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Digital technologies in agriculture and rural areas


Firstly, a significant challenge in understanding digital agricultural transformation is a lack of systematic, official data on the topic. Much of the data – for example on levels of e-literacy – are only available at the country level with no distinction for urban and rural areas. Meanwhile, data on networks focus only on coverage and do not provide information about the quality or affordability of services. There is also a lack of information about government support and regulatory frameworks for digital transformation; so far, this has been interpreted via proxies including the availability of government e-services and regulations about connectivity and data protection. A second consideration is that there are significant disparities in the adoption of digital agriculture technologies between developed and developing countries and between global companies and those at a local, community or family scale. Factors including financial resources and education levels influence the adoption of modern agricultural technologies. Small farmers in rural areas are disproportionately disadvantaged as well as facing problems of limited access to infrastructure, networks and technology. A final factor to consider is that digital agricultural technologies are affected by economies of scale. Adoption is easier for users who can implement them at large scale. Small-scale farmers face a disadvantage compared to large agribusiness actors. This creates disparity between large and small-scale farmers, with a corresponding inequality between developed and developing countries. Transformative digital innovations and technologies are often not designed for the scale at which smallholder farmers operate.

Document author: Nikola M. Trendov, Samuel Varas, and Meng Zeng
Institution: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO
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