Harvesting change: Harnessing emerging technologies and innovations for agrifood (Global foresight synthesis report systems transformation)

Advancements in technology and innovation have unquestionably shaped the trajectory of agriculture throughout human history. Technologies and innovations are essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and are key triggers for transforming the agrifood systems towards more efficient, resilient, sustainable and inclusive patterns (FOFA. FAO, 2022). The impact of agrifood technologies and innovations is real and immediate. In the digital innovation domain only, with the introduction of big data analytics, cloud computing, cheap and improved sensors and high-bandwidth mobile communication, a revolution in agriculture has been observed in the past decade, known as Agriculture 4.0. It paved the way for the next (r)evolution, consisting of unmanned operations and autonomous decision systems, and based on quantum computing and artificial intelligence. However, technology and innovation dividends are not automatic, and not everyone can benefit equally. The impact of new disruptive technologies is still unknown. Furthermore, conceiving a technology or innovation from its ideation phase – through experimenting in the lab and later on the field when the technology or innovation emerges to its full maturity when it is in use and impacts for change – is often a lengthy process that may involve high investment cost. Despite those investments in time, effort and capital, and the pressing need to address agrifood challenges, many technologies and innovations show a very low adoption rate (for example 9 percent for farm automation and robotics in China and India among row- and specialty-crop farmers, Fiocco D. et al. 2023). To maximize the benefits and minimize challenges associated with emerging technologies and innovations for the agrifood systems transformation, we need to reduce the time lag between technology generation and its use for impact and accelerate its upscaling in other locations and contexts, while using the technology safely and responsibly in a sustainable manner, looking at environmental and socio-economic impacts.

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