Rapid advances in agricultural innovation that address climate change and support family farmers are crucial if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Director-General told the opening session of the first International Symposium on Agricultural Innovation for Family Farmers.
"We are seeking to develop solutions that can be easily, cheaply, and sustainably replicated across countries and regions," José Graziano da Silva said. "We need to increase our understanding of the innovation drivers and processes. We also need to look for concrete solutions, identify priority interventions and develop strategies to scale up successful experiences," he added.
Family farmers represent nearly 800 million people and have long been agricultural entrepreneurs and innovators. They manage about 75 percent of the world's agricultural land and produce about 80 percent of the world's food. Fostering their capacity to innovate is especially crucial today to meet the future food demands from a projected population of nearly 10 billion people in 2050, in the context of a changing climate.
"Innovating for family farmers and addressing the factors that impede transitions to diversified agro-ecological systems must become a higher priority," Inga Rhonda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), told the opening session.
"Technology alone cannot provide answers to global challenges nor empower family farmers, but it can increase options and make it easier to deploy effective solutions. It is essential to ensure that technology serves the poor, aims toward inclusive development and is used to enable people to deal with risks and vulnerabilities," she added.
"The coming decade will determine the shape of global and national food systems for generations to come," said Paul Winters, Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). "We need agricultural innovation that creates a food system that has adapted to climate change and is sustainable," he said.
Innovation is more than technology
FAO believes that innovation is more than technology. Going beyond apps, drones or farm machinery, innovation in agriculture involves different social, organizational or institutional processes, ranging from access to markets, credit or extension services to marketing produce in a new way.
Governments, civil society, farmer organizations, research bodies and the private sector all have a role to play in creating an environment that enables innovation in agriculture.
FAO and innovation
FAO supports countries and family farmers to apply innovative practices, such as agro-ecological zero-tillage in South America and Asia, the Director-General said. FAO also recognizes the successful innovations that family farmers have implemented over centuries, and supports them to develop and spread this traditional knowledge. In particular, FAO promotes a new modality of South-South Cooperation focusing on farmer-to-farmer direct exchanges of ideas, knowledge and practices.
Drones, satellite imaging, remote sensors and mobile applications are also important to prevent transboundary pests and diseases, Graziano da Silva said. FAO is also using digital innovations to provide meteorological and climate data to family farmers, and enhance early warning and disaster risk reduction models.
FAO is also testing blockchain applications for food chain optimization, traceability, enforcement of rights, and improving financial transaction processes, and is working with the private sector, such as Google, Telefonica de España, Unilever and others, to enhance progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Director-General announced the new International Innovation Award for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, in partnership with the Government of Switzerland. Individuals, private companies or institutions are invited to submit a nomination about an innovation that is contributing to the global effort to reach Zero Hunger.
The Symposium aims to highlight agricultural innovations and act as a catalyst to inspire new solutions, partnerships and investments. Around 600 participants are taking part including 250 delegates from 76 countries representing governments, farmer organizations, academic and research institutions, civil society and the private sector.