Benefits And Risks Of A Digitised Farm Sector
Farmer's Weekly|November 20, 2020
Digital technology can make food markets more efficient and inclusive. However, according to a recent report, the digital divide places farmers in some of the world’s poorest regions at risk of being left behind.

Digital technology is rapidly transforming all stages of the value chain, from the farm to the table. Its adoption is improving efficiency, creating new jobs, generating new income streams and saving resources. Digital technology can help markets function better and improve farmers’ access to them. Innovations such as food e-commerce can benefit farmers and consumers.

Digital technology can be disruptive, however, by modifying or displacing value chain activities and products. To guarantee that the dividends of digital innovation are shared with the poorest, we have to reduce the current digital divide.

At farm level, digital technology applications are helping to address market failures and facilitate the integration of farmers in value chains by driving down information and transaction costs. Sensors, satellites, robots and drones, for example, are revolutionising farming and value chains. Sensors and satellites provide information on soil conditions, weather and temperature, and crop growth. They enable farmers to achieve better yield by optimising farm management, reducing the use of fertiliser, pesticide and water, and contributing to more sustainable outcomes. The Internet of Things, which connects robots, drones and vehicles via the Internet, is making labour-intensive tasks, such as monitoring plant health or sowing crops, more cost-effective.

Improvements in information and communications technology have also underpinned the development of global value chains, effectively linking farmers to traders and consumers across regions and countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the potential of digital technology in improving the functioning of food markets. Estimates suggest that in China the share of the online market increased from 11% to 38% of total food retail purchases in February 2020.

The digital divide

Despite the rapid diffusion of digital technology during the last three decades, a digital divide exists between countries, between urban and rural areas, and between men and women.

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