By Roberta Fortugno
In the ever-evolving landscape of agriculture, technology has emerged as a catalyst for rural growth, employment generation, and the crucial connection between rural and urban economies. This transformation is not confined to a specific region, but it spans across the globe, with digitalization reshaping the agrifood value chain.
The integration of digital technologies into agriculture has revolutionized traditional farming practices: farmers have now access to valuable information and assistance, optimizing resource management and increasing productivity. Digital platforms have democratized agricultural knowledge, making it accessible worldwide. Platforms like PlantHead Platform – developed by OCCAM within the Horizon 2020 EWA-BELT Project, support farmers by promoting real-time diagnosis and environment-friendly crop protection approaches within
The impact of digital extension practices has been impressive, with adoption rates similar to traditional methods but at a significantly lower cost. In regions like sub-Saharan Africa and India, mobile technologies have proven instrumental in enhancing farmers' adoption of recommended agricultural inputs, thereby improving overall agricultural efficiency.
In more advanced economies, the late 1990s marked a pivotal moment when GPS sensors were integrated into farm equipment, allowing a precise measure of every aspect of farming, from soil quality to crop health. Input providers leverage this data to offer customized services, significantly enhancing yields and profits. This data-driven approach is not confined to a specific region, but it represents a global phenomenon, transforming agriculture around the world.
E-commerce has also played a pivotal role in revitalizing rural businesses, facilitating the integration of smaller firms into local, national, and global supply chains. Platforms like Virtual Farmers' Market in Zambia or Reliance Retail in India allow a broader connection between producers from diverse areas with consumers, further expanding access into the rural non-farm sector and creating a substantial increase in rural non-farm employment.
The advent of digital technologies has made value chains more traceable and coordinated, contributing to the reduction of waste and inefficiencies. Systems like the IBM Food Trust utilize blockchain technology to trace food items in seconds, enhancing efficiency and addressing food contamination and quality issues promptly.
The rapid expansion of fintech in rural areas has been a game-changer: the increase in mobile phone usage has facilitated digital financial services, overcoming both supply-side and demand-side barriers. In India, the Grameen Foundation's digital financial literacy training for rural women has empowered them as agents, providing access to financial services and reducing the gender gap in credit access. In Africa, the widespread adoption of digital transactions has paved the way for fintech innovations, with at least 50% of the population in several countries using mobile banking.
Digital technology is not just empowering individual farmers, but it has the potential to make the entire business ecosystem more efficient and sustainable. From agro-processing to transportation, distribution, marketing, and retail, technology is transforming various facets of the non-farm sector. For instance, in Kenya, the ambulance-hailing service Flare is revolutionizing emergency services in remote areas, where centralized dispatch services are absent.
Frontier technologies like 3D printing are mitigating the challenges of operating in rural areas. Advances in ICTs facilitate the matching of workers and employers despite geographic distances, fostering collaboration and innovation. The potential of 3D printing to bring manufacturing activities to rural areas holds promise, provided costs are further reduced, and local expertise is developed.
As we navigate the dynamic landscape of agricultural innovation, it is evident that technology is a driving force behind rural growth and connectivity. The successes highlighted in this article underscore the transformative power of digital solutions in bridging the rural-urban divide, creating sustainable economies, and empowering communities. As we look towards the future, continued investment in technology and concerted efforts to address access gaps will be crucial in ensuring a more inclusive and prosperous rural world.
As a partner of the Horizon 2020 EWA-BELT Project, OCCAM recognizes the potential of these technologies and is actively engaged in implementing and testing innovative solutions that can empower communities and drive sustainable development.