FAO is launching a dialogue on the transformative power of digitalization in the agriculture sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina
14 June 2021
FAO organised a validation workshop of strategy for digitalization of the agriculture sector in BiH within the framework of its ongoing project entitled “Building the grounds of E-Agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. The purpose of the workshop was to validate the newly-developed vision on digitalising agriculture which is outlined in the strategic document, and that will be incorporated into the next cycle’s Strategic Plan for Rural Development of Bosnia and Herzegovina post 2021.
Digital agriculture is the use of new and advanced technologies, integrated into one system, to enable farmers, agri-businesses and other stakeholders within the agriculture value chain to improve food production. Technologies used include sensors, communication networks, Artificial Intelligence (AI), drones, blockchain, robotics and other advanced machinery, which often draw on the principles of the Internet of Things and big data. These advanced technologies allow to optimise different farming processes from data collection, through to management and processing, as well as guidance and direction. Such technologies, as desert agriculture and seawater farming, allow for manipulations of biological systems and adaption of plant responses to adverse conditions. Digital agriculture has the potential to make agriculture more productive, more consistent and to use time and resources more efficiently. By 2050, the global population is expected to increase by 40% to 9.6 billion people. Such drastic population growth also boosts the demand for food, so that the agriculture industry will need to produce 70% more food while only using 5% more land, according to the 2009 FAO report “How to Feed the World in 2050”. In the light of various social and environmental dynamics, such as rapidly aging rural populations, urbanization pressures, stressed water resources and farmland degradation, it is generally acknowledged that only technological advancements can transform the agrifood systems in unprecedented way to eradicate hunger, ensure long-term food security and feed the Planet.
FAO harnesses the power of digital technologies to pilot, accelerate and scale innovative ideas with high potential for impact in food and agriculture, transforming digital solutions and services into global public goods. The organization aims to explore the responsible application and adoption of existing and frontier technologies, design and scale new services, tools and approaches to empower rural households and inspire youth entrepreneurship in food and agriculture.
In Western Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), in particular, digitalization is also identified as one of the key enablers for all the action under the EU-led Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. In terms of the advancement of e-agriculture, Bosnia and Herzegovina is positioned relatively lower than other countries in the region, according to the World Bank’s Agriculture Digitalization Index (ADI) where BiH has the total score of 64,3. For example, ADI scores for Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia are 74.4, 85.9, 80.2, 79.9 and 89.3 respectively. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the Government also acknowledges the potential of technologies and innovation to become key accelerators of the agricultural sector development in the country, as these drivers are mentioned as an integral part of five formulated priority goals in the Strategic Plan for Rural Development of BiH for 2018-2021. In 2017 the BiH Council of Ministers already formally adopted the Policy on Development of Information Society in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2017–2021, which aligns with the EU’s digital agenda. Digitalization of the economy and of agriculture, in particular, are also identified as fundamental development drivers in the newly-released SDGs Framework in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which defines broader development pathways, through which the governments at all levels and the society in BiH strive to contribute to implement the Agenda 2030 in the country.
To support the Government along this development pathway, FAO has developed “Guidelines for the strategic framework of digitalization of agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which were designed in a consultative manner through a series of workshops with the public and private sector stakeholders. The strategic report serves as a comprehensive snapshot assessment of the country’s current status of e-agriculture. Within the framework of the conducted analysis “ICT on Agricultural Holdings” 52 respondents from 26 cities or municipalities have been surveyed, and the survey results suggest that at the farm level the use of digital technologies is still limited in the country. For example, 13% of surveyed respondents still do not use any ICT solution in their agricultural production. Surveyed farmers most frequently use ICT for meteorological forecasting services and communication, while e-commerce platforms and e-access to the advisory service are still underutilized in BiH. Regarding the overview of the good practices in e-agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2020 the number of new ICT solutions in digital agriculture rapidly increased. FAO has collected the sample of 16 good practices collected from BiH, which includes examples of digital agricultural solutions both from the public and private sectors. One of such good practice examples is CARPO which is an Agrometeorological Web Reporting and Prognostic System developed for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry of the Republic of Srpska. The system utilises observations from the Ministry’s network of agrometeorological stations, weather forecasts from numerical weather prediction systems and deterministic biological models to produce pest and disease forecasts for different crop types, that are cultivated in the country. Based on these forecasts the system produces alerts and notifications for the users, either farmers or agronomists, in order to take all the necessary actions to protect their crops. Also, through the system, users have the ability to report a disease occurrence to Extension service adviser or to upload photos of affected crops and to improve models results by adjusting model parameters with real situation in their fields. According to the FAO assessment, Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently entering the early stage of Digital Agriculture movement.
On 9 June 2021 FAO organised a workshop to validate the proposed vision on digitalising agriculture in BiH, which brought together over twenty high-profile representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Affairs of BiH, Ministry of Telecommunication and Transport of BiH, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Water Management of RS, Goverment of Brcko District Department for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, other key state agencies, academia, international donor organizations and officers from the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia. The workshop participants have agreed with the FAO proposed vision stating that “by 2027, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have complied with all requirements regarding the European Union Accession process in terms of digitalization of agriculture to ensure a higher level of productivity and efficiency in agriculture”. This vision is to be achieved through actions in the key five priority areas: (1) accelerating digital transformation in the public sector, (2) implementation of ICT solutions in private sector, (3) human capacity development, (4) improving digital infrastructure in rural areas and (5) raising awareness of the benefits of implementing ICT solutions in agriculture. The finalised “Guidelines for the strategic framework of digitalization of agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina” report is expected to be published in Q4 2021. This report would kickstart and catalyse the country-wide Agriculture 4.0 movement in BiH at the policy level, which is to be accompanied with the investments into the micro digital solutions at the agribusiness and farm levels.
The “Guidelines for the strategic framework of digitalization of agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina” report marks the first fundamental milestone of incorporating the digitalization aspects into the legislative and strategic frameworks in the BiH agriculture sector. While the creation of the enabling environment for the wider use of innovation and digitalization in the agriculture sector is vital, it is equally important to ensure equal access to benefits of digital innovations for smallholder farmers and agri-food enterprises in the country. And FAO Country Office in BiH has future plans to capacitate smallholder farmers and agri-businesses with their access to digital technologies – that would require a wholistic approach to developing an impactful action which would address the problem both from the supply and demand sides, as well as from the access to finance perspective.
Vlado Pijunovic, National Programme Coordinator, FAO Country Office in BiH
Regarding digitalization of agriculture in the country, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) must respond to EU requirements, as well as increase the productivity and economy of agricultural production. There are a large number of ICT solutions which potential has been tested in other countries, and that can be replicated in BiH. Such digital solutions in agriculture include robotic milking, use of sensors in crop production, solutions based on Internet of Things technology, use of satellites and drones. The application of these digital solutions in BiH would require a large number of activities from all stakeholders, such as promotion, education, localization, and investment support.
Professor Grujica Vico, PhD, National e-agriculture consultant