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WORLD FOOD FORUM: THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF AI AND DIGITAL TOOLS IN MAKING AGRIFOOD SYSTEMS CLIMATE RESILIENT

New technologies help farmers manage crops and livestock, detect pests and diseases and optimize the use of labour, fertilizers, pesticides, feed and water…

Rome – To revolutionize the agrifood sector, we must harness the power of digital tools and provide better and safer access to innovation. These were the key calls to action from the ‘AI and Digital Tools for Climate Resilient Agrifood Systems’ even held Thursday at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Farmers are battling the increasing number of challenges brought on by the climate crisis: erratic weather patterns, shifting precipitation cycles, rising temperatures and extreme weather events, among them. With the end result being crop failures, reduced yields and decreased food security, smallholder farmers, in particular, need climate resilient solutions to secure and bolster their livelihoods.

With the right access to technological tools, farmers can wield these advances for more efficient and resilient agriculture, revolutionizing traditional agricultural practices into sophisticated, data-driven systems. Modern agriculture must incorporate these important innovations to tackle challenges like climate change and dwindling natural resources.

“AI should be a tool for agrifood system transformation and rural development,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu. Digital tools should be leveraged and designed with farmers in mind, he emphasized.  

Qu Dongyu

Moderated by FAO Chief Information Officer, Dejan Jakovljevic, the panel was formed by Najat Mokhtar, Deputy Director-General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications of the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA), Vincent Martin, FAO Director of the Office of Innovation, Alan Belward, Head of Food Security Unit at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Sebastian Bosse, Head of Interactive & Cognitive Systems Group at the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute and Rikin Gandhi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Digital Green.

The event, part of the Science and Innovation stream of the World Food Forum, focused on highlighting concrete examples of technological innovations already modernizing and revolutionizing agriculture.   

In his keynote speech, FAO Chief Economist, Máximo Torrero, drew attention to some exciting examples of digital tools already developed by FAO. One of the most recent is a digital application entitled, FLAPP (the FAO Food Loss App), that enhances the ability to analyze where and why food losses happen, allowing for more targeted interventions in reducing wastage.

Maximo Torrero

Playing a short explanatory video, Torrero also pointed to the on-the-ground impact of one digital tool, called “Ugani Kiganjani”, for farmers in Tanzania. This mobile application, part of the FAO Digital Services Portfolio, provides farmers with weather forecasts and advisory services so that they can prepare the land or harvest accordingly. This app is helping farmers adapt to the variable weather patterns caused by climate change.

IAEA’s Mokhtar highlighted the innovative use of cosmic ray neutron sensors as an agricultural solution. An area of work within the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, these sensors allow scientists to track neutrons in the atmosphere and determine how much water is already in the soil. This information offered to farmers can then guide them on when or when not to irrigate.

AI in agriculture

All the speakers additionally highlighted the importance of responsible use and ethics of these tools and FAO’s Martin recalled the Organization’s signing of the Rome Call for AI Ethics, a document that supports a transparent, inclusive, responsible, impartial, reliable and secure approach to AI.

All panelists agreed on the potential of AI and digital tools to address some of the many challenges posed by the climate crisis. There were, nonetheless, broad calls for caution in using these tools in an inclusive and responsible manner, recommending validation and quality assurance of AI outputs and stressing that unchecked use of these tools can create more bias, result in less inclusion or even widen the digital divide.

The safe and ethical uses of digital tools and technological practices, on the other hand, are proving crucial for sound agrifood systems of the future. 

About İsmail Uğural

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