowdown, the climate crisis, conflicts and the war in Ukraine are all impacting heavily on our agrifood systems.

“The gaps that need to be bridged are still too wide, and urgently call for bold and collective action,” Qu said. “In this challenging context, leveraging the potential of global connectivity, with enhanced access to information, data and artificial intelligence as key accelerators and supporters of digital agriculture is essential.”

FAO’s contributions

FAO has a strong focus on technology, innovation and data as key crosscutting accelerators to reach impact at scale, as set out in the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31.

The overarching aim is to accelerate action to achieve the SDGS by promoting:

- Better and more timely access to real-time actionable information; 

-Sustained engagement with farmers and agrifood systems stakeholders to maximize their benefits from new technologies; 

- Improved access to markets, credit and insurance through the application of digital technologies;

- Access to digitally enabled climate-smart agriculture solutions; and

- Enhancing the digitalization of emergency interventions and social protection mechanisms.   

FAO is promoting a policy agenda and public-private investments to ‘massify’ digital benefits and remove barriers to internet adoption, especially for women, youth, rural communities and vulnerable population, through initiatives that improve affordability, user capabilities and infrastructure to leverage the potential of ICTs, Qu said.

The Organization’s initiatives in this area include among others the Hand-in-Hand Initiative and its Geospatial Platform, as well as the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative, which aims to convert villages across the world into digital hubs to support the acceleration of rural transformation and reduce the digital gap.

Finally, FAO is also actively supporting efforts towards the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence.

“FAO is firmly committed and fully engaged to enhancing partnerships across the UN system and beyond and is actively participating in the multi-stakeholder digital technology track by providing its technical expertise to help shape an open, free and secure digital future for all,” Qu said.

“Let us continue to work together in an efficient, effective and coherent manner to empower the potential of digital to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and to achieve the SDG common goal of the 4 Betters: Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life for all, leaving no one behind,” Qu said.