The Establishment of an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture


A concept note for the establishment of an International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture was presented during the 12th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), held in Berlin from 16-18 January, 2020.

A year earlier, as part of the 2019 GFFA final Communique, 74 Ministers of Agriculture tasked the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to draw up a concept note for the creation of a Digital Council to provide advice to governments, encourage the exchange of ideas and experience that would allow all contributors to food production and supply chains to harness the opportunities presented by digitalisation (GFFA,2019,P.6).

The FAO worked in consultation with numerous stakeholders, including: the World Bank; the African Development Bank (ADB); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); the World Trade Organisation (WTO); the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and; the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA). The resulting proposal is the product of an open and inclusive dialogue, with a total of 355 stakeholders from more than 100 organisations contributing to its’ development. 

The role and function of the Digital Council was fully explained during the presentation, including what legal form would be appropriate for such a body, and what impact the resulting growth in digital agriculture might have on farmers.

The document recognises that a mechanism is needed to facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders in the food production system about the economic, social, environmental and ethical effects that digital technology could have on the sector. Farmers, businesses, consumers, the environment, and society in general will ultimately be affected by these changes. This multistakeholder approach would not only give all actors a better understanding of potential impacts, but could also be the basis for developing general principles and guidelines, allowing governments to maximize benefits (increased production, productivity and sustainability) and minimize the negative impacts of digital technologies in agriculture (data misuse, the digital divide, weak infrastructures, unequal access to digital technology, lack of connectivity, farmers’ rights, data privacy and ownership issues).

The new body proposed in the concept note has the potential to enhance international co-operation within the agricultural and food production sectors, with the exchange of ideas and experiences creating synergies that will make processes more efficient on a global scale. It will help facilitate dialogue between stakeholders, building confidence in digital technology by including all stakeholders in the development of appropriate voluntary guidelines.

Additionally, the Digital Council would provide policy recommendations and guidelines on digitalisation best practices to government and non-government actors, strengthening international cooperation in agri-food systems. It will address four key gaps: the need for strengthened policy making and regulation, the economic and gender gap, the skills gap and the digital divide, and suggest possible solutions. The Council would act as a coordination hub to strengthen links and alliances between all stakeholders. 

With the existence of such a council, all actors could be brought to the table to discuss and resolve governance issues involving digital infrastructure development, such as connectivity, inclusion, data ownership, privacy and ethics.  Multistakeholder discussions of this nature would not only make all stakeholders aware of the concerns of others, but would pave the way for developing a set of general principles and norms that would help enhance awareness of the challenges farmers face and their importance in the process.

This is a very promising first step towards regulating digitalisation in agriculture, as the Digital Council will address current digital governance challenges in the sector, do a full gap analysis, and examine ways to bridge the digital divide; ensuring everyone can benefit from the digital era. To meet these goals, there are plans to include such activities as international forums to share policy best practice, promote interaction between farmers’ associations on an international level, not to mention other national and supranational stakeholders.

The main focus will be on creating an international framework for digitalisation in order to support the development of a more efficient, inclusive and equitable global agri-food system that will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


This article was written by GODAN Data Rights Advisor Foteini Zampati. To find out more about GODAN's work on data rights and policy, please see the Data Rights and Responsible Data Working Group - feel free to sign up to the mailing list to receive updates and get involved.