Ahead of the virtual Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit, Armen Harutyunyan, Senior Advisor at the United Nations Development Programme – Global Centre shares his vision for accelerating digital innovation for smallholder farmers, and how the organisation is helping to address challenges faced by the region’s growers.

Armen Harutyunyan - UNDP - Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit
Armen Harutyunyan, UNDP – Global Centre

How has digital innovation for smallholder farmers developed and changed in 2020, and how has technology adoption on the farm been impacted as a result?
Digital technologies have been driving change in many sectors of the economy, including the agriculture and food sectors. In 2020, there is a notable growth in the number of youth-driven start-ups in agri-tech and food-tech, especially in developing countries.

In my opinion, two key groups of technologies have the greatest potential to address issues such as productivity, efficiency, sustainability and the resilience of the agriculture and food system. The first group of technologies is digital farming, which includes application of precision agriculture technologies, such as the use of satellite technologies and IoT for data analytics, and smart machinery, which may lead to the development of autonomous farming. Data-driven farming has enabled farmers to become more informed, efficient and productive, and data will play an increasingly important role in the future of farm management. It is important to ensure that these technologies become more accessible and affordable for smallholder farmers.

Another technology which has a wider implication for the food value chain is blockchain. It can help to address the issue of trust, through decentralization and the anonymous validation of transactions. Moreover, further integration of Internet of Things (IoT) can help us to track information flow that is autonomously collecting and transferring data among all major stakeholders in the system. In other words, the convergence of big data and the adoption of blockchain technology can help us to build more efficient and transparent trade arrangements.

How do we engage different industry stakeholders to join efforts to reach smallholder farmers and overcome the challenges they face? What work is the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development doing in this area?
The UNDP Global Centre aims to identify innovative and technology solutions and transfer them to developing countries. We work with venture investment firms, corporates, technology companies, start-ups, UNDP country offices and governments to connect these partners through our network, and to address challenges that developing countries are facing. This convening role is our method of finding technology, building implementing partners and piloting and scaling technologies in beneficiary countries.

What outcomes do you hope will be achieved at and following on from the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit?
Firstly, the summit is a great opportunity to speak about technologies that can help countries to improve their food security and food system resilience. It is also a chance to bring in new partners to achieve the objectives and most importantly to urge partners for action to build food systems that can feed our growing population but minimise the sector’s impact on environment.

Join Armen at the virtual Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit and tune into his panel discussion on ‘Accelerating Digital Innovation for Smallholder Farmers’ during Track 2 dedicated to Empowering Smallholder Farmers on November 18.

Armen is also hosting a roundtable discussion on Farming 2050, what we know, what we need to do and what we want to achieve’, also on Wednesday November 18.