Harnessing Digital Technologies for Timely Decision-Making Across Food, Land, and Water Systems


Threatened by climate change, biodiversity loss and persisting inequalities, urgent actions are required to transform food, land, and water systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of digital infrastructure and skills for resilient food systems. Three information-related challenges must be tackled:

First, small-scale producers in the Global South are underserved by appropriate digital technologies. Less than 40% of small farms are covered by 3/4G mobile coverage, and only 13% of small farms in sub-Saharan Africa have ever accessed a digital service. Enabling policies and investments are urgently needed, yet policymakers and investors do not always agree on priorities.

Second, food, land, and water systems stakeholders lack timely and equitable access to data and information for identifying risks and managing them to promote resilient food systems and governance. More than 300 million small-scale producers do not have access to digital climate advisory services. Unmanaged risks hinder producers’ adoption of technologies and existing information may not be enough to manage emerging food systems risks.

Third, extension and digital advisory services need the technical capacity to utilize data and interpret research findings to synthesize actionable information. Existing knowledge is often outdated and difficult to apply in practice. The levels of digital literacy and skills across the Global South remain low, and technology access is gender-divided.


This Initiative aims to support inclusive agricultural transformation and sustainable food, land, and water management by improving information systems and strengthening digital innovation ecosystems.

Specifically, new information will be used as a basis for policies, business decisions, and advisories. Stakeholders’ technical capacity and digital literacy will strengthen. Scaling partners will synthesize actionable information from research findings, supported by CGIAR scientists and automation tools. Leveraging economies of scale, their content will potentially reach ten times more gender-balanced stakeholders, nudging them to adopt sustainable and climate-smart practices. At least ten datasets, services, and knowledge products will be publicly released annually.

This will be achieved through:

  • Multi-stakeholder engagement and analyses on the digital technology landscape, information demand, prototype designing and evaluation, and gender inclusion, undertaken in target areas.
  • Co-development of food, land, and water systems monitoring and modeling services in target areas, deployed to generate timely, actionable information for managing risks and natural resources.
  • Joint operation of information services with local partners, with associated capacity strengthening programs on use and maintenance.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Policymakers in target areas develop inclusive policy and investments to support digital ecosystems. Small-scale producers benefit from localized digital advisory services that meet their specific needs. Agribusinesses benefit from new capabilities and market opportunities from digital innovations.
  2. Digital innovators targeting food systems (e.g., digital extension, financing, and e-commerce providers) design inclusive products, utilizing the Initiative-developed Digital Inclusion and Empowerment Index, reaching more users with customized services. Policymakers assess the status of digital inclusion in target areas and strategize to address digital divides.
  3. Partner agencies institutionalize the modeling system co-developed by the Initiative and strengthen their analytical capacity to support food systems decision-makers to assess impacts and trade-offs for scenarios concerning changes in climate, policy, and market conditions. They use the information to manage risks, develop strategies, and formulate policy for inclusive investments and innovations.
  4. Partner agencies utilize the food, land, and water monitoring system co-developed by the Initiative to detect emerging system risks early and generate timely, localized information products and release through digital channels. Government agencies improve efficiency through a digitalized workflow, and policymakers assess the impacts of their decisions faster.
  5. Extension and digital advisory services provide more timely, locally relevant, and inclusively-designed content to food, land, and water systems stakeholders. Early warning of potential disruptions and advisory content help producers manage the risks and invest in adopting climate-smart practices, leading to more productive and profitable farming and sustainably-managed natural resources.



Food, land, and water systems stakeholders access short-term (sub-seasonal-to-seasonal) climate forecasts to better manage the risks, adopt climate-smart technologies and management practices, and improve their climate adaptive capacity. Policymakers use intersectoral data and food, land, and water systems status indicators to negotiate global climate agreements on the adaptation and mitigation planning.


Timely, high-frequency monitoring of food, land, and water systems and socioeconomic indicators, combined with multi-purpose ground-truth data and actionable advisory information, enables food systems stakeholders to detect risks early, make targeted interventions, and monitor the effects in real time to ensure a continued supply of nutritious food and safe water.


Strengthened digital ecosystems with timely, reliable food, land, and water systems information allow food systems stakeholders to manage risks, optimize business decisions, create market opportunities, increase income and profitability, and improve livelihoods. Digital extension services are strengthened to provide targeted, inclusive advisory information and scale to reach ten times more subscribers, creating more youth employment opportunities.


The Digital Inclusion and Empowerment Index supports digital innovators to design accessible tools and inclusive services that promote gender equality and social inclusion across food, land, and water systems. Availability of open access ground-truth data supports local technology education programs to develop their own machine learning applications. Digital tools empower marginalized groups to voice concerns and influence governance.


Timely information on the state of food, land, and water systems and embedded biodiversity helps stakeholders assess their environmental impacts, such as infrastructure development (natural and built) impacts on surface water availability and deforestation, accounting for environmental costs. Publicizing this information incentivizes food system actors to adopt practices promoting environmental health and biodiversity.


For more details, view the full preliminary outline


Header photo: A field technician uses Rice Crop Manager, a software developed by IRRI, to get real-time recommendations on his plot. Photo by I. Serrano/IRRI.