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Policy and Investment Priorities for the G20: Leveraging Digitalization to Promote Equitable and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

Global agriculture and food systems are predicted to undergo beneficial change as a result of digitalization. However, the G20 nations’ rates of dispersion vary greatly. Lack of understanding of the advantages and hazards of digital solutions, a very varied industry that necessitates regionally tailored solutions, and a persistent digital divide connected to digital skills and infrastructure all pose barriers to adoption. Small-scale manufacturers face particularly significant obstacles since they frequently lack the resources (financially, technologically, or digitally) needed to take advantage of digital prospects.

  1. The Challenges

Global agriculture and food systems could be significantly improved by digitalization. It may make it possible to provide enough wholesome food on a sustainable basis for everyone. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those relating to “zero hunger,” “no poverty,” “good health and well-being,” “gender equality,” “decent work and economic growth,” “climate action,” and “life on land,” can be significantly advanced by encouraging sustainable practices among small and large producers throughout the G20 member states and beyond.

Among the G20 nations, there are significant differences in the proliferation of digital solutions in activities relating to food systems. Larger agricultural companies frequently set the pace for digital adoption in the Americas and Europe. A special focus should be placed on preventing the exclusion of small-scale manufacturers. Over a third of the world’s food supply is produced by the 608 million farms in the globe, 510 million of which are smaller than 2 hectares. Many small farms, such as those in China, India, and Indonesia, lack adequate access to 3G networks in the G20 setting. Small farms are prevalent throughout the G20 nations, especially wealthier ones like South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, though they are not entirely so. Even though smaller farms in these nations frequently have excellent 3G access, they lag behind their larger rivals in embracing digital technologies.

In order for recipients to equally benefit from the opportunities created by digitalization for food security and income production, efforts must be made to ensure its widespread adoption, especially among small-scale producers. Therefore, it is crucial to address the following issues: ecosystem function, access and accessibility, and impact-risk assessment.

Constraints on access and accessibility are still present.

Due to inconsistent availability, quality, and utilization of digital infrastructure as well as the high cost of technology, access to and accessibility to digital solutions are hampered.[6] Agricultural fields may not have access to quick and dependable mobile networks (i.e., 3G and above) in many G20 countries due to underserved areas. Digital technology and mobile data continue to be expensive, making them prohibitive for many small-scale enterprises, especially in least-developed nations. There is still a need for expensive technical changes to be implemented, even among larger farms. Lack of availability to electricity for device charging and functional mobile network infrastructure exacerbate connectivity issues. Higher upfront investment expenditures in high-income nations prevent smaller farms from adopting more advanced digital solutions. Access to mobile devices and the internet is particularly limited for women. In comparison to men, women in low- and middle-income nations used mobile internet 19% less frequently and smartphones 17% less frequently in 2022. Since 2020, there has been an increase in this gap, and efforts to decrease it have halted.

The capacity-building and funding initiatives being used today are insufficient to improve accessibility. High entry barriers to the digitalization of agriculture can be caused by a lack of skills. Voice-based solutions can reach more individuals in the agriculture sector than text-based tools when literacy differences are taken into account, but they are more expensive to operate and scale up. However, agricultural producers who lack the necessary digital skills are rarely offered the chance to advance their digital abilities. Additionally, producers are frequently excluded from the creation of digital apps, which is a requirement for properly meeting their needs.

Ecosystems are either nonexistent or inactive at this time.

The scaling of digital solutions in the agri-food industry is hampered by heterogeneity in systems, institutions, and actors. The first is economic diversity. The agriculture industry in the G20 is characterized by a wide range of producers and enterprises of all sizes and specializations, with a significant incidence of small entities in several nations. Small-scale manufacturers typically lack a centralized IT support unit or specialist, which prevents them from owning and implementing digital solutions, impeding any possible systematic synergy-building initiatives. This is in contrast to major organizations. Environmental diversity comes in second. Agriculture depends on a wide range of variable factors, including plant, soil, weather, and season. The inability to control these environmental factors makes it even more difficult to create a comprehensive ecosystem. Institutional diversity comes in third. Countries frequently choose a sectoral approach without a distinct national strategy or policy coherence as a result of a lack of coordination in the policy realm.[9] A common misconception about digitalization in agriculture is that it only affects the commercial sector and not the general population.

In part because innovators, investors, and governments are not utilizing potential synergies—neither for innovation nor for agricultural data—too many promising pilots are unable to scale up.[10] Data collecting continues to be difficult for agricultural start-ups. Resources are improperly allocated to the creation of tools or algorithms that already exist or to the search for data that is already publicly available. Where an ecosystem already exists, it neglects to consider the whole innovation value chain. The emphasis is usually on commercially viable items, research, or innovation, but there is frequently little connection between the three. As a result, service providers pass up excellent chances to work together and offer packaged services to generate significant benefits. Online platforms that are privately run can facilitate collaboration and data sharing. It may be argued that in their absence, particularly in lower-income nations, the government must step in to offer this opportunity.

Digitalization’s potential hazards are not yet fully understood and addressed.

It is frequently lacking a solid understanding of the actual advantages and potential pitfalls of digitalization in agriculture. Depending on how they are used, technologies can either advance sustainability, productivity, and equity or they can exacerbate environmental degradation and societal inequality. For instance, digital advice services may enable agricultural farmers to boost production through climate-smart and environmentally sustainable techniques, but they may also have unintended consequences. There is a danger that the full potential of digital solutions may not be realized when there is doubt regarding their impact. It is essential to perform timely evaluations and applicable evidence-based research, where the effects on vulnerable populations, the environment, and production are equally considered.

The majority of digital agricultural solutions lack quality control systems. Government criteria for testing, certifying, and monitoring have not been set to make sure that digital solutions support sustainable and equitable agriculture. As a result, it is the responsibility of digital agriculture service providers to show how their solutions have a real-world impact and, if possible, to be more open about how they use data and automate processes. Actors in the agri-food industry will not trust these solutions to be used intelligently until that time. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is supporting attempts to create standards for smart farming, although these procedures do not fully take into account the variety of digital agricultural applications present among the G20 nations.


2. The G20’s Position

In situations where there are no frameworks for digital governance, the G20 can—and should—take the initiative. After all, it supports two-thirds of the world’s people, accounts for 85% of global GDP, and accounts for 75% of worldwide trade. The G20 has shown a commitment to accelerating the digitalization of agriculture and reducing the gap between developed and developing nations in this area. The G20 leaders decided that cooperation between international organizations and national governments, guided by the values of fairness and sustainability, was essential to securing our collective future in digital agriculture at the 2022 G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting. Support for complementary national-level initiatives was also expressed at the 2022 Joint Finance and Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting in order to establish effective coordination at regional and international levels to combat food insecurity.[14] Additionally, the research-based policy recommendations provided by the Think20, a community of international think tanks, complement the G20’s work in this area. The G20’s responsibility to implement specific policy measures is supplemented by the activity of its interaction groups, particularly the Think20.

It can specifically:

encourage the creation of a global forum for collaboration and knowledge exchange

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The G20 brings together a varied set of nations with varying degrees of digital development in their agricultural sectors. This diversity presents special chances for communication and learning between people. Support for complementary national-level initiatives was also expressed at the 2022 Joint Finance and Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting in order to establish effective coordination at regional and international levels to combat food insecurity.[14] Additionally, the research-based policy recommendations provided by the Think20, a community of international think tanks, complement the G20’s work in this area. The G20’s responsibility to implement specific policy measures is supplemented by the activity of its interaction groups, particularly the Think20. It can specifically:  encourage the creation of a global forum for collaboration and knowledge exchange

The G20 brings together a varied set of nations with varying degrees of digital development in their agricultural sectors. This diversity presents special chances for communication and learning between people.


Encourage global cooperation on coordinated regulatory measures to create a balance between data use and protection.

As agricultural digital solutions advance in sophistication, vast volumes of varied data are gathered. These data can be leveraged to provide producers with more precise and improved services. Data, however, could be used without the knowledge or consent of individuals who provided it if there are no strong mechanisms for protecting it. Although laws have been passed to protect personal information, their implementation and enforcement are inconsistent throughout the G20 nations. Additionally, not all agricultural data is personal data, necessitating distinct regulatory frameworks, including intellectual property rights, contract and competition rules, and privacy regulations. As a requirement for developing trustworthy and customized digital solutions, data legislation must also make sure that adequate exchange and analyses are possible. The necessity for coordinated data and digital regulatory activities to achieve a reasonable balance between data use and protection has been repeatedly stressed during previous G20 agriculture ministers meetings. Particularly in the agriculture industry, the G20 plays a critical role in coordinating and developing proper frameworks for data governance, including data security and sharing.

bolster the enabling climate for agriculture’s digital transformation inside and between nations

The creation of infrastructure, content, services, and solutions that benefit the various actors in the food system requires a healthy innovation ecosystem. To promote effective and inclusive innovation, digital agriculture start-ups, corporate innovators, and governments must connect with vulnerable groups, including small-scale producers and companies. The G20 must support the private sector to advance the development and marketing of digital solutions for agricultural farmers and enterprises, even though governments can foster an enabling environment for it at the national level. . The G20 MACS meeting in 2023 in India discovered that private investments in the development, design, and marketing of digital solutions can supplement national action plans and significantly impact how much digitalization supports equitable and sustainable agricultural outcomes.[17] By creating an environment that encourages private sector players to prosper and deliver digital solutions for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive agriculture and food systems, the G20 can support these efforts.

3. Suggestions for the G20

The G20 should work with other parties to support and urge the governments of its members to take the following actions:

pledging to implement concerted policy action

To codify the contributions of digitalization to agriculture and realize its full potential in a way that equally benefits people and the environment, coordinated work at the national and international levels is required. The G20 can assist national governments in their efforts to create roadmaps for agricultural digitalization that will direct domestic activity and contribute to global processes.

• As part of the final G20 leaders’ declaration, pledge to support the implementation of national action plans for digitalization in agriculture.

• Provide funding for complementary investments to increase national capacity for conducting digital readiness assessments and assessing the effects of digitalization on agriculture.

• Work together to establish legal frameworks and enforcement procedures at the national and international levels to guarantee the confidentiality, use, and protection of farm data.

• Establish and put into practice distinct standards to guarantee high-quality digital solutions.

• Create enforcement tools to keep an eye on how laws and standards are being followed in order to foster accountability.

• Take into account varying degrees of digitalization in agriculture when creating worldwide standards (e.g., ISO).

• Provide incentives to encourage the use of digital tools that advance sustainable agricultural methods.

• Where necessary, create interoperability standards for digital solutions in the value chains of agriculture. This will simplify data flows for better collaboration and efficiency and help seamlessly integrate and foster complementary services.

increasing digital capabilities

The G20 should prioritize providing chances for all stakeholder groups to develop their digital capacities. To benefit from digital solutions, you must have digital capabilities, and small-scale producers are sometimes at a disadvantage. They do not just have inferior ability levels overall; their digital skills are notably lacking.

• Take steps to mainstream the development of digital skills at all educational levels, from primary to tertiary, with a focus on regions and communities with lower levels of digital literacy.

• Offer chances for lifelong learning, such as farmer field schools, to guarantee that farmers can stay up with the quickly advancing technologies.

• Provide specialized training to value chain participants, such as administrators and extension service providers, to help them use digital tools efficiently and support producers in doing the same.

• Increase capabilities by encouraging cooperation and teamwork with the use of cutting-edge platforms for knowledge exchange, collaborative learning environments, and open-data solutions.

• Require that while developing tools and capacities, digital service providers specifically consider the needs and skills of disadvantaged groups (such as small-scale producers and companies, women, and young people).

Access and accessibility improvements

Equitable access to mobile connectivity is a requirement for agricultural digitalization in order to ensure equitable access to digital solutions. To close the digital divides (between urban and rural areas, high- and low-income countries, and between different genders), infrastructure investments are mostly required. Although it is a prerequisite for this, digital infrastructure on its own is insufficient. In actuality, accessibility depends on the capacity of small-scale producers and other actors to fund and utilize the available digital solutions.

1. Encourage the financing of infrastructure through direct investments and related policies:

• Increase mobile connection through investments from the public or private sector or as part of public-private collaborations.

• Direct private sector investments by compelling mobile network operators to fund equitable access through Universal Service Funds[b] or by investing in connection for underserved people.[18]

• Create integrated infrastructure plans that connect mobile connectivity to other types of infrastructure including energy, irrigation, roads, and marketing facilities that are required to support the agriculture industry. This will make it possible for farmers to benefit from advancements in connection.

• Leverage the Think20’s intellectual prowess to offer guidance on expansive yet distinctive ideas for the development of the world’s infrastructure.

2. Assist producers in putting digital solutions into practice: • Provide funding for digital literacy programs so that people may take advantage of the potential presented by digitalization (also see recommendation 2).

• Provide financial resources (via the redistribution of subsidies) to promote the adoption of digital technology and lower barriers to entry for adopting digital solutions, with a focus on small-scale manufacturers.

• Invest in the spread of digital technology (such as installing sensors) at the producer level to gather and share precise data (such as productivity levels and climatic conditions) worldwide and regionally while safeguarding the rights of data suppliers.

• Involve producers early on to promote the creation of digital solutions that are based on user needs.

• Collaborate with intermediaries (farmers’ organizations, value chain participants, and extension agents) to help small-scale producers install and manage digital applications and infrastructure.

• Encourage the growth of digitalized financial services (such as insurance or capital access) to boost producers’ purchasing power.

Investing in and creating healthy environments

The development and implementation of digital solutions in the agriculture sector will require a supportive framework. Innovations should be driven by an agricultural vision that supports the SDGs rather than just maximizing profit. Therefore, equity and sustainability issues should be incorporated into digital innovation in the agri-food system as a whole.

• Make consistent, dedicated investments to institutionalize learning and exchange networks at the national, regional, and, when possible, global levels.

• Create forums for discussion and encourage collaboration amongst think tanks, academics, producers (from sole proprietors to multinational enterprises), corporations, and decision-makers.

• Encourage the sharing of best practices, expertise, and even failures across industries and nations.

• Assist in the development of local, national, and international start-up ecosystems with a focus on agricultural digitalization.

• Encourage government spending on essential data assets (including soil and water maps, weather data layers, and farmer registers) and data-sharing technologies in compliance with privacy laws.

• Encourage data sharing and cooperative innovation throughout the entire ecosystem (i.e., between traders, businesses, banks, insurance providers, and producers).

• To better equip farmers to benefit from digitally enabled advice and market links, strengthen the overall enabling environment for agriculture.

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