The Digital Agriculture Forum 2020, an inspiration to create business with real impact for people with real needs

Aiming to foster an enabling ecosystem to accelerate the digital transformation of agri-food systems through leveraging on innovative business models and digital solutions and enhancing knowledge exchanges in digital agriculture policies and practices, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Zhejiang University co-organized the Digital Agriculture Forum on 5-6 December 2020.  

Over 30 international leaders and distinguished speakers delivered speeches and presentations, including Ms Beth Bechdol, FAO Deputy Director-General; Ms Ismahane Elouafi, FAO Chief Scientist; Mr Dejan Jakovljevic, FAO IT Services Director; Mr Ye Anping, FAO South-South and Triangular Cooperation Division Director; Mr Zhao Chunjiang, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering; Mr Wang Xiaobing, Director-General of Information Center of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China; and Ms He Lianzhen, Vice President of Zhejiang University. More than 300 people out of 900 registered from over 80 countries participated in this  2-days webinar on digital agriculture for knowledge sharing and mutual learning.   

The Forum was composed of three main events: the Global AgriInno Pitch Event, the Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum, and the Digital Agriculture Dialogue. It represented a key opportunity for digital agri-food takeholders, such as government institutions, the private sector and civil societies as well as youth and women worldwide to discuss the possibilities to collectively foster an enabling ecosystem through leveraging digital solutions and business models that will unlock the potential for the agri-food innovation sector. It also explored how to accelerate its transformation in an efficient and timely manner to respond to all the new opportunities and challenges that the agri-food sector must face today and build back better to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs).  

See the full resume of the event here: News 

Global AgriInno Pitch Event

On 5 December, the Global AgriInno Pitch Night was the first event that kick started the Digital Agriculture Forum. It was the last stage of  the Global AgriInno Challenge 2020 that was launched in September to identify, accelerate and scale-up youth-led innovative business models and digital solutions. After 48 hours Hacking for Good with mentors, coach and angel investors to further develop their e-commerce solutions to address the challenge of the distribution and sales of agricultural products, 12 teams (from Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Jamaica, Liberia, Nigeria, Spain, the United States and Uganda) selected from 172 applications from 35 countries all over the world, pitched their solutions to a jury composed of 6 international scientists and experts of the digital and innovative agri-food sector. The Jury was chaired by Ms Beth Bechdol from FAO and included also among its members Mr Selvaraju Ramasamy and Mr Peter Wobst from FAO, Ms Zhou Jiehong from Zhejiang University, Mr Wu Shan from Pinduoduo and Mr Ken Lohento from the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation.   

After a fierce competition, Aquafarms, a new hybrid entrepreneurship project of soil-less culture and aquaculture, jointly composed by Liberian and American agripreneurs won the first prize; the "Digital Beekeeping Project" of the Tianfu Fenggu Team and "Mi Terro´, a food protein extraction project from China. won the second prize. The ´Vertical Green´ strawberry producing project, the ´Sumatja Mikiuaa´ fruit and vegetable supply project, and the ´Nampya Farmers Market´ food e-commerce project of three entrepreneurial teams respectively from Spain, Bolivia and Uganda were awarded the third prize.

´FAO´s vision is to build a world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improve the livelihoods of everyone, especially the poorest in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner´, affirmed Ms Beth Bechdol, FAO Deputy Director-General, in her closing speech at the Global AgriInno Pitch Event. ´The organization of the Forum is timely to offer a common space for creating and sharing successful knowledge and practice in digital agriculture´emphasized Ms Bechdol. Addressing the youth led innovation teams, Ms Bechdol concluded: “I hope each of you feels encouraged and inspired to continue solving outstanding problems that you are helping to be considered as part of the world’s biggest challenges. I am incredibly impressed by your smartness, passion and courage to start a business that will  bring real impact to real people who have real needs today.”

Building on the importance of youth as an important role in digital transformation in the agri-food sector, three other distinguished keynote speakers presented their views at the Global AgriInno Pitch Event. Mr Ye Anping, Director of the FAO South-South and Triangular Cooperation Division, declared that ‘youth and women play a fundamental role in the digital transformation of the agri-food sector’ . He also emphasized how South-South and Triangular Cooperation is important to foster an enabling ecosystem to harness digital technologies and innovation to end hunger and poverty and contribute to the development of digital economy, especially in the developing countries. Ms Sabine Desczka from Wageningen University and Research and Mr Stewart Collis from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared their experiences on how to apply agriculture impact investment and build on digital agriculture systems to serve farmers.   

Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum 

On 6 December, at the Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum, Ms He Lianzhen, Vice President of Zhejiang University, stated that the main of the Digital Agriculture Forum was to better improve the digital agriculture collaboration and communication among different organizations, regions and countries. ‘We hope to find innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions, facilitate policymaking and international partnerships, and improve the digital transformation of the agri-food sector.’  said Ms He.

Ms Ismahane Elouafi, FAO recently appointed Chief Scientist, in her opening speech, highlighted some of FAO’s digital initiatives, including: the Hand-in-Hand is FAO’s evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to eradicate poverty (SDG 1) and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2), and the Geospatial Platform serves as a digital public good to create interactive data maps and help data-driven and evidence-based decision-making in food and agriculture.  Digital Village Initiative is to support 1000 villages worldwide to transform into digital villages through digitalization and innovation.  The activitation of International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture to provide policy advice and international cooperation for the digital transformation of food and agriculture. ‘I welcome everyone to join FAO’s efforts in Leaving No One Behind through sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.’ concluded Ms Elouafi.   

Other speakers at the Forum included Mr Liu Jian from the National Agricultural Science and Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance of China; Mr Wang Xiaobing from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China; Ms Xiang Huangmei from Alibaba Group; Ms Renata Clarke from FAO Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean; Mr Wang Xiangdong from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Mr He Guangwen from the China Agricultural University.

Digital Agriculture Dialogue 

 ´Digital technology has now been integrated into every stage of our lives with advanced concepts and modes that have great potential to change the world´ said Mr Dejan Jakovljevic, FAO IT Services Director while opening the session for the Digital Agriculture Dialogue in the afternoon of the 6 December. ´It is essential to consider it for the next steps towards the definition of a whole new agricultural production, from understanding genetics to transport logistics, as it can greatly improve decision making for farmers, agribusiness, policymakers and researchers´, added Mr Jakovljevic.  Completing this view,  Mr Zhao Chunjiang, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering also shared during this session his profound insights on digitalization impact through his keynote speech on Digital Agriculture in China.   

During the forum, FAO and Zhejiang University also jointly presented the key findings of the first "Digital Agriculture Report". The report systematically compares the current development status of China's rural e-commerce, analysing the characteristics and operation of two typical models, namely the traditional e-commerce platform model and the social media platform, explaining the contribution of rural e-commerce to poverty alleviation and rural revitalization, and the main reasons for the successful development of China's rural e-commerce through examples of the development of e-commerce at county-level.  


Joint presentation on key findings of Digital Agriculture Report.  

During the Digital Agriculture Dialogue, two specific panels were organized on the digital transformation of the agri-food sector including the topics of policymaking and innovation; and international partnerships and cooperation. Many international speakers participated, including: Ms Nie Fengying from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Ms Olukemi AFUN-OGIDAN from the African Development Bank Group, Mr Armen Harutyunyan from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),  Mr Hani Eskandar from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Mr Sjaak Wolfert from the Wageningen University and Research, Ms Eliane Ubalijoro from the Global Open Data Initiative for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), Mr Chen Yuyang from Top Cloud-Agri Technology Co.,Ltd of China and Mr Parmesh Shah from the World Bank Group to share their knowhow in the sectors of  digitalization, innovation and policymaking for agri-food systems through global partnerships and cooperation.  Furthermore, the youth representatives from the Aquafarms Team from Liberia and America, and the Tianfu Fenggu Team from China, winners of Global AgriInno Challenge 2020, had the opportunity to present their projects there and voice out their youth-led innovation solutions.   

The Digital Agriculture Forum was a milestone highlighting the profound need for a collective strategy, enhanced international cooperation and more multi stakeholder engagement and dialogues to help us all continue discussing digital transformation efficiently today and take it forward.   

 All the recordings of the forum can be found via the following link: Here

You can also access the full summary of the event  here:  News 

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