I ‘Conferenza europea sull’innovazione digitale in agricoltura’
Digital Innovation Hubs for Agriculture
The Challenges of Agriculture
Today, agriculture and food production faces big challenges.
Agriculture supply chains are called to meet the multiple demands of an increasing and increasingly wealthy world population in a sustainable way, not only with sufficient, healthy and nutritious food, but also with feed and fibre.
This task must be accomplished while coping with constraints such as:
– the shrinking portion of agricultural land per capita at the global level
– political unpreparedness for managing crises in a coordinated manner on a world scale
– depletion of natural resources
– and impacts of climate change
In the past, agriculture could overcome the issues related to population increase – defeating the Ghost of Thomas Malthus – thanks to innovation.
But today the magnitude of the challenge appears huge. If we look closer, this is because we have not only one challenge before us, but multiple and inter-connected challenges.
They cannot be tackled by one single policy or a single approach. They should be addressed in a systemic manner, leveraging on many “pressure points” simultaneously.
If the challenges are connected like in a sort of constellation, also the solutions should be connected.
The digital paradigm
How people connect? The most obvious reply is: through information and communication technologies (ICT) and data flows.
So, connecting the solutions thanks to the digital paradigm to tackle interconnected challenges seems quite obvious
But realizing this connection is not something we can give for granted. We must strive to fulfil this objective.
Connectivity leads to complexity and this can be a problem. However, connectivity enables also to look at new set of solutions for complex problems.
When talking about “disruptive” technology everyone gets excited.
But we should not forget that “disruption” means also that there are losers in the game and this can create conflict. This must be taken into account.
We have seen the disruptive power of digital platforms in different sectors already, spreading from tourism (Airbnb) to transport (Uber). Agriculture and food production could be affected in the same way and they already are.
Given that the “Silver Bullet” syndrome is never a good approach to innovation, embracing the digital paradigm by farming seems unavoidable and desirable.
Digital paradigm means so many things: Internet of Things, Big Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence…
The big issue is making this set of technologies work for agriculture and farmers.
Making Agriculture and digital paradigm work together in a profitable manner
In first place, we should make farming and digital paradigm match and start an actual exchange and dialogue.
This requires some attitudes to be changed. I mean overcoming mindsets, social norms and ideological stances.
Considering innovation and technology as homologous, for instance, is wrong. Innovation is something more than technology.
Moreover, ignoring the importance of access to technology and the social acceptance of new techniques, even in relatively small groups as the farmers, can lead to misunderstandings, jeopardising the development of innovation.
In the innovation process, especially in farming, often you need to adapt technologies to local context needs. Farmers should be enabled to appropriate of technologies, in order to deploy their full potential.
Thus, technology should be flexible, interoperable and open access.
Things are changing fast, but please do not give for granted that a certain kind of farmer easily admits that he needs to innovate. In the sector you can still hear reactions to innovation such as: “In my neighbourhood we have always done this in another way”.
In order to facilitate the dialogue between geeks and farmers let me give you 2 unrequested advices:
1 – To the geeks and digital experts:
Coding can bring you everywhere, provided you can get out of it.
Farming is difficult, multidimensional and requires experience in the fields.
2- To the farmers and to the conventional actors of innovation in agriculture:
Open yourself – Collaborate and share information – establish networks – experiment, test and go through innovation
Why the idea of developing Digital Hubs is praiseworthy
For all the reasons mentioned above, a European network of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) is a great opportunity to connect farming and digital world
DIHs are about “connecting the dots” and establish constellations of different actors working on the present and future challenges of agriculture.
They can help farmers to identify their innovation needs and ICT companies to better understand those needs. They may help agriculture businesses and ICT companies better understand each other and do business together.
DIHs may become landmarks in the ecosystem of agricultural innovation that is undergoing deep changes.
Many DIHs already exist in Europe, but we should enhance their connections, both among themselves and with the farming sector.
Starting this process is our task in this seminar. It is not an easy task because there is no defined patterns or formulas to find effective ways to collaborate in a permanent manner.
This exercise is about overcoming certain mental habits, sharing information and foster collaboration.
That is at the core of an effective change and innovation process.