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Why digital agri-technologies are key

Lizzy Nyakundi, a digital farmer, takes pictures of Black Night Shade vegetable (Sagaa) at her Nyansira farm in Kisii County on 27/2/2021. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Connection to the internet in rural areas, remains the biggest bottleneck, hindering rural farmers from finding markets for their produce.

“Connectivity has improved dramatically, but a digital divide remains between countries, rural and urban areas,” said Dr Qu Dongyu, Food and Agriculture Organisation Director-General speaking during a recent G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ meeting.

Dr Dongyu called for the promotion of digital technologies in transforming agri-food systems. In Kenya, developers of digital technologies have in the last couple of years come up with applications that are changing the way agribusinesses are done.

These apps are being used by farmers across the country to access pest and disease control, artificial inseminations (AI), and dairy management services.

Among the apps are iCow, M-shamba, E-Soko and M-Farm. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), just 4 billion people, about 51 per cent of the global population were using the internet.

The Broadband Commission estimates that a $428 billion-investment is needed to ensure everyone is connected by 2030.

“Collectively, we cannot bear the immense cost of this digital divide. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that now, more than ever, connectivity is a pre-condition for social inclusion,” said Dr Dongyu.

In the last few years, FAO has launched the 1,000 Digital Villages Initiative focusing on converting 1,000 villages across the world into digital hubs aiming in supporting the transformation of agri-food systems.

The initiative incorporates three main elements. They include ‘e-Agriculture’ to improve agricultural productivity through ICT and digital solutions such as climate-smart, precision, and intelligent facility agriculture.

The ‘Digital Farmer Services’ aims at enhancing farmers’ access to services, including financial services, social protection and employment, and digital services.

It also has a ‘Rural transformation’ aspect to enhance the delivery of public services in health, education, jobs, welfare, eco-, and agri-tourism.

Last year, the global body launched a digital Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform with interactive data maps to analyse trends and identify real-time gaps and opportunities in food and agriculture sectors, thus guiding and ensuring impactful investments.

The platform is expected to bring together a wide range of partners to use digital technologies in food and agriculture.

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