Digitalization sets the path for an enabling and sustainable ecosystem for food and agriculture at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS) 2020


Digitalization sets the path for an enabling and sustainable ecosystem for food and agriculture at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS) 2020

On Friday 21 August, FAO, jointly with ITU and the Zhejiang University, organized a 1-hour virtual Session session on ‘Action Line C7-Fostering an Enabling Ecosystem for Food and Agriculture through Digital Innovation’- held during the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS+15) 2020 which whose theme is this year is: “Fostering digital transformation and global partnerships: WSIS Action Lines for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

The participation to the Forum provided an open and inclusive space for all participants, harnessing the potential of ICTs to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs through the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines.

The cumulative attendance to WSIS+15 was over 10,000 attendees from around 150 countries who took part in about 120 virtual sessions so far, organized by WSIS stakeholders confirms the importance of such events in the internal development agenda and the aim to highlight the role of ICTs in sustainable development nowadays. The Virtual WSIS Forum 2020 brought together 500 key speakers including high-level officials, academics, practitioners, ICTs experts, youth, business, and civil society leaders.

Among them, Mr. Dejan Jakovljevic - Deputy Director, IT Services, FAO, Prof. Longbao Wei – Director, Institute of Food and Agribusiness Management, Zhejiang University, Mr. Hani Eskandar - Digital Services Senior Coordinator , ITU and Ms. Meng Zeng, Information Technology Officer,FAO, used this powerful platform for information exchange to share the best practices from their organizations in a successful interactive session that gathered 289 participants.

Mr. Dejan Jakovljevic gave first a very comprehensive presentation of the panorama in FAO regarding innovation work, presenting the organization major and most recent initiatives to enable this complementary ecosystem through global cooperation and partnerships including : FAO’s International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture that provides policy recommendations to governments to support decision-making at higher levels so that policy makers can better address rising economic, social and ethical challenges; the Hand-in-Hand Initiative that accelerates agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development with 15 countries already engaged, each one with a dedicated task force, a robust M&E framework under review, and a big Lab Data running; the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform that supports all stakeholders with shareable data to strengthen evidence based decision making in food and agriculture; and the Digital Agriculture and Innovation Hubs, in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America -in the formulation stage- to enhance innovation ecosystem and culture to empower agripreneurs. ‘We should definitely embrace innovative models through partners across the public, private and other sectors, together with digital solutions to accelerate and enable impact to all’ stressed Mr. Jakovljevic.

Prof. Longbao Wei from Zhejiang University then took the floor to expose his vision of ‘digital empowerment as the unique path to modernization of China’s small farmers’. He said that alternative agricultural production schemes come indeed from the increasing demand for adequate, high quality, affordable and healthy food with limited natural resources and ecological sustainability. He chose to elaborate more on the example of Alibaba, with the agricultural and rural business development of smart agriculture in China through the beginning of a Taobao Village cluster with 100 stores in 2006 till the full launch of a digital engine in 2017, including a poverty alleviation fund and a digital engine vitalization.

"The success of the initiative is not more to be proved as Alibaba will serve 10 million SMEs worldwide, 2 billion consumers, and create 100 million jobs in next 10 years" affirmed Prof Wei. He then detailed three cases on:

  1. Digital agriculture entrepreneurship- Songxiaocai, for digital demand driven supply chain;
  2. E-commerce poverty alleviation-Suining County- and finally on
  3. E-commerce livestreaming- selling agricultural products.

All this has highly contributed to tackling capital and knowledge barrier for the vulnerable smallholders, as well as building a land circulation market and a trustworthiness system for them. Prof Wei then finished by presenting more in detail the partnership with Zhejiang University launched at the 2019 China Rural Revitalization and Belt and Road Initiative International Rural Development Forum to establish a Centre of Excellence for Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship to improve coherent action for encouraging agricultural innovation, youth employment and entrepreneurship globally, while strengthening innovative agriculture services to increase digital inclusion and reduce rural poverty.

Mr. Hani Eskandar from ITU closed then the round of presentations by sharing a more holistic perspective on the fostering of an enabling ecosystem for food and agriculture, giving more details on the E agriculture strategy development, with the strategy guide of the latter, 9 country assistances, 4 main cases studies, the participation on 3 solutions fora and 2 major trainings by FAO- ITU and FAO-ITU-GIC. He mentioned particularly the Action Reports series, that highlight since 2016 through 4 major reports and a next one coming on AI, the use of ‘ICT for agriculture’ in selected areas of relevance to the agriculture and promote successful, scalable sustainable and replicable ‘ ICT for agriculture’ solutions. These reports feature stories where innovative use of ICTs have helped people involved in agriculture and related fields to increase their productivity and income.

Mr. Hani Eskandar then presented the ‘Status of Digital Agriculture in 18 countries of Europe and Central Asia’ that assesses the e agricultural preparedness of the countries in the region, by analyzing regulatory frameworks, capacity development and empowerment, financial services and insurance, food safety and traceability, enhanced market access, disaster risk management and early warning system, sustainable farming and agricultural innovation systems, to be able to provide relevant recommendations at the national level such as horizontal coordination and interoperability. He then presented the ITU project to ‘Support to Rural Entrepreneurship, Investment and Trade in Papua New Guinea’ as well as the Smart Village Initiative, which is a ‘whole of government’ and ‘whole of society’ approach to digitally transform rural communities. The example of the implementation of a SMART Village in Niger can be found here.

At the end, Meng Zeng from FAO, the moderator, concluded the session by inviting all participants to take actions on fostering an enabling ecosystem for food and agriculture through digital innovation.

These last 15 years have witnessed a remarkable growth in the use of digital technologies, transforming people’s lives around the globe. To continue covering the needs of a world where by 2050 there will be 9.6 billion people to feed, Innovation will be crucial to find sustainable solutions in the field of food and agriculture and address these new challenges successfully to achieve the SDGs to their best efficiency in line with the WSIS Action Lines.

  • More details on the FAO-ITU session can be found here.
  • After registering on WSIS website, you can watch the recording of the session here.
  • For more details, you can contact [email protected]

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