Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

Sustainable Innovation Forum

Digital Agriculture: Accelerating the Fourth Agricultural Revolution

20 November 2020

Address by Dr. QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General

As prepared



Dear Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to be with you today at this event that is co-organized with Climate Action,to discuss the future role and potential of digital technologies in agriculture.

2. The world around us was already changing quickly; and then the COVID-19 pandemic turned it upside down and speed up forcible changing.

3. The complex, multiple and interconnected challenges we face call for an innovative mindset and new ways of working:

  • From the pandemic and its far-reaching health and socio-economic impacts;
  • to eradicating hunger and poverty, 
  • addressing climate change and biodiversity loss and 
  • achieving sustainable development.

4. We need to work hand-in-hand to find bold, transformative, sustainable solutions that are holistic, equitable and inclusive.

5. To do so, we need to harness the potential of innovation and digital technologies.

6. The pandemic will have serious long-term impacts on food security and livelihoods.

7. Today almost 9 percent of the world population, 690 million people, suffer from hunger, and we estimate that another 132 million people are in danger to be pushed into that rank this year. 

8. The vulnerabilities of the most at-risk communities, including farmers, pastoralists, fishers and foresters, to climate shocks and natural hazards, have increased.

9. FAO has launched a comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programmeto support countries to “build back better” by strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods, addressing the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and reflecting the three pillars of sustainable development. 

10. Our global agri-food systems need to be capable to deliver healthy diets for all and use our planet’s finite natural resources more efficiently.

11. Next year, the UN Secretary-General will convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the UN Decade of Action to better manage the future of agri-food systems and to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

12. Success will hinge on multi-stakeholder and multi-sector engagement.

13. Engagement that we are leveraging in the Food Coalition we just launched recently: a global alliance of governments, international organizations, thought leaders and influencers, civil society and private sector, all working together for unified global action. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

14. The responsible use of science, technology and innovation can pave the way to a Fourth Agricultural Revolution.

15. The Fourth agricultural revolution is a marriage between data, technological innovation with farming that will further transform the industry and help us to achieve a new level of productivity, quality, diversity, efficiency and environmental sustainability. 

16. Today, digital technologies already play a reversal role in driving FAO’s work. 

17. We have an important Digital Services Portfolio with 169 products to help deliver action and solutions at global, regional, and country levels. 

18. The FAO Hand-in-Hand Initiative is evidence-based, country-led and country-owned and aims to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to eradicate poverty and end hunger.

19. Last September, in collaboration with Google, we launched Earth Map, as part of our Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform. 

20. It is an innovative, open-source Big Data tool, developed by FAO that provides access to global agricultural, environmental and climate information.

21. Together with Microsoft, IBM and the Vatican we initiated the Rome Declaration on Ethics in Artificial Intelligence.

22. This declaration that was endorsed by Pope Francis stresses the need to balance technological advancement with social progress to close the digital gap.

23. We aim to provide concrete and ethically founded solutions to the use of AI in the agri-food sector.

24. At the last Session of the UN General Assembly, we unveiled the FAO Green Cities Initiative.

25. It is designed to increase urban resilience in 1000 cities by 2030 through the availability and access to products and services provided by green spaces and products in urban and peri-urban green agri-food system. 

26. We need to bolster smart digital agriculture to harmonize how we optimize the use of our natural resources, minimize negative impacts on environment and adapt to climate change.

27. The FAO 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative aims to enable farmers to use digital technologies, information and communication tools including social media, to promote local sustainable development and inclusion of farmers across the food value chain.

28. Proposals are being prepared under the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture, which we are putting into action.

29. We are applying a holistic approach advocating for packages of measures and actions.

30. Digital climate services can increase the resilience of family farmers by providing them with near real-time information, advice and index-based insurance schemes.

31. E-commerce platforms can leverage market linkages, shorten the food value chain, strengthen business engagements, support market intelligence systems and promote market access. 

32. Blockchain can be used to build trust and increase food safety. 

33. Remote advisory services can augment and support the farmer extension system. 

34. Lastly, digital financial products can increase digital inclusion and digital dividends for family farmers. 

35. With our partners, we are developing many rural digital inclusion initiatives on the ground, in order to bring innovation much closer to the needs of household farmers, through enabling policies, enhancing capacities, increasing affordability and improving infrastructure.

36. Digital world should be based on digital communities, villages, towns and agri-food system.


37. We have seen how technology and digital innovation have been transforming the governance of food and agriculture around the world. 

38. However, such transformations cannot happen without the private sector. 

39. Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to build more sustainable and resilient food systems through innovation, data driven decision making and strategic investments.

40. Enhancing our partnerships with the private sector can deliver even more concrete results at the country, regional and global levels.

41. This is reason why we have presented a modern Strategy for Private Sector Engagement to our governing bodies. 


42. The various elements I mentioned today are essential for a true agricultural revolution and achieving a vision of better production, better nutrition a better environment and a better life.

43. But the most sophisticated digital systems are only as useful as we humans make them to be. 

44. This is reason why our work will always be people-centered!

45. Human empathy, solidarity and ingenuity are the basis on which we build a better future. Together! 

46. I wish you a successful event.

Thank you.