Agricultural ministers at the 2016 G20 Summit in China have urged governments and international development agencies to invest in research, technology, and training that can connect smallholder farmers with real-time market data and other digital services, as part of a broad strategy that is being championed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation to improve productivity and incomes in some of the world’s poorest communities.
“We have to bear in mind that small farmers in developing countries are often constrained in their access to inputs, technology, and markets,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation. “[Information communications technology can] help in the monitoring of crop growth, utilisation of new [agricultural] techniques, field management, and harvests”.
It is not the first time that world leaders have called for a digital revolution in the agriculture sector. Mobile devices have been used for over a decade as a medium for communicating pricing and weather data, as well as to optimise feeding and gestational management and to establish micro-insurance industries in developing countries. However, it is the emergence of new partnerships with global tech companies that has led to renewed optimism.
At the G20 Summit, da Silva announced a new partnership between the Food and Agricultural Organisation and tech company Google to make high-resolution satellite data an everyday tool in managing natural resources. This follows a similar agreement that he oversaw at the end of last year with Google Maps, to make geospatial tracking and mapping products more accessible.
In addition to mapping, the ability for farmers to use mobile devices to report the outbreak of infectious diseases among livestock was another subject of discussion at the Summit, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation has also been working with G20 countries on a new Agricultural Market Information System, a Tropical Agriculture Platform, and the G20 Technical Platform for the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste.
The FAO is also addressing resistance to antimicrobial drugs in partnership with the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health, with the Food and Agricultural Organisation reporting that seven out of ten newly discovered human diseases are of animal origin.