Forward Thinking for ICT use in Asian Agri-food Chains”


Robin Bourgeois, Senior Foresight Advisor, GFAR Secretariat

Ajit Maru, Senior Officer, Knowledge, GFAR Secretariat

Gerhard Schiefer, International Center for Food Chain and Network Research, University of Bonn

Gerard Sylvester, Knowledge & Information Management Officer, FAO-Bangkok 




Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are rapidly transforming agriculture globally. They have the potential to make Agri-food chains more productive, sustainable, and resilient and to improve the quality, safety and lower costs in complex food value chains.


Asian agriculture and farming is rapidly changing keeping up with global trends. However, it also has its uniqueness and complexity. It still remains largely small-holder, family based and resource-poor. The shift to becoming market-oriented with ability to compete in cost, quality and safety of products also remains a major challenge. 


Within Asia Agri-food chains are rapidly evolving to meet local, national, regional and international markets’ needs. These needs, which may sometimes be conflicting, include providing easily accessible, affordable, safe, nutritious, healthy, wholesome, quality food and economically viable industrial feedstock produced ethically in globally competitive markets. Emerging needs also include those of being produced through sustainable means for farming systems, Agriculture related livelihoods, the environment and use of natural resources such as land, water and soil nutrients and of contributing to the conservation of socio-cultural heritage and quality of life in a rapidly urbanizing society.  


Though ICT is increasingly pervading agriculture and food value chains, their long-term developments and impacts are difficult to anticipate. Uncertainty depends on several factors, including the pace of technological progress (we are still at the dawn of the digital revolution), the speed of deployment and take up of technologies and infrastructures across the continents, the long lasting effects of mass digitisation of Agriculture and food chains on economy and society as a whole.  The developments of Agri-food chains may also influence the further development of ICTs that are useful to one or the other among several different forms of these chains. Reciprocally,  the development of ICTs may bring about new forms of Agri-food chains. In such an inter-locked and interacting relationship between development of a technology and a vital system for life, the role of the society and of Government in deciding upon choices available and direction to be taken also become critical.


The complexity of Asian Agriculture and emerging, complex, trans-boundary food chains now requires a holistic and forward-looking thinking. A foresight approach is crucial to analyse trends and uncertainties and formulate scenarios and options for action.


Issues in Agri-food Chains


The issues at stake to discuss therefore also include:


·       The creation of shared visions and roadmaps on Agri-food chains of the future and to identify issues that require global, regional and national responses as also local, systemic actions that bears enormous potential to catalyse change. This requires strategic thinking and planning at appropriate levels.

·       Risks and benefits to be analysed as part of the Global, Regional, National and Local actions.

·       Institutional and Cultural change, combining grassroots spontaneous action with structured, top down measures

·       Agri-food chains that are becoming increasingly data and information intensive. Competitive advantage will be built by those who will get there first and will build data moats around their business as also have the capacity to process, analyse and interpret them. The technical, technological and ethical issues involved in the management of information and data of Agri-food chains.

·       The direction ICTs applicable to Agri-food chains will evolve. Issues such as over-proliferation and fragmentation of formats, methods, processes, algorithms used across the Agri-food value chain.

·       The asymmetries of capacities to effectively use ICTs, especially big data that will be the hallmark of these Agri-food chains.


Outputs from E-Discussion


An E-Discussion on Forward Thinking for ICT use in Asian Agri-Food Chains was organized by CIARD from 13August to 8 September 2014. This discussion also contributed to prepare for the GFAR-FAO forum. There were 96 participants from 32 countries across the world  More than 80  contributions were made to  discuss the topic.

The Summary of E-Discussion and the edited and re-arranged contributions are attached as background for the Forum.



Expected Outcomes of the Forum


The Forum will provide an opportunity to systematically analyse through a foresight approach among participants, trends and disruptions and formulate scenarios of possible futures for ICT in Agri-food chains. The outputs of this Forum will be a contribution not only to AFITA proceedings but to GFAR and FAO activities in the area of Forward Thinking and Global Foresight in Agriculture which will lead to policy and strategy recommendations for Agricultural development, research and innovation in Asia and elsewhere.



Program of the Forum

There are three sessions of the Forum:

1.     Providing the Background

2.     What could be the Agri-food Systems of the future? What Agri-food systems we want?

3.     What would be the role of ICTs in future Agri-food Systems? What could be the role of ICTs in the future Agri-food systems we want?


Session 1

Providing the Background

-        11:00- 11:15  Overview of Asian Agri-food chains and Background to the Workshop – Ajit Maru

-        11:15 – 11:30  The future of Agriculture and Agri-food chains in Asia – Robin Bourgeois

-        11:30 – 11:45 ICTs used in Agri-food chains – Gerard Sylvester

-        11:45 – 12:00 Traceability Systems – Gerhard Schiefer


Session 2

Facilitated Group Discussion on:

A.     What could be the Agri-food systems  of the future?  

B.     What are the Agri-food systems we want or do not want?


-        13:00-15:00 Group Discussion (2-3 Groups)

-        15:00-15:30   Plenary of Groups


Session 3

Facilitated Group Discussion on:

A.    What could be the role(s) of ICTs in the future Agri-food systems we want?

B.     What actions can be taken for achieving the desired role(s) of ICTs in future Agri-food systems?


-        16.00- 17:30  Group Discussion (2-3 groups)

-        17:30 -18:00 Plenary and Conclusion of Workshop


All interested in participating in the Forum are requested to please go through the Summary and Rearranged Contributions to the E-Discussion as it is expected that the Forum will ideally follow up on these discussions further.