The Digital Agriculture Forum, a common space for innovative digital solutions and business models for all

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

More than 30 international leaders and distinguished speakers delivered speech 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, etc. More than 300 passionate people out of 900 registered from over 80 countries participated a 2-day webinar of digital agriculture for knowledge sharing and mutual learning.

The Forum is composed of three main events, Global AgriInno Pitch Event, Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum, and Digital Agriculture Dialogue. It represented a key opportunity for the digital agri-food multiple stakeholders, such as government institutions, the private sector and civil societies as well as youth and women worldwide to discuss how we can collectively foster an enabling ecosystem through leveraging digital solutions and business models that will unlock the potential for the agri-food innovation sector and how we can 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).

On 5 Dec., the Global AgriInno Pitch Event first kicked off, as the last competition 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 (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, led by Jury Chair Ms Beth Bechdol from FAO with members of 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 CTA.

After a fierce competition, Aquafarms, a new hybrid entrepreneurship project of soilless 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 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.

Ms Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director-General, FAO, announced the results of the first Global AgriInno Challenge and made a closing speech at Global AgriInno Pitch Event.

´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, at 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. “I hope each of you (youth-led innovation teams) feels encouraged and inspired to continue outstanding problem solving that you are bringing to some of the world’s biggest challenges. I am incredibly impressed by your smartness, passion and courage to take on starting a business to bring real impact to real people who are so in need today.” emphasized Ms Bechdol.

A group photo with some jurors, keynote speakers and winners at Global AgriInno Pitch Event.

Building on the importance of youth as an important role in digital transformation in the agri-food sector, three distinguished keynote speakers delivered the speech at the Global AgriInno Pitch Event. Mr Ye Anping, Director, South-South and Triangular Cooperation Division, FAO, declared ‘youth and women play a fundamental role in digital transformation of agri-food sector’ and 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, Senior Research Coordinator, Wageningen Economic Research, Wageningen University and Research, introduced that agro-impact investment is to leverage investment as a critical tool towards the transition of the current agro-food system. Mr Stewart Collis, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared how digital agriculture systems to serve farmers with digital services at farm level, ecosystem level and macro level.

Mr. Ye Anping, Director, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, FAO, looked forward to working with the youth and women to harness digital solutions and business model to end poverty and hunger in developing countries.

Ms. Sabine Desczka, Senior Research Coordinator, Wageningen University and Research shared how to conduct agricultural impact investment analysis and decision-making.

Mr Stewart Collis, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation presented digital farmer services.

On 6 Dec at the Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum, Ms He Lianzhen, Vice President of Zhejiang University, stated that to better improve the digital agriculture collaboration and communication among different organizations, regions and countries, FAO and Zhejiang University co-organized the Digital Agriculture Forum. ‘We hope this event could provide a mutually beneficial environment to stimulate the knowledge and practice exchange on digital innovation, rural revitalization and digital agriculture, find innovative, inclusive and sustainable solutions, facilitate policymaking and international partnership, and improve the digital transformation of agri-food sector.’ emphasized Ms He.

Ms. He Lianzhen, Vice President, Zhejiang University, delivered a welcome speech at Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum.

Ms Ismahane Elouafi, FAO recently appointed Chief Scientist, delivered an opening speech by highlighting 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 (SDG1) 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 in FAO’s efforts of Leaving No One Behind through sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.’ pointed out Ms Elouafi.

Ms Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist, FAO, delivered an opening speech at the Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum.

Mr Wang Xiaobing, Director-General, Information Center, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, China, shared ‘based on Chinese practice in accelerating of rural revitalization with digital villages, how to accurately position digital agricultural and rural development from both the top design level and implementation level’.

Mr Wang Xiaobing, Director-General, Information Center, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, China, delivered an opening speech at the Digital Agriculture and Rural Development Forum

In the keynote speech session, Mr Ke Bingsheng, the Former President of China Agricultural University shared ‘The speeding up agricultural modernization: challenges and motivations’; Ms Xiang Huangmei, Vice President, Alibaba Group, talked about ‘Digital technology helps agriculture, rural development and farmers’ life: experience from China’.

Mr Liu Jian, Chair, National Agricultural Science and Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance, China, shared his thoughts on digital agriculture and rural informatization.

Mr Ke Bingsheng, Former President, China Agricultural University, shared the challenge and motivations of accelerating agricultural modernization.

Ms Xiang Huangmei, Vice President, Alibaba Group, shared the story of Taobao village

In the session of Theme Speech, Ms Renata Clarke, Coordinator, Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, FAO, shared ‘the digitalization of agriculture in the Caribbean: what difference will it make?’. Mr Wang Xiangdong, Former Director of Information Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, emphasized the ‘promoting agriculture digitalization by E-Business upgrade. Mr He Guangwen, Chair of the Center for Research of Rural Finance and Investment, China Agricultural University discussed ‘the dilemma and breakthrough of financial services for rural revitalization’.

Ms Renata Clarke, Coordinator, Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, FAO, shared her experience in promoting digital agriculture in particularly poor areas.

Mr Wang Xiangdong, Former Director, Information Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China, shared the idea of promoting the digitization of agriculture through e-commerce.

Mr He Guangwen, Chair, Center for Research of Rural Finance and Investment, China Agricultural University, shared the difficulties and breakthroughs of rural financial services.

´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 on 6 Dec. ´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 by Mr Jakovljevic.

Mr Dejan Jakovljevic, Director of the IT Services, FAO, made an opening speech at Digital Agriculture Dialogue

Mr Zhao Chunjiang, Academician, Chinese Academy of Engineering, shared his profound insights by delivering the keynote speech about Digital Agriculture in China. Mr Zhao started that agriculture has entered the digital age and emphasized that China needs more digital agricultural solutions. Based on two dimensions of farmland and technology, he further explained the application of the Internet of Things in agriculture and the limitations of small farmers' adoption of digital technology and looked forward to the prospects of digital agriculture solutions in China.

Mr Zhao Chunjiang, Academician, Chinese Academy of Engineering, delivered a keynote speech.

During the forum, FAO and Zhejiang University jointly presented the key findings of the first "Digital Agriculture Report". The report systematically compared 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.

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Ms Zeng Meng, Information Technology Officer, IT Services Division, FAO, and Mr Wei Longbao, Director of Institute of Food and Agribusiness Management, Zhejiang University, China, jointly presented on Digital Agriculture Report.

The panel presentation part of the Digital Agriculture Dialogue session contains two major topics. The first is "Digital Transformation of Food and Agriculture based on International Partnerships and Collaboration"; the second is "Digital Transformation of Food and Agriculture based on Policy Development and Innovation".

Under the first panel, Ms. Nie Fengying, Deputy-Director of the Agricultural Information Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, shared her rich experience in digital agriculture cooperation with international organizations. Ms. Olukemi AFUN-OGIDAN, Principal Agribusiness Officer, African Development Bank Group, highlighted data-driven and technology-driven agriculture through international cooperation and partnership in Africa. Mr. Armen Harutyunyan, Senior Advisor, Global Center of Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, UNDP, talked about the digitization of the food value chain. Mr. Hani Eskandar, Senior Coordinator, Digital Services, ITU, discussed the Digital Agriculture Collaborative Agenda from the perspective of the International Telecommunication Union and how data can be interconnected as a public good for digital agriculture under the framework of data sharing and data governance and unveiled the blueprint of smart village.

Ms Nie Fengying, Deputy-Director, Agricultural Information Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China, shared the international partnership and cooperation for digital agriculture.

Ms Olukemi Afun-Ogidan, Principal Agribusiness Officer, African Development Bank Group, delivered a wonderful talk on international cooperation and partnership in data-driven and technology-driven agriculture in Africa.

Mr Armen Harutyunyan, Senior Advisor, Global Center of Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, UNDP, discussed the valuable of the digitalization of the food value chain.

Mr Hani Eskandar, Senior Coordinator, Digital Services, ITU, pointed out the agenda for digital agriculture cooperation.

In the Panel 2 session of the Digital Agriculture Dialogue, Mr Sjaak Wolfert, Strategic Senior Scientist, Digital Innovation in Agri-Food, Wageningen University and Research, discussed SmartAgriHubs: connecting the dots by using the example of SmartAgriHubs for Africa. Ms Eliane Ubalijoro, Deputy Executive Director, Global Open Data Initiative for Agriculture and Nutrition, presented how to build sustainable food systems through the digitization by showing cases from Africa and Asia to demonstrate how open data can help reduce hunger and improve nutrition and food security. Mr Chen Yuyang, Chairman of Top Cloud-Agri Technology Co.,Ltd, China, shared the blueprint of digital application to build an innovative ecosystem of grain production in the context of the strategic positioning and development vision. Mr Parmesh Shah, Global Lead, Data-Driven Digital Agriculture, the World Bank Group, introduced the digital agriculture projects which have been promoted through data and digital innovation ecosystem, and positively commented on China's digital agriculture and rural informatization as a senior expert in digital agriculture.

Mr Sjaak Wolfert, Strategic Senior Scientist, Digital Innovation in Agri-Food, Wageningen University and Research, shared the SmartAgriHubs: connecting dots.

Ms Eliane Ubalijoro, Deputy Executive Director of the Global Open Data Initiative for Agriculture and Nutrition, showed her views on further digitization of sustainable food systems.

Mr Chen Yuyang, Chairman of Top Cloud-Agri Technology Co.,Ltd, China, talked about the innovative ecosystem for grain production with digital application.

Mr Parmesh Shah, Global Lead, Data Driven Digital Agriculture, the World Bank Group, introduced the World Bank's projects and his experiences in transforming agricultural systems through data and digital innovation ecosystems.

Furthermore, the youth representatives from the AquaFarms Team of Liberia and America, and the Tianfu Fenggu Team of China, the winners of Global AgriInno Challenge 2020, presented their e-commerce solutions and voiced out youth-led innovation at the Digital Agriculture Dialogue.

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

All speakers’ presentations, speech and recorded forum can be found via following link:Homepage

For additional information, please contact global_agriinno_challenge@zju.edu.cn, copying lu.jiang@fao.org.


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