Digital innovations webinar promotes equity and sustainability in agri-food systems

Digital innovations webinar promotes equity and sustainability in agri-food systems

On 28 March 2024, stakeholders from seven countries across Asia and Africa explored the transformative impact of digital innovations on agri-food systems.

Hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the webinar they attended—‘Digital innovations to support equitable, sustainable, and resilient agri-food systems and last mile delivery’—showcased a variety of digital solutions aimed at fostering equity, sustainability and resilience within the agricultural sector. The webinar aimed to navigate how cutting-edge technologies are reshaping the agricultural landscape while fostering equity, sustainability and resilience.

Led by experts from ILRI, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and innovative startups, the webinar’s 25 participants discussed pressing issues, such as market linkages for smallholder livestock farmers, and challenges related to internet access and language barriers on digital platforms. Speakers emphasized the importance of standardization in agricultural activities like grading and terminology to facilitate effective communication between buyers and sellers.

Anthony Whitbread, program leader of the Sustainable Livestock Systems Program at ILRI, set the stage by introducing the important role of digital technology in addressing global food system challenges. He stressed the need for equitable distribution of benefits, particularly among marginalized groups, underscoring the webinar's principal theme of inclusivity.

Ram Dhulipala, a senior scientist at ILRI, reiterated the transformative potential of digital agriculture and digital public infrastructure in promoting climate-smart agriculture. His presentation highlighted how digitalization reduces transaction costs, fosters innovation and enhances inclusion within agriculture systems.

‘There is great potential for collaboration between the public and private sectors to create digital public goods and infrastructure, which can enhance the reach and impact of digitalization efforts,’ Dhulipala said.

From IRRI, Sheetal Sharma showcased the success of the Rice Crop Manager (RCM) tool in optimizing nutrient management for Indonesian farmers. Funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of South Korea (MAFRA), this digital tool not only increases yields and income but also promotes environmental sustainability, aligning with the webinar's focus on sustainable solutions.

The RCM tool, which has also proven successful in the Philippines and India, uses the internet and text messages to give farmers site-specific recommendations on crop nutrition as well as weed and nursery management. Since its launch in 2013, application of the tool’s recommendations has led to an average yield increase of 0.4 tons (400 kg) per crop per hectare per cropping season in the Philippines and an average of 0.5 tons (500kg) per crop per hectare per cropping season in India.

Raj Vallabhaneni from ConnectX, a startup company based in India, introduced Kalgudi, a platform facilitating engagement between participants within agricultural value chains. Focusing on collaboration and efficiency, the online platform provides solutions that unify various aspects of agricultural operations, including buying and selling of inputs and outputs, banking and community interaction.

And Sriram Bharatam, founder and chief mentor of Kuza, shared inspiring stories of grassroots innovations empowering farmers in Kenya. Through Kuza's digital platforms and tailored solutions, rural communities gain access to crucial resources such as inputs, credit and market opportunities, driving economic growth and resilience.

Echoing the importance of public-private cooperation, Bharatam said: ‘The role of digital technologies and ecosystem collaboration in driving agricultural transformation cannot be overemphasized, nor can the importance of public sector involvement in scaling up the impact.’

In an era of unprecedented challenges, digital technology supports the empowerment of communities worldwide to build a more inclusive and sustainable future in agriculture. 

The webinar was co-funded by the ASEAN-CGIAR Innovate for Food and Nutrition Security Regional Program and CGIAR Initiative on Digital Innovation and Transformation.

Webinar report