The Future of Digital Agriculture: Process for Progress

30 May 2024 11:00h - 11:45h

Table of contents

Disclaimer: This is not an official record of the session. The DiploAI system automatically generates these resources from the audiovisual recording. Resources are presented in their original format, as provided by the AI (e.g. including any spelling mistakes). The accuracy of these resources cannot be guaranteed.

Full session report

FAO Session Explores the Intersection of Digital Agriculture and Sustainable Development Goals

The session on the future of digital agriculture, moderated by Agustina Maria Grossi from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), provided a comprehensive overview of the advancements and challenges in digital agriculture over the past two decades. The session underscored the critical role that digital technologies play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in eradicating hunger and poverty through sustainable agricultural practices.

The FAO’s commitment to using information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agricultural development and food security was central to the discussion. Panelists highlighted the accelerated pace of the digital revolution, driven by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), and the associated challenges and opportunities.

A significant focus was placed on the need for digital inclusion and capacity building, particularly in remote and rural areas. The FAO’s initiatives to promote digital inclusion were emphasized, with an aim to empower women, youth, and vulnerable populations within the agricultural sector. Building digital literacy at various levels was identified as crucial to ensuring the widespread benefits of digitalization.

The panelists discussed the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration and the sharing of global best practices. They pointed out the need for institutional innovations and reforms to ensure that the poorest communities have access to digital technologies, thereby promoting precision farming and efficient resource use.

Ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI and digital technologies were a major point of discussion. The Rome Call for Ethics for Artificial Intelligence was mentioned as a guiding framework for ensuring that the deployment of disruptive technologies is inclusive and does not exacerbate existing vulnerabilities.

The concept of digital public goods was introduced, with a focus on overcoming infrastructure challenges and bridging the digital divide. FAO’s initiatives, such as the Food Loss App (FLAPP), were presented as examples of digital tools in action, demonstrating how technology can help farmers identify inefficiencies and implement solutions to reduce food losses.

The session also explored the heterogeneous nature of the agricultural ecosystem and the need for interoperable and modular technical systems to navigate its complexities. The importance of standards and the role of standardisation in facilitating human-centric AI in agriculture were discussed, with the ITU Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Agriculture highlighted as a platform for advancing these goals.

Sophie Treinen provided insights into the importance of traditional communication methods, such as radio and video, alongside newer digital tools. She stressed the need for technologies to be accessible, affordable, appropriate, adaptable, and actionable, and for participatory methodologies to be employed to ensure that digital solutions are people-centred and inclusive.

In conclusion, the session called for a concerted effort to align with the UN Global Digital Ecosystem and to ensure that digital transformation in agriculture is inclusive and leaves no one behind. The panellists advocated for scalable, sustainable, and collaborative approaches to digital agriculture, with a clear focus on ethical practices and bridging divides to achieve global food security and sustainability.

Noteworthy observations from the session included the recognition of the ageing farming community and the need to consider their requirements in digital solutions, as well as the emphasis on reducing e-waste and promoting environmental sustainability in the deployment of digital technologies.

Session transcript

Agustina Maria Grossi:
the little delay. Welcome to the first session on the future of digital agriculture process for progress reflecting on building on 20 years of the digital journey. A quick presentation, my name is Agustina Maria Grossi, I’m a program officer at the office of the director general in the food and agriculture organization and I’m in charge of the advocacy and capacity building for the digitalization and data protection activities and I will be your moderator today, it’s a pleasure to be here, thank you for your attendance. So I think that the title of our presentation is quite explicit, this will be the focus of our interactions today, as you may know that since the beginning FAO has been part of WSIS and we have recognized a crucial role of promoting a global digital cooperation toward harnessing digital technologies for the achievement of the SDGs. But well, we say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let me play as an appetizer a little video to set the stage. Okay, we don’t have the sorry, we don’t have the sound we can come to help us with the sound for the video for the sound okay oh you’re gonna take your own head supper. Technology can be your best friend and worst enemy sometimes. So I hope that the scope of our session is set now. And again, you might be aware that FAO has been giving efforts to use information and communication technologies for agricultural development and for food security to eradicate poverty and hunger, which is our mandate. And so we hope that this session today, thanks to our panelists here that I will introduce in a minute, provide us the opportunity to showcase this now with very concrete examples on all the progresses that have been made so far, the key milestones over the last 20 years, but also now that the digital revolution is really speeding up at an unprecedented speed, especially with the emergence of new technologies, AI, of course, which gathers us today. We also have new challenges that we have to face and we have new solutions that we can bring. So without further ado, I’m going to introduce you to our first panelist, which is our chief economist, Maximo Torero. Here, and his major research lies mostly in policies that are oriented towards poverty alleviation and how can really technological breakouts improve the welfare of households and small farmers. Unfortunately, Maximo couldn’t be with us today, but nevertheless, he wanted to share his view in this very important context on the transformative power of the ICT and how we can scale up global solutions for digital agriculture over time. So he shared with us a little video that we’re going to play now. So again, please. Let’s hear Maximo.

Máximo Torero:
Ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you to today’s FAO session on the future of digital agriculture process for progress, reflecting and building on the 20 years of a digital journey. As facilitator of the WSIS Action Line C7 on e-agriculture, it is a pleasure to be here again this year for the WSIS plus 20 high-level event 2024, an event that marks a crucial milestone for WSIS today. Since the beginning of WSIS 20 years ago and its implementation in its first two phases, Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005, FAO has recognized the instrumental role of this forum in shaping global discussions and policies around the use of information and communication technologies, ICTs, for development worldwide. Year after year, following the latest trends and development, adapting to always-evolving demands, and acting as a unique gathering platform for the most diverse stakeholders around the globe, WSIS has been highlighting the need for ICTs in agriculture, foster innovation, and global digital cooperation. We know, colleagues, that digital technologies could be catalytic. Digital technologies could help to get these farmers, especially small farmers, closer to what we call precision farming, so that they can use more efficiently their resources, knowing what their soils need, knowing the temperatures, many things, prices, where the markets are. But we need to do this in an inclusive way. And that’s where institutional innovations, institutional reforms are required so that the poorest also have access to these technologies, so that we can comply with the proper use of these technologies in the agricultural sector. And this year’s anniversary, in particular, does not only mark a decisive milestone in our common digital journey and implementation of the forum’s original goal towards building people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented information and knowledge societies. It also brings us a unique opportunity to truly reflect on the achievements realized so far and set a sustainable way forward for an ethical and safe use of digital technologies in a landscape that is now more fast-paced than ever, with the emergence of new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence. We need to make this technology disruptive technology, but an inclusive technology, so that disruptiveness is positive. is towards efficiency, towards betting and getting what we need from those technologies. We need to avoid artificial intelligence to expand excluding the most vulnerable. For that, now is the moment to capitalize on all the lessons learned and the best practices built through joint efforts at the global level. FAO has been actively engaged with this context through a broader and reinvigorated focus on ICTs that include the following three points. First, inclusion focus, as I have been mentioned, through the promotion of digital inclusion initiatives that will empower women, youth and vulnerable populations in the agricultural sector. Second, and complementary, building capacity through boosted acquisition or strengthening of digital literacy at several levels and in several locations, including remote and rural areas. And third, strengthening partnerships through the promotion of cross-country and cross-cultural and cross-sectoral collaboration and capitalization on good practices. South-South, North-South learning, we need to learn from the best technologies. We need to learn from the best applications and the best uses that have been validated and have performed in other countries. In a rapidly developing digital landscape that is now further accelerating and with unforeseen demands that arise jointly with the emergence of new disruptive technologies, including artificial intelligence, we are aiming for leading towards delivering efficiently, safely and ethically on our mandate, bringing and non-exacerbating the global digital divide as to truly leave no one behind. Countries around the world are now increasingly seeking support for institutional capacity building and systemic approaches like digital extension services, where we need to improve the impact of those services and the scaling capacity of those services. Focus has shifted from just providing digital solutions to building resilient institutional capacity for a holistic and systematic approach. We are witnessing a profound shift occurring from individual projects to coordinated platforms and strategies for border impact and targeted interventions worldwide. In the case of FAO, we’re working with what we call digital villages. where we are not only looking at e-agriculture, we’re also looking at e-villages and e-societies so that we can combine all the different impacts and create these enormous synergies and complementarities that the agri-food system transformation needs. At the same time, the need for comprehensive analysis and feedback mechanisms is growing. And the growing interest in artificial intelligence, big data, and other emerging technologies advocate today more strongly than ever for guidance on their ethical use, which is fully the transformation potential while mitigating the risk and challenges, moving towards establishing a global governance framework to ensure responsible artificial intelligence use in the agri-food system. FAO vision is to actively leverage digital technologies to enable an accelerated transformation to efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life, while prioritizing innovations, data-driven decision-making, and equitable access to new technologies for the benefit of farmers, but the most vulnerable and global food security and nutrition. We are also supporting the ROM, Call for Ethics for Artificial Intelligence, because we believe we need to bring all the ethical considerations into use of these technologies. Over the last 20 years, we have made strong progress, including our ability to support data-driven decisions for resources management and climate adaptation. But challenges are still there, including the digital divide that I was mentioning before, and infrastructure gaps, as despite the progress of infrastructure institutions, remain a hurdle in the wider e-agricultural adoption. We need to look at complementarities. When we plan infrastructure, we need to plan deployment of agro-optics. We need to plan complementarities of capacity building so that we have multiple returns to those investments. This is the time where we need to gain efficiency. This is not the time to build silos and operate independently. And digital technologies can help us to bring these pieces together. Looking ahead and moving forward, we must strengthen the evidence base in agri-food systems to feed efficient decision-making. For the most continue wearing our efforts to address ethical and regulatory challenges related to emerging digital technologies, and which all remain committed to digital inclusion, particularly for women and youth in the transformation of the agri food systems. Which is provides a platform to achieve these common objectives and therefore concluding by wishing you all the fruitful session and forum. But let me give you a gift before we leave, so that you can look at it and leave. I would like to show you a concrete, as an example, one of our most recent digital initiatives in action. We all talk about food loss and food waste. We all talk about reducing food losses, especially the goals from producers to the wholesale market included. Where FAO puts its major focus. One of the challenges we have been having on this is data. How we can identify the value chains in a specific country, in a sub-region of a country, in a specific product, where the losses occur in the value chain. And we have tried different ways and we keep trying different ways to build capacities at the country level. But we also have developed an app called the FLAP, the Food Loss App, that aims at converting this methodology to measure food losses. The best methodology we have across the value chain into a simple usable app that will allow farmers to enter their own information, identify where their losses happen in the value chain. And also identify and self-report their own problems and bring solutions. We are bringing solutions through digital videos to them, so that they can learn how to resolve the problem. And we bring two types of solutions. A low-cost, cost-neutral, which is cheap to implement. And also a higher and middle-cost solution that they can use if they have the resources. Colleagues, we believe that this will resolve several problems to us. One, we will crowdsource information for farmers so that we can identify and have a better understanding of what are the losses, where, in which commodities, in which countries. It will also allow us to build solutions pragmatically. And it will also allow farmers to understand where they are, what are the based on losses. and the private sector to understand how the contra-farming arrangements are going and how they can invest more to improve and minimize those inefficiencies. So these are the types of ways where these type of technologies could help. So I hope if you look at the FLAPP, F-L-A-P-P, in the website, this could be useful for you. And I hope these type of solutions keep contributing. The FLAPP is evolving. We can increase the number of commodities over time, and that’s why this crowdsourcing process will be extremely useful. Thank you very much. And I really hope you have a great meeting today. And I really hope the conference will go well. Thank you so much. And a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Agustina Maria Grossi:
So we all love gifts. Now that we’re all connected, it’s gonna be easier to share. So let me share with you what our chief economists have prepared. The famous FLAPP. Let’s check it out. So that was it. We would like to thank our Chief Economist for this first deep dive into digital application in agriculture that now opened the floor for our in-present discussion. We have much more to come, so let me start with introducing our first panelists. Let me see if I can change here. Mr. Dejan Jakoblevich, that we have the pleasure to have here with us. So he’s our Chief Information Officer and the Director of Digital, FIWARE and Agroinformatics Divisions. And his work has focused on the use of technology in international development to harness the power of technology towards the achievement of SDG goals. And Dejan, as you have been working extensively in several international organizations, WHO, UNICEF, among many others, on the specific topics on driving digital transformation and organizational modernization and how to enable innovation, scale-up and delivery. I think that here we are all eager to learn more from you about FIWARE’s digital key achievements and where we’re standing today.

Dejan Jakovljevic:
Thank you so much. I will, while I quickly share my screen. Wonderful. So first of all, thanks again for being with us today. It’s a great pleasure. I know there are a lot of sessions going around. Busy week for everybody. And I was so happy to see that our Chief Economist also finished his presentation with the digital tools in action. So this is what we would like to bring to you also today to see that, yes, we have a lot of normative parts, strategic parts to work on, but it’s also equally important to demonstrate also what is the digital. in action. And if we look at our meeting today also, it’s fair to say that year after year through the WSIS process, we were presenting a lot of digital activities and I recall that just as we were updating the latest report on the progress over the last 20 plus years, we could see activities from 2003, 2004, 2005, but then in last maybe five years, a complete exponential increase on digital. And this is good. This is good because it gives us a good return towards digitalization and agri-food systems transformation. But why we do this? We all know that the situation due to various factors external or maybe internal to the WSIS calls basically distance us from SDGs in achieving zero hunger by 2030. If I were to summarize this, and I think we shared this also with our colleagues from ITU, we have an enormous sense of urgency to transform and to not only enhance production, but really to use digital as enabler and accelerator towards agri-food systems transformation. And towards this, and again, through the view of the WSIS process, FAO has also been working on digital capabilities from strategy perspective, assisting the countries, but also providing, building the capabilities and also digital public goods. So if we look at digital technologies, we certainly see them as enablers and accelerators. Why is this important? Digitalization in itself is useful, of course, but it allows us to get to the next level of enabling. the transformation. In the same time, if we look at availability, affordability, and access, they still remain a challenge. I think we are talking about this for a long, long, long time, but this still is unfortunately a challenge for us. The adoption, of course, then is hampered, and then therefore our reach, in particular the last mile, becomes a challenge. If I spoke a little bit about this, about the connectivity, access, and affordability, so why I bring it up here, it’s not the news, but I think this is a process, and in particular, ITU instruments can help us here. So I think it’s very important to keep this for us in focus. When it comes to rural communities, what we are also seeing is that amplification of digital divide. So what I mean by that is, it used to be somewhat possible to survive and operate without being part of the digital ecosystem. But nowadays, this is becoming a real issue, where we are actually leaving people behind. So if small stakeholders or rural communities are outside of the digital ecosystem, they no longer can operate in many instances. They have no access to the services, or cannot place their products, or buy, or sell, or many other activities. And for them also, the transformational opportunities are non-existent. So for us, this is one of the highest priorities. We also work on capabilities that we can provide through tools and services, and assist also major stakeholders. What it means? It means that we can provide unique tools with new insights to our stakeholders, so they can make informed decisions based on information they didn’t have before. And this is something also unique, because the targeted intervention can be used for maybe adjusting the policies, subsidies and etc, but also for investment cases. And we’ve seen excellent results with FAO investment forum and hand-in-hand platform we have in place. How do we go about it from FAO perspective? We have an umbrella initiative called Digital Villages, and this is our instrument to bring together the policies, the normative instruments, the capabilities we can provide from organizational, institutional, to actually tools that we can give to farmers in hand. How is this done? Since we are at the technology forum here in a way, FAO has agroinformatics platform and we are very proud of this platform as it combines data from various sources to give us the ability to have these unique insights. I would like to invite you, it’s a digital public good, I would like to invite you to go to our website and look up the agroinformatics platform and contact us if you have any questions around its use. We have the initiative hand-in-hand that is using the platform also translated in many languages, so you can use it there as well. A little video to show you that we mean business. Thank you. Now, one example I wanted to share with you is FAO Digital Service Portfolio, and in fact today we are very proud to receive a Champions Award on it. This is a tool that FAO provides as extension services to our farmers, and it’s really the power in hand for the farmers. So we take all the knowledge from what we have in FAO from our technical units around different topics. We take the power of the platforms, agroinformatics platforms, geospatial system, remote sensing, combining data, and translating this into a knowledge product that are easily accessible and relevant to the farmers in different languages, different contexts, as we know that the situations around farming is very different in different locations. So this is one of the examples that we would like to scale up also and take advantage of using the responsibly using the AI, but also not only in many languages, using the platform in many languages, but to make what’s next, right? So can we make these tools accessible and affordable to farmers around the world? This is going back to the beginning of one of the impediments we have with the last mile access. our week today. This week, we have AI for Good. So we also wanted to talk a little bit about the artificial intelligence in agriculture. In fact, the artificial intelligence has been used in a number of FAO solutions already for many, many years. But now with the uptake of generative AI, we are more focused on what can be done next. If I were to summarize, I think we are very excited to use the new capabilities, but it’s important to use these new capabilities responsibly. We heard also from our chief economist about the responsible use of AI and Rome Call for Ethics. I’m not sure if you are familiar with this, but this is even five years ago, FAO, together with the Italian Ministry of Science, right, and we have IBM, and Microsoft, and with the Vatican, the Pontifical Academy of Science. We have, we signed the agreement on ethical use of AI with the principles. We are very proud of that because our products then include the key principle of ethical use of AI already. And we will be championing this together with other UN organizations and other sectors. The new developments around AI, including regulation, governance, and do no harm principles in use of AI. So, what does it actually take to make a digital agri-food system transformation? Of course, we cannot do it alone, so we need partnerships and alliances. strategies for impact at scale. I’m not going to read through the whole slide, but I think that as I see the room full here and the cooperation we have with ITU, with this process and et cetera, but that’s it. That’s it. I think what we are seeing is that the digital does not recognize borders across the different sectors. So the secret ingredient is to actually work together across the sectors. What does this mean? It means horizontally, to give you some examples, to enable a farmer to get a loan or insurance, we need the FinTech or financial sector, just one example. So we need to work together across the sectors. And this is something that we do and we are proud to continue. And if we look at the WSIS Forum, WSIS Forum can also help us continue this work and maybe find new ways also how to try to bridge this cross-sectorial distance we have today in some areas. And that’s it from me. I think I exceeded my time. I apologize for that. So thank you so much again.

Agustina Maria Grossi:
To use the hammer, it’s okay. Thank you so much, Deryan, for working out through the latest development on digital information at FAO. And I think you all have seen here very, very concrete, and very vivid examples on how this is happening today and how digital is really something that is truly action-oriented to better serve our international community and including the most vulnerable ones worldwide. So let me just re-share my screen. Okay, let me turn now to our next panelist. This was the videos, no. There we are. We’re going to continue into the FAO landscape. So I’m very pleased to introduce you now to Henry van Boersteden, our Senior Innovation Officer in the Office of Innovation. in FAO, and Henry leads the FAO program priority area on digital agriculture, which is a crucial part of the FAO strategic framework 2022-2031. And Henry, so as you have always explored in your career and on new boundaries for the use of digital solutions for agri-food system transformation, I think we are all here very keen to hear more about your experience in digital innovation, about how this field can really create value and impact across the sectors now, and how digital agriculture and ethical AI can really enable agri-food system change makers. So Henry, the screen and floor are yours.

Henry van Burgsteden:
Thank you, Agustina. So I think we have all seen during the AI for Good Summit that digital agriculture and AI can really play a role to improve food availability, accessibility, and affordability, and we will continue to work together to scale up the collaboration on agri-food systems transformation. So Wiese has achieved a lot in the past 20 years. So for example, to leverage more digital tools also for agriculture and fostering agri-food systems innovation and rural development. There’s more focus on inclusion, digital inclusion, and bridging the digital divide, on building capacities in digital agriculture, and also on strengthening partnerships. And Wiese has been key in the last 20 years on empowering e-agriculture. So much has been achieved, connectivity, the emergence of digital technologies, as I said, digital inclusion, also e-government and digital services, and also a broader focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. But there are also a lot of evolving demands. So we see that there’s a big need on institutional capacity building. So our chief economist mentioned this also in his opening remarks. And the focus has shifted from not just providing digital solutions to building institutional capacity, but also to have a more systemic approach. For example, how do we go about digital extension services? There is a growing need also for a better ex-post and ex-ante feedback mechanisms. And of course, in the area of emerging technologies, a huge interest in AI and big data. But how can we use them ethically? So the Rome call for ethics was mentioned several times, and we’re very proud that we are amongst the first signatories. So some of the challenges that we are facing are at the level of infrastructure. So this is really a challenge, especially in many countries in the global south. And there’s still a huge challenge with the digital divide. So we’ve made some progress, but still this is a huge challenge. So this is why the concept of digital public infrastructure is so important. And this has been also advocated by the Global Digital Compact and also very much by the Digital Public Goods Alliance, of which FAO is a proud member since 2022. And we’ve also been very actively engaging with the UN 2.0 Quintet of Change that some of you might have heard about, which is really around data, digital innovation, foresight, behavioural science and also culture. So we have presented during this UN 2.0 event on 23 October, an innovative collaboration that we did through the Global Network on Digital Agriculture Innovation Hubs, together with Digital Green and our country office in FAO Ethiopia, on how we can. establish and work together on what we call an open content architecture. So we know that there’s a lot of information, knowledge available. But how can we make this available as a digital public good that can empower and enable global changemakers like agri entrepreneurs and startups? So it’s really about availability of localized and relevant content to bridge these digital divides. So if we look ahead, for example, we see that there’s these risks on the ethical use of AI and digital inclusion. So what are we doing at FVO apart from the things that I already mentioned on the Rome Call for AI Ethics and the Digital Public Goods Alliance? So we are making available digital public goods. At the moment, we have five digital public goods. But these are not just products. These are also building blocks, use cases, supporting tools, like, for example, in the area of digital public goods. So you can think about software, data, content, AI models and standards, all made available openly, but also information about practices. So what works and what does not work in the digital space and playbooks. So this could be, for example, e-agriculture strategies. And we make this available in a collaboration across FAO in the FAO Digital Impact Exchange. And this information has been used, for example, in this collaboration in Ethiopia to work with Digital Green and the government. And this is at the heart of our new FAO Global Innovation Model that has been established by the Office of Innovation to really work on how can we elevate, incubate, unlock, accelerate and scale. through the hub’s digital innovation to effectively tackle what we call pilotitis. We’ve seen so many initiatives that are not sustainable, and we really think that we need to work on reducing this fragmentation and providing more support to the global change makers. And we think that through the collaborations on digital public infrastructure and digital public goods, we can make that happen. So this is what we are doing through the global network of digital agriculture innovation hubs, and not just through the hubs itself, but also in our effort to work with our partners. We now launched Reboot the Earth, working together with these startups and young entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, in Morocco, and with the partners also in India and in New York. We have been organizing this Reboot the Earth, and we bring these global change makers on our journey, working together also in the Science and Innovation Forum in October in FAO, and also further in the work that we do on the COP. So I’d like to stop there, and thank you very much. Over to you.

Agustina Maria Grossi:
Sorry, I’m small, so I have to keep on going back and forth. Thank you, Henry, for these very insightful updates on what is going on on the digital innovation side in the FAO. I’m gonna turn now to our next panelist here, Mr. Sebastian Bosser, who is heading the Interactive and Cognitive System Group in the Vision and Imagine Technology Department at the Fraunhofer Heinrich Herz Institute in Berlin. And since 2021, Sebastian has been appointed as a chair for the ITU Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Agriculture. That’s how it’s also called sharing. And so we are very pleased to have Sebastian with us today to continue strengthening this collaboration between our two organizations and that we’re gonna showcase here. So, well, Sebastian, we know that agriculture operates in a very heterogeneous ecosystem. And as you have a very vast experience in computational perception and cognition, machine learning, computer vision, human-machine interaction, what you see it’s extremely, extremely comprehensive. How do you think that we can best address these new challenges that emerge from that through technical systems? And we’d like to hear a bit more about your opinion on the role of standards for human-centric AI in agriculture.

Sebastian Bosse:
Thank you. Thank you for having me. And thank you also for being here. Allow me to share some slides with you. So when I start, does it work? When I started with agriculture, so my background is in artificial intelligence and cognitive science and machine learning. When I started to work in agriculture as well, so one thing that I saw was that this is quite a different field from all the other sectors I was working in before. And I was wondering, why is this actually? So if we take a look at, for example, the retail sector, and we take a look at the history and how digital tools were used there, then we see, as you can see in the upper part of the slide here, that within one or two generations, we went pretty quickly from paper and pencil technology to self-serving cashier desks. And this is quite different in agriculture, as you can see in the lower part of the image. So at least in Germany, this is still pen and paper mostly. And when digital tools come in, and this is not a joke, then typically it’s like the photo sending these papers with WhatsApp to other people. And so why is this actually? And if you take a look at the ecosystem, at the ecosystem in terms of business scales, in terms of agroecological context, then you can see that there are about almost 600 million farms in the world. And most of them are smallholder farms with less than two hectares. But these are super, super important because they provide 30% of the global food supply. And if you compare this, for example, to airlines or to banks or to supermarkets, you can see that that’s quite another dimension here. So if you were to introduce digital technologies in these other sectors, then you don’t need to talk to every pilot, you don’t need to talk to every cashier person or to every bank consultant. You talk to basically one person, which is the CIO or CTO in these companies. And then these technologies get adopted vertically. And this is totally different in agriculture. So in agriculture, this results basically in the business scale to almost 600 million business decisions. Do we want to apply digital tools here? And then from the technological perspective, this amounts to about 600 million system configurations. And these system configurations, naturally, they are basically designed towards the specifics within this ecosystem. So there are changes in the environmental context, changing over time as well at different time scales. There are ecological contexts, there are socio-economical contexts, and even socio-cultural contexts. So this is what I would call a heterogeneous ecosystem. And this is difficult to navigate if you want to bring scalable solutions in there. And one approach that I would like to present to you is what we started in Germany, in a project called Nalamki. So here we developed a system. Here you can see the high-level architecture of this, where we basically bridge from the machine and sensor level towards a cloud-based solution that’s sitting on top of all of it. And within the architecture, we can enhance this. inherently address the data sovereignty, because the farmers, they can decide if they want to share the data. If they do, it’s good for the ecosystem. There need to be some incentives. But they don’t need to do so. And this needs, obviously, some interoperability within the system, because we want basically every sensor, every tool, every AI model to be part of the system. And in this modular approach, you have a graceful complexity reduction. And this is interesting, because it avoids data silos implicitly. And it also reduces the network requirements, for example, because a lot of data is directly processed on devices or on the edge. And it’s more likely to be affordable as well, because we can really use small devices. We don’t need an HPC center data center on the farms. So that’s not really necessary in such an approach. And this scalability offers a lot of opportunities, I think, when it comes to applying digital tools in different points in this, let’s say, space of configurations in this heterogeneous ecosystem. And it also mitigates the lack of digital competence, because it’s like a plug-and-play system. Obviously, if you want to do such a thing, what you need is interoperability. And to have a system interoperable, you need some sort of standards, because different devices, they need to talk. And you need to do this also in a, let’s say, human-readable way. So you need to take the stakeholders into account. And one way forward here is the focus group on AI and Internet of Things for Digital Agriculture, which is a joint effort of FAO and ITU. And here, we are identifying use cases for the use of digital tools, namely AI and IoT, IoT, Internet of Things. So this is the sensor level that we’re talking about here. We’re identifying. and structuring, systematizing the key concepts. We do a gap analysis. So where is a standard actually missing to bring this into action? And we are evaluating different architectures. And then a major part of our work there is community building as well. And one thing that directly flows out of this focus group is guidelines. So we are providing guidelines where people can actually see, aha, so this might be a good way for me to go to actually set a digital system in my place in this ecosystem. By the way, the next meeting will be in Utrecht in June 18. So next month. And everyone of you is very, very warmly welcome. There will be the hybrid connection as well. And before the actual focus group meeting, we will have a workshop on digital agriculture also in Utrecht the day before. So let me bring this to a close. So I guess that I hope I made my perspective clear here that I think that from a technical point of view, agriculture operates in an inherently heterogeneous ecosystem. And this heterogeneity can be addressed with interoperable and modular technical systems. And this interoperability requires standards. And I strongly believe that this standardization opens avenues for very close collaboration between FAO and ITU. Thank you.

Agustina Maria Grossi:
Thank you so much, Sebastian, for sharing your views on the, well, you have seen the importance of interoperability and standardization that really open new paths for digital agriculture and AI. So there’s definitely much more to come on that. Sebastian, I know that you’re a bit in a rush, so you need to leave at some point. We’re already super happy to have you here with us. And so we’re a little bit over time, but let me turn now to see if I can reshare my screen. Okay, so let me turn now to our last but not least panelist before we close, who is connected from Rome. This is Sophie Treinen, Communication for Development Officer in the Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division, and it’s a pleasure to have Sophie with us today because she has been part of WSIS since the very beginning, and she has led for several years of our E-Agriculture Community of Practice, which also won the WSIS Prize back in 2012. So Sophie, thanks, I think that we can connect her. Thanks for being here with us today, and Sophie is going to present on the E-Agriculture Milestones and all the lessons learned from the future.

Sophie Treinen:
Thank you very much, Agostina, for giving me the floor, and also to give another perspective also to what I would call the rural, the triple divide, rural, digital and gender divide. You will see with my next slide that, of course, the digital revolution has considerably changed the way we are working, and 20 years ago, we would not have had all these technologies. But there are some technologies that existed and which are still very important. And I would like to flag the broadcasting one, the one on radio, television. and now it’s more video, but these are very important because when we are looking at a participatory way to work with the information and communication technologies, you have communication and you need to communicate. And one of the preferred way of communicating for people in what we have done in our different assessment when we are working at grassroots level, this is video and radio. So it’s good that we have the more fast growing technologies but we should not forget also the technologies that existed already before the big revolution. Also, another thing I would like to point on this slide is the fact that of course digital communication has improved and all these platforms and apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp are really changing the way we can interact with each other. And of course, my colleagues and previous speakers have mentioned most of the other technologies but so these were a few things that I wanted to mention to you. And of course, this information and communication technologies have different role to play in agriculture and you can see this overview here and most of them have been mentioned in the previous points. I would like to flag a few things because we mentioned that it’s important to have governance, to have strategies but it’s also important to have… to practices, to have capabilities, the capacities being reinforced. And this is also why we had a community of practice, which is called e-agriculture. And that still exists because this is the platform where we can exchange, we can gain knowledge from others, we can talk about good practices or we could talk about why we are failing and we can improve things. And. In the different milestones that we have had with e-agriculture, we are from sharing information, from learning, from capacity, we have been testing things and we had many examples. We also have e-learning and e-learning in agriculture, fishery, forestry and a fantastic e-learning academy. With COVID, everything became digital. And this is why it’s important that we are now able, as it was mentioned, to have more trustworthy Internet, to have ethics, especially with artificial intelligence. But it’s important to have frameworks, enabling environments and strategies, and that’s why we worked into that. And the latest milestone I would like to mention is the digital villages, where we would have a specific role for rural communication services, where we would be able to link all the people working at grassroots levels, the different stakeholders, which are, of course, the farmers, but also the academics. We have the research. We have also the private sector, the different rural institutions. So it’s important to enable them to. work and talk together. And my final slide is a little bit of the lessons learned from these 20 years. You have heard already the accessibility, the portability and appropriateness of these technologies. And these are linked with the question we have to ask ourselves when we are entering into these projects. Are the technologies accessible? Is there connectivity? Because otherwise we would leave people behind. Are they affordable? Can they pay for that? And these costs sometimes are for the poorest of the poor, they are not affordable. So we still have to find solutions for that. Are they appropriate? Do they reply to the needs? And are they taking into account the context? Have we understood properly the ecosystem? And do we have the content that matches the context? That’s why it’s very important that they are adaptable. And I really like what Henry said, we should go away from the pilot studies because we have to think about scalability immediately. And this is one of the principles of the digital development. And actionable. Some of solutions have been thought by people who are not going to be the user. That’s why it’s important to actually develop with the user, which is also another digital principle. And the actionable ability is that are people confident? Do they trust what they have? And this is particularly interesting, we have mentioned the youth, we mentioned women, but we shouldn’t forget that actually the farming community is aging, and it’s important to also take into consideration the elders. That’s why people-centered participation and inclusiveness, as it was mentioned, the partnerships are quite crucial, and we need to work on the process. And this is where we come with participatory methodologies that we can propose. So we can take into account all this, bridging sustainably at the social level, inclusive, indigenous people, the youth, the women, aging population, at the economic system, that it is affordable, it makes sense, cost-effectiveness, and environmentally. Think about the device, it should be simple, the e-waste, we should reduce and should reuse what we have. So if we take all this into consideration, we will be able to answer to all these questions and able to overcome these barriers. And these are important looking at the rural, digital, and gender divide. Thank you.

Agustina Maria Grossi:
Okay, thank you so much, Sophie, for all your insights on how to best bridge rural and digital divide. I know that we’re a little bit over time, but I think that we had a very fruitful session. And I want to close it now by thanking all the panelists here. We see that the digital landscape is a non-stopping one, and we’re still adapting. So to conclude, let’s hope that this discussion today and during this very rich week that we were having will give us a solid platform for the future, and that we can continue reflecting on how to best move forward. to see and act with the best practices, the lesson learned of all these last 20 years, and so that we can all here present best aligned in the UN Global Digital Ecosystem under our common umbrella, leaving no one behind. Thank you so much.


Sophie Treinen

Speech speed

126 words per minute

Speech length

1021 words

Speech time

488 secs


Agustina Maria Grossi

Speech speed

162 words per minute

Speech length

1591 words

Speech time

591 secs


Dejan Jakovljevic

Speech speed

142 words per minute

Speech length

1579 words

Speech time

667 secs


Henry van Burgsteden

Speech speed

160 words per minute

Speech length

996 words

Speech time

373 secs


Máximo Torero

Speech speed

186 words per minute

Speech length

1686 words

Speech time

543 secs


Sebastian Bosse

Speech speed

165 words per minute

Speech length

1173 words

Speech time

427 secs