FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

FAO describes value of innovations in agriculture at high-tech-focused forum in Moscow

Photo and collage: © FAO/Vladimir Mikheev

The two-day International forum «Agroteh-2019. Steps beyond the horizon», organized by the National Research University Higher School of Economics in conjunction with FAO and the Russian Ministry of Agriculture in Moscow, focused on innovation as the central driving force to transform food systems, lift family farmers out of poverty and help the world to achieve food security, sustainable agriculture and the SDGs.

In order to implement Russian President’s decree on the transformation of priority industries with the use of digital technologies, the Ministry of Agriculture launched the departmental project “Digital agriculture, which will contribute to turning interaction of agricultural producers with the authorities into the digital format, State Secretary – Deputy Minister of agriculture of the Russian Federation Ivan Lebedev said in his opening remarks.

Global digital networks and smart farms, the latest achievements of genetics and breeding, molecular biology and biotechnology – all this comes en masse to the agricultural sector. It becomes not just a fashionable trend, but also a technological base for agricultural production. However, Ivan Lebedev intoned, in order to put together a high-performance export-oriented agricultural sector, capitalizing on modern technologies and empowered with highly qualified personnel, it is necessary to cooperate efficiently with universities and research centers, as well as with the real sector of the economy.

It is essential “to synchronize fundamental and applied science with the needs of the industry,” Deputy Minister said. In this context, he informed about the “planet of knowledge” concept, stipulating not only coordination of activities of universities and research institutions but also the creation of “competence centers”, in particular, in such areas as breeding and genetics.

Russia has many geographical and climatic zones, with each of them noted for unique qualities. So far, farmers do not have the ability to adapt modern technology to each of these zones. But the time will come, when automated systems of farm management, robotics, unmanned tractors, remote sensing of the Earth and other smart technologies will become routine practice, Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, academician Irina Donnik said in her welcome address.

At the same time, academician Donnik supported the opinion of Ivan Lebedev that the usefulness of the introduction of information and computer technologies (ICT) should also be measured in economic categories. For the moment, the profitability of smallhold farmers equals 2000 rubles per family member per year. It serves as a powerful motive for young villagers to migrate to urban areas. This socio-economic aspect cannot be ignored in the implementation of the Federal program for sustainable development of rural areas.

“Agricultural innovation is the process whereby individuals or organizations bring new or existing products, processes or ways of organization into use for the first time in a specific context in order to increase effectiveness, competitiveness, resilience to shocks or environmental sustainability and thereby contribute to food security and nutrition, economic development or sustainable natural resource management”, Nabil Gangi, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia, pointed out in his opening remarks.

“Going beyond apps, drones or farm machinery, innovation in agriculture involves different social, organizational or institutional processes, ranging from access to markets, credit or extension services to marketing produce in a new way,” Mr. Gangi underlined.

“Governments and other key stakeholders, including civil society, farmer organizations, research bodies and the private sector, all have a role to play in creating an environment that enables innovation in agriculture to flourish and generate solutions. Success hinges on connecting the drivers that influence innovation uptake.”

“ICTs bring new models for service delivery, fair and inclusive trade, and social and financial inclusion, among others. However, digital technology dividends are not automatic; in order to allow everyone to benefit from the technologies at minimized risk, FAO advocates for a participatory e-agriculture strategy formulation and implementation at the national level,” Nabil Gangi concluded.

The much-heralded concept of e-agriculture could be presented in a simple formula, as suggested by keynote speaker, Sophie Treinen, Information and Knowledge Management Officer, FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia. In her presentation titled “The digital revolution in agriculture: An overview of e-agriculture in Europe and Central Asia” and delivered on the first day of the forum, the FAO expert suggested three elements that add up to become e-agriculture: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for agriculture + capacity development + enabling environment.

Summing it up, the “new generation of ICTs comprise of Big Data, Robotics, Machine-to-machine (M2M), Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Cloud Computing”. The role of ITCTs in agriculture is manifold, Ms. Treinin specified:

Regulatory frameworks: ICTs assist with implementing regulatory policies, frameworks and ways to monitor progress.

Capacity development and empowerment: ICTs widen the reach of local communities (including women, youth and elderly) and provide newer business opportunities, thereby enhancing livelihoods.

Financial services and insurance: ICTs increases access to financial services for rural communities, helping people secure savings, find affordable insurance and find tools to better manage risks.

Food safety and traceability: ICTs help deliver more efficient and reliable data to comply with international traceability standards and food nutrition aspects.

Agricultural innovations systems: ICTs bridge the gap among agricultural researchers, academia, extension agents, various market players and farmers.

Sustainable farming: ICTs offer improved access to and knowledge of sustainable farming practices, plant protection, animal health, and climate-smart solutions.

Disaster risk management and early warning system: ICTs provide actionable information to communities and government on disaster prevention in real time, such as agrometeorological information, while also providing advice on risk mitigation.

Enhanced market access: ICTs facilitate market access for inputs and products as well as trade.

What would be the end-result of efficient and massive introduction of ICTs into farmers’ daily routine? The future farms, small and smart, would operate on a higher managerial level.

Firstly, the farming data would generate vast quantities of rich and varied data stored in the cloud. “Data can be used as digital evidence reducing time spent completing grant applications of carrying out farm inspections saving on average £5,500 per farm per year”, Sophie Treinen said.

Secondly, there will be aerial drones to survey fields, mapping weeds, yield and soil variation. This would enable precise application of inputs, mapping spread of pernicious weed blackgrass. As a result, it would increase wheat yields by 2-5%. Thirdly, a fleet of specialized agribots would tend to crops, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting. Worth taking into account: robots capable of microdot application of fertilizers reduce fertilizer cost by 99.9%.

Then, there will be “Texting cows”! Sensors attached to livestock would allow monitoring of animal health and wellbeing. The sensors would send texts to alert farmers when a cow goes into labour or develops infection thus increasing her survival and upping milk yield by 10%. Moreover, smart tractors with GPS controlled steering and optimized route planning would reduce soil erosion and save fuel cost by 10%, detailed Sophie Treinen.

However, “technology alone will not solve development challenges”, warned FAO expert. The other three key essential components are accountable public institutions, business regulations, ensuring high degree of competition, and skilled workers well prepared for the 21st century workplace.

The Moscow forum participants specifically noted that innovation in agriculture cuts across all dimensions of the production cycle along the entire value chain – from crop, forestry, fishery or livestock production to management of inputs and resources, to market access. It may involve planting new crop varieties, combining traditional practices with new scientific knowledge, applying new pest control and post-harvest practices or engaging with markets in new, more rewarding ways.

However, as the forum participants agreed, innovation is not just about technology, which on its own may simply remain on the shelf. Most importantly, innovation is also about social, economic, institutional/organizational and policy processes, and having an impact on the lives of farmers.


30 May, Moscow, Russian Federation


                                                                Additional food for thought

FAO deems necessary to:

Raise awareness on the role innovation plays in unlocking the potential for achieving sustainable food and agriculture. Agriculture must innovate to meet global demands, and innovation plays a critical role in making agriculture more competitive and sustainable. It is important to ensure the presence of favorable conditions, of an enabling environment, which fosters and unlocks the potential of innovation.

Coordinate action among sectors and with partners to strengthen impact. FAO offers a platform for participatory dialogue among the diverse range of stakeholders and decision-makers, to develop new partnerships and business models that involving the public and private sectors, civil society, research, extension and farmer organizations.

Scale up innovation through strategic partnerships, policies, investments. Scaling up innovation in agriculture requires significant commitment from all stakeholders and decision-makers. This includes farmer capacity-building, improved policy, a redirection of finances and investment, more inclusive and diversified food systems, a change in consumer behavior, strengthened producer organizations, and new partnerships between small-scale producers and entrepreneurs and the larger scale private sector actors.

Engage youth. Agriculture is an essential driver of economic development and can create jobs for young people by harnessing opportunities in agribusiness entrepreneurship and innovations, including in ICT innovations, along the entire value chain. This can contribute to improving the agriculture sector’s image by increasing productivity and returns on investment and providing new and different employment opportunities.

Foster private sector commitment. Cooperation among countries and with the private sector have proven effective and offer a myriad of development solutions – knowledge, experiences, good practices, innovative policies, technologies and resources – that have proven cost-effective and have huge potential to be up-scaled for the benefit of others. It provides complementary advantages and expertise to build more solutions, develop new tools, and innovate. FAO recognizes that the private sector is a key stakeholder in the fight against food insecurity, malnutrition and rural poverty.