Rapid acceleration of digitalization in rural communities in Asia and the Pacific is critical for regaining momentum towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), government policy makers agreed at the conclusion of a one-day event on the subject, convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
More than 200 participants joined the virtual ‘FAO Digital Village Knowledge Sharing and Dialogue,’ a regional follow-up to advance collective knowledge on implementing digital technologies across rural landscapes, in towns and villages across the Asia-Pacific region. The event was convened in support of FAO’s 1,000 Digital Village Initiative, launched at FAO headquarters in January 2021.
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said that the aim of the Asia-Pacific pilot programme was to learn from many countries’ successful experiences and good practices and share these experiences with others.
Today’s event highlighted how the rapid spread of internet access and applications of digital technologies in the region’s agricultural rural areas have resulted in better production, better nutrition, mitigation of damage to the environment and overall improvements to livelihoods of millions of people in the vast Asia-Pacific region.
The FAO Director-General addressed the event and government Ministers from various countries across the region gave accounts of good practices and methodologies in place in their rural communities and villages to leverage latest digital technologies to improve production and livelihoods of all, particularly farmers, fishers and herders.
Among the high level participants in the event were Bangladesh’s Minister of Agriculture, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque; Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Minister of Agriculture of Indonesia; Zagdjav Mendsaikhan; Mongolia’s Minister for Food, Agriculture and Light Industry; Chung Hwang-keun, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs from the Republic of Korea and La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao Fosi Schmidt, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries of Samoa.
Qu underlined the three dimensions of the digital village:
- For agricultural production: e-Agriculture focuses on improving productivity by using Information and Communications Technologies and relevant digital solutions;
- For farmers’ lives: “Digital Farmer Services” focus on enhancing farmers access to different kinds of social and economic services including financial services, social protection and employment; and
- For the village: Digital Services support rural transformation by enhancing delivery of public services on health, education, jobs, welfare and tourism, including eco-tourism and agri-tourism.
“In Asia and the Pacific, there are several models to develop and foster the digitalization of rural areas”. He cited countries including China and India, where he said digitalization of rural areas is extensive. “FAO has a critical role to play in offering this knowledge to our Members in a useful and usable way, including through new tools and methodologies to carry out field studies when needed,” Qu added.
Examples of successful digital villages from several countries in Asia were showcased, many through vivid stories from the ground. In Bangladesh, digital services and solutions to support farming and empower rural women are being deployed, leveraging increased access and use of smartphones and internet. In Indonesia, digital innovations that improve aquaculture are spreading among fisher folks and villages in West Java and elsewhere. In Thailand, a number of ‘smart farming’ innovations are being piloted and are benefitting farmers and rural communities, including those living with disability. More examples of innovative and transformative digital technologies were drawn from the Republic of Korea’s advanced smart agriculture, to Mongolia’s important livestock sector embracing digital innovations. The event also showcased examples of digital village stories from outside the region including some from Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Near East.
Among the themes emphasized was the multi-actor and multi-disciplinary nature of the digitalization process, needing to go beyond physical technologies and explore whole digital ecosystems by focusing on creating enabling conditions, policies and regulations that facilitate rural transformation. A crucial part of this is breaking down digital gaps, removing obstacles to wider participation and providing better access to data and information.
Participants were presented with a first glimpse of an FAO-constructed ‘Digital Village Knowledge Sharing and Exchange Platform’, designed to be a one-stop ‘village square’ where best practices of hundreds of digital villages and their technologies could be displayed. The platform would also serve as a place for exchange and dialogue.
FAO is working to develop the platform for all digital innovations, digital village initiatives, best practices, and knowledge sources to be easily accessible and publicly shared as part of efforts to achieve the SDGs, particularly to benefit those in the most inaccessible rural areas of the Asia-Pacific region.