On March 15, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) hosted the virtual event “Fostering Innovation in Agriculture and People Centrality“. The event was part of the Affiliated Programme of “Bold Actions for Food – Regional and Country Flagships 2022” organised by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Bringing together more than 50 attendees, from farmers to other relevant agricultural sector stakeholders, the session aimed to raise awareness on what the innovation process in agriculture means and why it is crucial to ensure a farmer-driven approach.

Farmers are protagonists on the world scene, as food security and the sustainability of the food system transformation have gained a central role in global debates, first with the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Farmers are called to feed the world while immense pressures weigh on them: a growing world population, the fight against climate change, urbanisation, and the loss of agricultural soil are just some of the challenges to which farmers are confronted every day.

In this context, innovation and digitalisation have been recognised as crucial drivers to improve production quality and reach food systems sustainability and resilience, but often associated only with the development and utilisation of technologies.

However, innovation in agriculture is much more than technology, as a crosscutting line that encompasses all aspects of agricultural production and farmers’ work.

How do we ensure that the innovation process in agriculture puts farmers at the centre and respects and protects their centrality as economic actors and people at the heart of food systems?

Innovation in agriculture: how to ensure farmers’ centrality is respected and protected?

The main focus of innovation in our food systems is to produce more on less with less, this is the challenge, and this is possible through innovation. Innovation is not only technology. It is not even only mechanical innovation. When talking about how innovation can transform food systems, we should also look at the soft side,” said WFO President Theo de Jager during his opening comments. “It is about seeing the person behind the technology, the farmers behind the innovation; it is about the families, the people in the middle of the primary production,” he stated.

Moderated by Valeria Di Marzo, Communications Manager at WFO, the event was composed of two parts. The first part featured the participation of President De Jager together with Sean de Cleene, Head of Food Systems Initiative at WEF and Giovanni Frajese, from the WFO Scientific Council. They set the scene for the second part of the meeting.

The second part of the event offered the perfect opportunity for all participants to actively engage in the discussion, tackling three different issues that need change to foster farmer-driven innovation in agriculture: 1) Big data and innovation in data management; 2) Organised agriculture in support of farmers-driven innovation; 3) Innovation in Nutrition Policies.

Here are some highlights from the discussion:

Big data and innovation in data management

  • Agriculture generates a large amount of data, and technologies have increased the number of ways these data are collected.
  • There is an urgent need to develop new models for big data management in agriculture to benefit farmers.
  • A code of conduct that everyone should agree upon and where all stakeholders, including farmers and small-holder farmers, should participate in the designing and the definition is needed.
  • Farmers need the support of organised agriculture. While data and their use and aggregation are more in the interests of other stakeholders, farmers are called to address this point because of the environment they have around.

Organised agriculture in support of farmers-driven innovation

  • Farmers’ organisations and cooperatives can help close the gap between farmers and the scientific and private sector world. They can boost innovation adoption through advisory services, brokerage, training, information sharing.
  • Farmers’ organisations are crucial actors of innovation in agriculture to 1) catalyse farmers’ needs and expectations, what farmers already do, and the solutions they have; 2) scale these solutions up to be replicated by other farmers through capacity building programs.
  • To really put farmers at the centre of strategic planning, farmers’ organisations must build relationships with the other actors of the innovation value chain, from governments to donors to academia to research centres.
  • Farmers’ organisations also need to innovate, embrace the change that farmers undertake every day on their farms and be more and more inclusive.

Innovation on Nutrition Policies

  • Farmers, consumers, policymakers and nutrition experts should cooperate to achieve healthy diets through innovative policy models that consider the central role of farmers in ensuring the provision of healthy food for all.
  • Consumers are those who buy what farmers produce and innovation can play a crucial role in bridging the gap and creating a stronger link between farmers and consumers.
  • About food loss and waste, the Ukraine crisis and its impacts on production costs and the availability of products and inputs might disrupt the value chains in the next months, with consumers worrying that they will not find products on the markets. In this context, what can be truly innovative is the role of cooperatives to help farmers get access to technologies and resources they would otherwise not be able to afford.
  • The role of education is vital. When introducing new technologies, we need to be careful those are tailored to the farmers’ needs and that farmers, including small scale and family farmers, have access to capacity building and training to gain the right skills to use those technologies and see benefits from their use.
  • Considering the medical and nutritional aspects of what we eat and produce, technologies can help preserve biodiversity and local products and traditions. Also, technology could create a direct link between consumers and producers and absorb shock in the value chains. We must recognize and boost the huge economic and human potential that the agriculture sector plays in terms of quality of food and the farmers’ quality of life and livelihoods.

Closing the event, the WFO Secretary General Arianna Giuliodori reiterated that we are in a food systems dimension, and farmers are the people of food systems: “That implies listening and consulting farmers as co-creators in the innovation process,” she stated. “Farmers need science, and science needs farmers!”
Farmers are diverse and dispersed worldwide, and we make sure innovation produces an impact without cancelling the differences that make the farmers unique.
I heard a hopeful word: “creating bridges” between farmers and academia, farmers and other stakeholders, farmers and consumers,” WFO Secretary General said.