This blog about the new policy guide 'The State of Digital Agriculture in the Commonwealth' is written by Benjamin Kwasi Addom, Adviser on Agriculture & Fisheries Trade Policy, The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda.
Protecting food security is headline news. The current discussion focuses on the following challenges: the increasing impacts of climate change on food production; the COVID-19 pandemic recovery disrupting investment in the sector; unemployment and migration of youth impacting food production; and man-made conflicts and crises affecting the production and distribution of food.
Considering these challenges, the big question is what tools can governments deploy to increase their food security?
The timely release of a policy guide, The State of Digital Agriculture in the Commonwealth responds to this question by showing how digitalisation of the agriculture sector is underway across the Commonwealth.
It argues that whether digitalisation fulfils its promise, or it becomes just another technological hype for development, depends on our approach to its deployment, especially for the most vulnerable communities and regions that could benefit more from its potential.
The policy guide is produced at a time when the agricultural sector is a priority in the policy agendas of many governments globally and is vital to the economies of most Commonwealth member states.
It recognises that to maximise the impact of the agriculture sector transformation agenda, new and frontier innovations must be at the forefront. Digitalisation is one of the key frontier innovations. But it’s not about the innovation, it is about the process, to see the impact on the people.
Framing digitalisation for agriculture
The report takes a policy approach to digitalisation against the conventional focus on profiling digital technologies and services for agriculture. A critical contribution of the report is the framing of digital agriculture beyond digital technologies and services.
The results in each region were based on an assessment using the “digital agriculture framework” developed by the Secretariat in collaboration with other partners, which consists of three pillars and a base - pillar 1 (digital innovations), pillar 2 (data infrastructure), pillar 3 (business development), and the base (enabling environment) (see figure).
The framework lays a foundation for understanding the state of digital agriculture in the Commonwealth, provides a basis for future country-level assessments and supports the national digital agricultural strategies development process.
A high-level digital agriculture landscape across the Commonwealth through the lens of the framework:
- Significant progress has been made with digital innovations with some cutting-edge technologies and services.
- While agricultural data generation continues, there is an absence of the necessary infrastructure to guide the full exploitation of the data.
- Digital agricultural innovations have advanced across the region but affordability for services remains a challenge to the most vulnerable.
- Private service provider-led models, donor-led models, social business models, and farmer-producer-led models are operating.
Commonwealth Caribbean and Americas
- The small size and remoteness of many Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is a challenge for viable business models for digital services and technologies.
- State-financed digital agricultural solutions dominate while private-sector business models drive the sector in Canada.
- In general, there is a lack of digital agriculture solutions for smallholder farmers in the Pacific SIDS, while New Zealand deploys digital innovations to support the sector.
- Digital innovations rely on donor-led, short-term initiatives that are not sustainable while New Zealand has private sector-led models.
- Mobile applications are common and there is an equally high penetration of smart farming technologies.
- Most countries have government-led agricultural data systems that are not distributed to the private sector through open APIs.
The way forward
A challenging issue of our time – food insecurity - will only become more difficult with the increasing climate variabilities, as the world will need to produce about 70 per cent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9 billion people.
Smallholder agriculture transformation is central to attacking the issue. While there may be a light at the end of the tunnel with digitalisation, efforts must be made by all stakeholders for the process of deployment of digital innovations within the sector.
Our new policy guide and the underlying framework are a starting point to enable Commonwealth member countries and regions to fully exploit new digital innovations. The Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment is designed to support member states in creating that policy enabling environment for the digitalisation of the sector so that it attracts the investment needed to support the goal of increased food security.
Read The State of Digital Agriculture in the Commonwealth policy guide
- Rena Gashumba Communications Adviser, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
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