FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

FAO highlights benefits of innovations in agriculture in creating a sustainable future


Pesticide management and sustainable agriculture, and emerging opportunities for blockchain in the agri-food industry were among the topics covered by FAO experts at the “Agrotech-2019. Steps beyond the horizon” international forum, organized by the National Research University Higher School of Economics, in conjunction with FAO and the Russian Ministry of Agriculture, in Moscow on 30 and 31 May.

Without pesticide use, crop losses have been estimated to vary from 32 percent for cereals to 78 percent in fruit production. “Pesticides are applied not only on agricultural lands and environment; they also have a great importance on human health protection, for example for sanitary pest control of vector‑borne diseases,” Oxana Perminova, FAO officer from Plant Production and Protection Division in Rome, highlighted in her video address to forum participants.

Perminova noted that problems arise when misuse of pesticides occurs, especiallywhen they are applied in higher-than-needed amounts and using practices that contribute to their spread into the environment, such as spraying with not suitable/not maintained/not calibrated application equipment or by planes into vast regions, affecting inhabitants and non-target organisms.

In May this year, FAO organized a Global Symposium on Soil Pollution to provide scientific evidence to support actions and decisions to prevent and reduce soil pollution worldwide. A global assessment on the impact of pesticides on soil functions and soil ecosystems was presented.

FAO estimates that between 20 and 40 percent of global crop yields are reduced each year due to the damage caused by plant pests and diseases. Controlling pests is crucial to increasing food production in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has demonstrated that it is possible to significantly reduce pesticide use without compromising crop yields.

So far about 10 million farmers have been trained on IPM through FAO’s Farmer Field Schools programme in more than 95 countries. Many of these farmers have reduced their use of pesticides by 70 percent.

FAO supports countries in lifecycle management of pesticides through field projects operated in more than 40 countries. The programme includes developing or revising pesticide legislation, registration, risk assessment and mitigation, development of low risk alternatives, rational use, residue standards setting, disposal of obsolete stocks, management of empty containers, etc.

FAO has developed a Toolkit on Pesticide Registration, and has trained over 160 registration officers in more than 30 countries worldwide. FAO has also published a Guidelines on Biopesticide Registration to promote development of environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides in the world, Oxana Perminova informed the audience.

Capacity development

The benefits of FAO’s Capacity Development Framework were defined by Sophie Treinen, Information and Knowledge Management Officer, FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, in her presentation on “Digital skills: Capacity Development from farms to policy level” on the second day of the forum.

“Capacities are interlinked at three dimensions: individuals, organizations and the enabling environment are parts of a whole,” Treinen said.

“Capacity development often involves enhancing the knowledge and skills of individuals, whose work results greatly rely on the performance of the organizations in which they work. The effectiveness of organizations is influenced by the enabling environment. Conversely, the environment is affected by organizations and the relationships between them.”

It is well known that farmers prefer: “concrete, localized information at the right time; videos; mobile phones resistant to shocks, water, cold and heat, with large keys; and support from trusted people”, FAO expert noted. She pointed out the efficiency of “learning by doing” referring to the wisdom of Confucius: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Within the frameword of enhancing capacity building for farmers, FAO has created an e-Learning Centre with educational and training courses that cover a wealth of topics in the areas of food and nutrition security, social and economic development and sustainable management of natural resources.

Blockchain demystified

Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) have the potential to transform the global food system by introducing important efficiency gains along value chains, and improving trust, transparency and traceability.

In his video message to the Forum, Mischa Tripoli, Economist at FAO’s Trade and Markets Division in Rome, provided an overview of DLTs and their application in food and agriculture, examining public policy implications for food security and rural development and identifying potential challenges, risks and the way forward.

Blockchain is one type of DLT. It is also referred to as an “Internet of value”, meaning a secure way to store and transact value – anything from currency, stocks, contracts and even votes – from one entity to another.

Tripoli underlined the challenges facing global agrifood systems that have made blockchain  and DLTs at large relevant for food and agriculture. Firstly, there is “lack of transparency and traceability in supply chains. For instance, food fraud has financial costs of approximately US$40 billion annually.” Secondly, “trade is complex, time-consuming and expensive”,

What are the areas of application of DLTs in agriculture? Supply chain management. Food safety. Trade finance. Agricultural financial services. Market information. Land registries. International agreements related to agriculture.

What are the competitive advantages of blockchain application? First of all, it enhances traceability and higher quality transactions due to product-process links using, in particular, QR codes, RFID chips, facial recognition, and crypto-anchors.

In the context of ensuring food safety, this technology “improves monitoring and compliance with SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) and sustainability standards, enables faster response to disease outbreaks and contaminated food products, combats food fraud, and reduces friction at the border for international trade,” FAO expert detailed.

Secondly, this technology disintermediates transactions in agricultural supply chains. According to Tripoli, “DLTs and smart contractsprovide similar outcomes for trade finance and agricultural financial services (payment services, agricultural insurance, credit and derivatives):

•   Increases efficiency in supply chains;

•   Leads to greater access to financial services for smallholders and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs);

•   Better facilitates trade with frictionless and real-time payments.

Thirdly, it builds a digital identity. “By recording digital and physical assets on the DLT, users build a digital identity to access financial services and find new market opportunities,” FAO expert clarified.

Moreover, it ensures trade transparency. Digital assets, or data, recorded from activity in agricultural supply chains can enhance market information and market transparency, and also provide supply chain actors with detailed records on their operations. Physical assets can be used as collateral to access financial services. DLTs provide a secure, fast and immutable method to register land titles.

Fourthly, thei technology allows to monitoring international agreements. DLTs can improve the implementation and monitoring of international  agreements through enhanced accountability and transparency.

On the way forward, Tripoli suggested a three-track approach.

1)       Improve knowledgebase of the public sector on the application of DLTs for food and agriculture.

2)      Address the numerous technical, regulatory, institutional, infrastructure and capacity development related challenges for widespread adoption.

3)      Create an enabling environment that ensures the productivity gains generated by DLTs are shared by all market participants, including smallholder farmers, processors and MSMEs.

Participants agreed that “Agrotech-2019” helped illuminate the existing and future drivers of innovation in agriculture and the main constraints it faces in Russia. The forum contributed to promoting the exchange of knowledge, information and practices, assessed enabling policies and platforms, and set the stage for potential partnerships and action plans. Moreover, the forum highlighted the potential of High Tech in agriculture to address the Sustainable Development Goals, with a special focus on supporting smallholder and family farmers and boosting partnerships as well as public and private investments to foster and scale up agricultural innovation.