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Innovation in science, technology key to agrifood systems transformation: FAO DG

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Published: 18:42, 17 September 2023  
Innovation in science, technology key to agrifood systems transformation: FAO DG

Photo: Collected

Innovations in science and technology will play a crucial role in transforming our agrifood systems so that they can become more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable.

This was the message of QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to the G77+China Summit in Havana given on Saturday.

The Director-General’s speech to the Summit was delivered on his behalf by Mario Lubetkin, Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Our agrifood systems are under tremendous pressure to produce more to meet growing demands for food, while minimizing impacts on the environment,” according to Qu. In this context, FAO is making "considerable investments in science, technology and innovation to ensure the effective transformations of global agrifood systems.”

The meeting in Havana took place in the wake of a new report published by FAO, Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2023, which shows that the world is falling behind in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition by 2030.

With up to 783 million people facing hunger and more than 3.1 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet in 2022, the report suggests that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will not be achieved at the present rate.

This is where FAO's Science and Innovation Strategy can play a key role. The Strategy, a key tool to support the delivery of FAO's Strategic Framework 2022-31, focusses on three main pillars: i) Strengthening science and evidence-based decision-making; ii) Supporting innovation and technology at regional and country level; and iii) Serving Members better by reinforcing FAO’s capacities.

In addition, two key enablers are mainstreamed across the three pillars: transformative partnerships, and innovative funding and financing.

"Science and innovation are game changers, but knowledge alone does not drive change - transformative governance and strengthening the science-policy-society interface are critical for success," according to Qu.

The adoption of technologies and innovations at scale therefore requires three key elements: coherent and integrated agricultural innovation systems; investments in agricultural research; and participatory approaches for knowledge sharing and transfer.

Science, technology and innovation in action

Science, technology and innovation in agrifood systems cuts across all dimensions of the production cycle along the entire value chain. And it includes a range of technologies and innovations and sustainable agricultural approaches, including biotechnologies, digital technologies and renewable energy technologies, among others.

For instance, advances in biotechnologies can be used for the genetic improvement of plants and animals to increase yield, improved soil health, and for rapid diagnosis of diseases and development of vaccines.

Remote sensing and satellite information, as well as drones, offer enormous opportunities to collect real-time data for monitoring weather, crops, pests and diseases and soil conditions.

Technologies such as automated irrigation systems, agricultural robots and digital technologies for financial inclusion, meanwhile, further contribute to mitigating and overcoming development challenges.

FAO's efforts in this area are multiple.

For example, FAO’s 1000 Digital Village Initiative is aimed at converting villages into digital hubs to support the acceleration of rural transformation.

Another project, the FAO Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, provides advanced information on nearly a dozen domains, including food security, crops, soil, water, climate, fisheries, livestock and forests.

Finally, digital tools developed by FAO are being adopted to improve early warning, risk forecasting, early detection, biosecurity and mitigation measures for health threats within the framework of the One Health approach.

The promising future of digital technologies will multiply with increasing breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, among others, resulting in lower costs and increased capacity in data applications.

"But to ensure the inclusiveness of digitalization, we must create suitable environments for agrifood value chain actors and related service providers," according to Qu.

Low-and-middle-income countries, in particular, face a gap between existing technologies and innovations and their accessibility and uptake at local level.

Therefore, the transformation must be implemented in a way that avoids the risk of widening the ‘technology divide’ between economies and sectors, and between those with different levels of capacity to adopt innovations.

The role of science, technology and innovation in supporting the transformation of agrifood systems will be showcased when FAO holds its Science and Innovation Forum 2023, from 16 to 20 October at FAO headquarters in Rome, under the umbrella of the World Food Forum.