Hand in Hand: digital technology for prosperous rural societies
If there is one thing the pandemic has been successful at, it has been at showing us how vulnerable human beings are. In addition to the health threat, COVID-19 has brought to light many failures of structures that we once considered robust. We already knew the need to transform our existing food systems, but this need has been made more apparent by the pandemic. The pandemic has affected many lives; for the most vulnerable families it has been a daily challenge to find accessible and healthy food.
The FAO Director General, Qu Dongyu, however, sees it as an opportunity for improvement: “the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of the world’s food systems, but it has given us the opportunity to build back better.” According to the organisation, hunger has been on the rise for the past five years and COVID-19 is jeopardising the food and nutrition security of up to 132 million more people. That is why it is necessary to work together to build new food systems without leaving anyone behind.
Development: in tune with the needs of each country
With these new challenges on its agenda, FAO has drawn up a roadmap that sets out three major priorities: the first is to achieve sustainable food systems that ensure healthy diets for all; the second to promote a sustainable and resilient agriculture; and the third is to promote the Hand in Hand initiative, a platform designed to achieve prosperous and inclusive rural societies.
The central idea of the project is to accelerate agricultural transformation by offering, in an open format, economic, statistical, spatial and analytical data to accurately target and promote development-oriented investments. To accomplish this, everyone will have access to cutting-edge technology for free.
One million geospatial layers: FAO’s Geospatial Platform
FAO developed a new tool called the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, which, as the FAO Director General points out, “serves as a digital public good to create interactive data maps, analyse trends and identify real-time gaps and opportunities”. This innovative tool boasts over one million geospatial layers and thousands of statistics with over 4,000 metadata records, bringing together geographic information and statistical data on over ten domains linked to food and agriculture. Thanks to this tool, any user can access data on food security, crops, soil, land, water, climate, fishing, livestock and forestry, just to name a few variables.
Why is this so important? Because through the training that FAO also offers, it will be possible to interpret the data that will serve to make better decisions, to promote food and nutritional security and, finally, that allows a more equal and inclusive approach. Amongst its many uses, the platform provides vital information to:
- Analyse precipitation trends;
- Detect agricultural systems at risk due to human pressure on natural resources
- Ascertain aquatic species distribution
- Compare human population density to distribution of cattle
Big Data: The Data Lab for Statistical Innovation
Another key instrument offered by FAO is the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation. This laboratory makes use of unconventional data sources that are also essential when making decisions and evaluating the impact of actions. Their action is essential because, in times of crisis, the need for punctual and accurate information is crucial to determine the countries’ speed of response and the formulation of their policies.
Through these types of initiatives, FAO aims to promote richer rural systems, with abundant non-agricultural employment, participation of private investment and guaranteed access to the internet, information services and telecommunications. All of these are essential elements for the transition to digital agriculture and digital rural societies. “Digital FAO is more transparent, more open to dialogue and more inclusive and, above all, it can better serve the needs and priorities of its Members.” Innovation, data and digital technologies are essential to achieve the SDGs. “They are the only way in which we can advance,” adds Qu Dongyu.