Tactics and strategy for the digital transformation in the agri-food sector - the Spanish experience

In times of the Football World Cup, when talking about tactics and strategy, one might suppose we refer to football as it usually happens in daily conversations these days. However, this is not the case for the following article.

In Spain, we realized the important need to have an active role in the digital transformation of the sector to tackle the digital and structural divide, and to counteract the depopulation process in different rural areas to allow the sustainability of the agri-food sector and its subsectors in a very diverse country.

The Focus Group (FG) for digitalisation and Big Data in the agri-food and forestry sectors and rural areas has been created by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food within the framework of the European Innovation Partnership in Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-Agri) using EAFRD funds. 33 highly qualified experts were selected coming from different sectors and disciplines throughout the whole value chain. This group was later enlarged to 38 experts, to include specific views needed for the development of the FG activities.

Keeping the objective in mind, the tactics and the strategy for the development of the various activities is needed to get a strengthened engagement of the different experts, and no one could better summarize it than the Uruguayan writer and poet, Mario Benedetti: ‘My tactics is to watch you, to learn how you are, to love you the way you are. My tactics is to talk to you and to listen to you; to build with words an indestructible bridge.’

We started by watching how the system is set up and learning about the complexities of each part: Legal, economic and technical capacities as well as barriers were identified. Based on that, a continuous process of information exchange emerged, allowing the active participation and engagement of all the experts within a participatory and inclusive intervention which is built on knowledge, ideas and concerns.

Once the barriers were identified and prioritised, we learned from the actors which role they incorporate in the digital transformation, and the roles they could perform in the newly emerging scenarios. In parallel, we worked in the most suitable incentives to allow the actors to remove or at least to mitigate the barriers. In short: Building bridges to enhance the agri-food digital innovation ecosystems.

The poem of Mario Benedetti continues with a verse: ‘My tactic is to be honest, and know you are too, and that we don’t sell each other illusions.’ Digitalisation would allow the agri-food sector to be more efficient, more sustainable and increase the welfare and quality of farmers lives, cooperatives, food industries and the life in rural areas in general. Although we should be careful in creating false expectations, we should be realistic and, at the same time, ambitious.

This would allow us to develop an inclusive process for the digital transformation of the agri-food sector with the sole strategy of allowing technology to create better conditions for the future, as Benedetti wrote: ‘My strategy instead is deeper and simpler. My strategy is that some day, I don’t know how nor with what pretext, that finally you need me.’

In the Spanish Focus Group for digitalisation and Big Data in the agri-food and forestry sectors and the rural areas, we have been working on such a strategic view that allows us to work on the transformation process towards a very diverse and rich agricultural sector.

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Dr. Andrés Montero Aparicio

External consultant at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain where he is coordinating the Focus Group on Digitization and Big Data in the agrifood and forestry sectors and the rural areas.

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