Smallholders and family farms are strongholds of food production, food security, and rural development. Without innovation, their important services cannot be secured for the long term.

Representatives of governments, academia, civil society, and private sector and international organizations from Europe and Central Asia are meeting for four days in Hungary to give impetus to this pursuit.

Starting today, FAO’s regional expert consultation on knowledge sharing for agricultural innovations for smallholders and family farms aims to spur a shift from linear and centralized knowledge systems towards inclusive, decentralized and pluralistic structures.

The meeting’s agenda covers the status of family farms, information networks and platforms, and e-agriculture in the region.

“In contrast with technologies and inventions, innovations are products, processes or forms of organizations that have already proven to be able to add value to improved livelihoods of farmers and to contribute to environmental protection and social inclusion,” said Nevena Alexandrova-Stefanova, FAO agricultural innovation and knowledge sharing officer.

Just a few of the available agricultural innovations, whether digital or not, can be directly used by smallholders in the region, she said. Participants at this week’s meeting will be updated on specific challenges that present barriers to innovation among smallholders.

FAO was asked by its member countries to collect and share information in this area; therefore, the meeting aims to define criteria and mechanisms for data collection on agricultural innovations for smallholders.

This is backed by a non-representative country survey conducted prior to the consultation.

“With the digitalization of agriculture ongoing, countries should to be aware of their level of readiness in using the new technologies on a national scale,” said Sophie Treinen, FAO information and knowledge management officer. “Challenges need to be addressed in a participatory way, involving all relevant actors.”

Various networks and platforms that aim to help countries share their knowledge and experience are already out on the market.

Experts will map them, define means of collaboration, and identify which needs and information challenges are addressed by them – and which not. To help address unmet needs, a proposal for a new regional platform is expected.

The consultation also aims at strengthening the regional e-agriculture network and redefining its operation. Another expected outcome is a regional observatory for smallholders and family farms on e-agriculture innovations. FAO’s e-agriculture strategy guide also will be reviewed in light of the realities and specificities of Europe and Central Asia to provide better and more tailored support to countries in developing national e-agriculture strategies.

Empowering smallholders and family farms to improve livelihoods and reduce rural poverty is a top priority area for FAO in Europe and Central Asia.