Michael Kremer, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for his studies aimed at alleviating global poverty, recommended that Latin America and the Caribbean develop public policies that focus on agricultural digitalization, which he considers to be a key tool for improving the situation of rural populations and overcoming food vulnerability, which has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The economist, Nobel prize winner and Gates Professor at Harvard University made these recommendations during a conversation with Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), as part of a webinar entitled “Opportunities for Digital Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Prompt Response to COVID-19”.
The conversation, which focused on the opportunities afforded by agricultural digitization to boost productivity on small-scale farms, as well as the crucial role played by smartphones in meeting those objectives, is now available on IICA’s website (www.iica.int) and social networking sites.
The dialogue between Kremer and Otero primarily focused on the challenges, opportunities and distinctive features of Latin American agriculture, at a time when the health and economic crisis triggered by the pandemic is increasing food vulnerability in some countries throughout the region.
“Covid-19 has created a health crisis and an even greater economic crisis. Unfortunately, it is also generating a food security crisis for many people”, stated Kremer. He added that, despite the significant progress that has been achieved with respect to production, many Latin American and Caribbean countries have failed to achieve a widespread adoption of technological developments in rural areas.
“Twenty percent of Latin America’s rural population is living under extreme poverty, primarily on small-scale farms with low levels of productivity. There are about 16 million of these farms. More productive technologies are now available, yet they are not being adopted”, explained the economist.
“There are many barriers: credit barriers, market barriers and behavioral barriers. Agricultural extension services offer a series of approaches to alleviate some of these barriers”, he added.
Mobile phones: a gateway to knowledge
The use of mobile phones for knowledge transfer should be the cornerstone of strategies, which, according to Kremer, countries should adopt to reduce technological gaps. The economist has championed this approach within the framework of projects aimed at eradicating hunger in Asia and Africa.
“As smart phones become more widely accessible, many opportunities will arise for more advanced forms of communication, such as sending video instructions to farmers”, he stated.
Much of Kremer’s work has focused on developing strategies to reduce poverty and hunger through technological developments, which he has brought to countries in Asia and Africa through Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD), the NGO he co-founded in 2019.
According to the economist, “mobile agriculture can prove useful not only for farmers, governments and extension services for farmers, but also for private companies”.
“The current pandemic is an ideal time to begin investing in digital extension, which is an effective means for supporting farmers during the spread of Covid-19 while also laying the groundwork for a very valuable long-term system”, he noted.
He also explained that, because of the pandemic, extension workers may not be able to visit farmers, “but these services enable them to collect data from farmers to better understand how they have been affected by Covid-19, as well as get a sense of disruptions with respect to market and supply chains, access to credit opportunities, and so on. This, in turn, can help policymakers to design better policies”.