Digitisation of agriculture or e-agriculture is seen as an emerging field focused on enhancing agricultural and rural development through improved information and communication processes. Digitisation interventions seek to achieve a triple bottom line:
- Increasing farm productivity and income sustainability.
- Helping farmers adapt to climate change.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible.
Digitisation is integral to climate smart agriculture, a sector rapidly expanding. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.
Interventions using ICT have already taken shape. Major activities include:
Importance of e-agriculture
- Testing and developing portfolios of climate-smart interventions for different agro-ecological zones and farm types.
- Developing climate-smart villages.
- Weather-based insurance.
- Disseminating climate information based agro-advisories.
- Mapping hotspots of germplasm collection and conservation.
The world will need 50-70 per cent more food by 2050. Thus, the main challenge today is, how to produce more food. A way to do that is to make the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers more productive and efficient. ICT is crucial for this to happen. Digitising agriculture can help countries meet goals effectively in many areas like: agricultural extension and advisory services, promoting environmentally sustainable farming practices, disaster management and early warning system, enhancing market access, food safety and traceability, financial inclusion, insurance and risk management, capacity building and empowerment, among others. ICT-based initiatives in different aspects of agriculture allow farmers access to information about agricultural value chains, risk management, market and price information, advisory services, policies. They also bring back data for agricultural research.
How can digitisation of agriculture benefit smallholder farmers?
- It will dissipate information directly to the farmers, giving them the power of information and facilitating decision-making.
- It brings transparency in agricultural supply chains, removing the huge inequality that exists and guaranteeing adequate income to the farmers, who are generally at the losing end of the chart.
- It will provide reliable data for research and policy-making. Better data will allow government as well as non-government organisations to design farmer-friendly policies and planned interventions.
In a bid to facilitate countries to form national and regional strategies for digitisation of agriculture, the FAO along with the International Telecommunication Union, released a framework to guide formulation of national plans. The organisation offers technical assistance in the design, development and implementation of sustainable ICT solutions to address some of the key challenges in agriculture.
Hindrances in development of e-agriculture
- E-agriculture is a multi-stakeholder process that involves bringing together many different ministries and departments as well as private sector players such as insurance, banking and mobile network operators. It is quite difficult to bring all the stakeholders on the same page.
- Another challenge is that paying for digitisation of agriculture is not as mainstream as thought till now.