Promoting sustainable agriculture through information and communications technology will require a renewed focus on innovation and investment in research, technology and capacity development.

That’s according to UN Food & Agriculture (FAO) Director General José Graziano da Silva, who was addressing a meeting of agriculture ministers of the G20 in China.

Da Silva said information & communications technology (ICT) helps in the monitoring of crop growth, utilisation of new techniques, field management and harvests.

He added that ICT has also become an essential tool for improving people’s livelihoods and welfare while advancing social justice and ensuring equal access to opportunities in rural areas.

Telecommunication tools have the potential to provide internet access for millions of people and connect farmers with digital agriculture – in Ireland and overseas.

According to the FAO, this includes the use of mobile phones to report animal disease outbreaks, which is one area the Organisation has been supporting in recent years.

Da Silva highlighted a new FAO partnership with Google, whose satellite data and processing power will usher in an “unprecedented level of environmental literacy,” especially on forestry and fisheries.

The partnership is part of a larger digital strategy FAO is developing to integrate a wide range of technologies, ranging from satellite data to mobile phones and social platforms.

“We have to bear in mind that small farmers in developing countries are often constrained in their access to inputs, technology, and markets.”

“In order to ensure that farmers fully leverage ICT opportunities, it is essential to provide digital-tailored access, foster capacity development and facilitate the exchange of experiences,” da Silva said.

In a communiqué released at the end of the meeting, G20 ministers affirmed the importance of ICT in agriculture.

They described it as “essential to human, social and economic development.”

They also stressed “the potential to reach farmers, including smallholders and family farmers, with timely and accessible content on markets, sustainable and efficient farming practices and new technologies.”