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Digital agriculture has the potential to deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits and, if promoted in an inclusive manner, it can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in Rome today.
"Information and communications technology has the potential to reshape not only the way we work in agriculture but also our food systems, the way we will eat in the future," he said.
Digital innovation is also linked to emerging precision agriculture capacities, which allow for farmers to reduce their use of chemical inputs, machinery and water for irrigation, he said, noting that climate change and natural resource constraints require new approaches to provide food security and adequate nutrition for all.
The FAO chief consequently called for a "gradual" shift" away from a reliance on Green Revolution techniques. "The future of agriculture is not input-intensive but technology-intensive," he said in his introduction to FAO's inaugural International Seminar on Digital Agriculture Transformation.
Last year, FAO also hosted the First International Symposium on Innovation for Family Farmers, which concluded that inclusiveness is an essential requirement for technology to help eradicate hunger. Harnessing new tools, most linked to the Internet, requires addressing the digital divide between rich and poor, between the urban and rural, and between big and small farmers, the FAO Director-General said, noting concerns that emerging communication technologies might exclude small family farmers have been expressed since the 1980s.
Avoiding a wider digital divide and using a multi-stakeholder and systemic approach to assure an accessible, adaptive and agile digital ecosystem open to participation by all, is also the core recommendation of "The age of digital interdependence", a report by the UN Secretary General's High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation released earlier this week, to which FAO contributed.
Several hundred participants are attending the two-day international seminar, including government ministers, representatives of civil society and the private sector, non-governmental organisations and others.
Industry leaders in digital technologies, sustainable development, and agricultural innovation have joined together to exchange experiences and guide the way forward towards the responsible digital transformation of agriculture. Korea Telecom's CEO, Chang-Gyu Hwang, delivered a keynote speech highlighting new opportunities enabled by 5G mobile networks.
High on the agenda is a high-level dialogue on how to build resilience and strengthen rural smallholders by bridging the triple divide -- digital, rural and gender -- in particular, in low-income developing countries. Another session addressed the challenges of data protection, ownership and ethical use in the adoption and application of digital technologies in rural development in an increasingly connected world.
Speakers from the public and private sector came together to discuss the constraints and opportunities of private operators in digital agriculture as well as the public policies that are required to ensure that equity and environmental requirements be met and that these solutions be made accessible to small-scale farmers at suitable conditions.
Panel discussions shared several success stories of digital applications improving the capability to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Other examples cited include investing in mechanisms to increase national and local capacity through innovation facilities aimed at fostering agricultural entrepreneurship and increased inclusion of youth in agriculture.