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Digital transformation solving core elements of UN's SDGs

A utopian dream is perhaps the best way to describe the vision of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) otherwise known as the Global Goals, which are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

There are 17 SDGs built on three core elements: "economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection". In achieving these, different groups are expecting digital transformation to play a big role particularly in bridging the gaps in economic growth and environmental protection.

The 17 SDGs envisioned to transform our world are: "No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequality; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace and Justice Strong Institutions; and Partnerships to achieve the Goal".

Often times we hear of digital transformation as a buzzword used by business consultants and analysts. However, it is also important to note that this does not only help in the improvement of strategies and customer experience but also can be put to use for the greater good.

Below are several actual cases on how digital transformation currently helps in addressing SDG targets, particularly in Asia and take a cue on how technology can support your current initiatives:

World Food Programme’s (WFP) Building Blocks

In a report by Forbes Magazine, one of the most innovative ways being used to achieve the SDG objectives is blockchain, which is being applied in everything from health care programs to establishing climate coalitions.

One of the leading programs currently in progress is the WFP Building Blocks. Established in 2016, the project uses the decentralized DLT to make cash transfers more efficient, secure and cost-friendly by eliminating the need for intermediaries. This addresses SDG No. 1 “No Poverty” and SDG No. 2 “Zero Hunger.”

“By harnessing the power of the blockchain, WFP aims to reduce payment costs associated with cash transfers, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and set up assistance operations more rapidly in the wake of emergencies,” WFP explained.

As of January 2018, over 100,000 Syrian refugees in Pakistan and Jordan redeem their WFP-provided assistance using the blockchain program. The aim is to have all 500,000 WFP-supported refugees in Jordan receive their provisions using the service.

Climate Chain Coalition's Digital ledger Technology (DLT)

Recognizing that climate change is one of the SDGs, the UN Climate Change sector established in December 2017 the Climate Chain Coalition (CCC), an open global initiative to support collaboration among members and stakeholders to advance blockchain and related digital solutions (e.g. IoT, big data) to help mobilize climate finance and enhance MRV (measurement, reporting and verification) to scale climate actions for mitigation and adaptation.

For climate action, Blockchain technology could be used in the following specific ways: "Improved carbon emission trading; Facilitated clean energy trading; Enhanced climate finance flows; and Better tracking and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and avoidance of double counting."

On carbon emission trading for instance, IBM and Energy Blockchain Lab are currently working together to develop a Blockchain platform for trading carbon assets in China. Recording carbon assets on a public Blockchain would also guarantee transparency and ensure that transactions are valid and settled automatically.

On facilitated clean energy trading, blockchain could also allow for the development of platforms for peer-to-peer renewable energy trade. Consumers would be able to buy, sell or exchange renewable energy with each other, using tokens or tradable digital assets representing a certain quantity of energy production.

And on enhancing climate finance flows, blockchain could help develop crowdfunding and peer-to-peer financial transactions in support of climate action, while ensuring that financing is allocated to projects in a transparent way.

The UN Climate Change said because of blockchain's distributed nature, the collaboration tool could improve governance and sustainability in support of collective action aimed at tackling climate change. As opposed to centralized or decentralized networks, Blockchain prevents monopolistic control over the system. The technology also records transactions openly and permanently, thus fostering transparency and traceability.

Big Data advancing stats on poverty, welfare

In an article published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last June 21, the bank's statistician Arturo Martinez (of Research and Regional Cooperation Department) together with senior research fellow (Philippine Institute for Development Studies) Jose Ramon Albert, wrote that Big Data can transform SDG performance.

Both authors cited that Big Data from electronic devices, social media, search engines, and sensors tracking devices and satellite imagery now provides a novel data source for NSSs, with 3 Vs—(large) volume, velocity, and variety—to complement statistics from traditional sources.

They added Big Data is being increasingly explored for development purposes. For instance, in Jakarta, Twitter conversations on the price of rice have provided an innovative way to monitor actual prices. In the Philippines, the World Bank has teamed up with ride-hailing service provider Grab to launch the Open Traffic Initiative, which uses Grab driver data to yield near real-time traffic data and statistics, including speed, flow, and delays at intersections to study critical areas in traffic management.

Other examples include call detail records with information on mobile customer behavior being used to proxy the poverty status of mobile users. Digital traces of mobile phone use can likewise help track population movements and examine people’s behavior during disaster events.

The UN Statistics Division has developed an inventory of Big Data projects. It includes past and ongoing undertakings on making use of scanner data from supermarket chains and other retailers, as well as online prices obtained from web-scraping to generate price indices in the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

AgriTech is essential

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported last October that "food and agriculture systems face daunting challenges - from having to produce more with less to feed a growing planet, to shrinking the sector's carbon footprint, to creating decent employment opportunities, especially for youth in developing countries".

According to FAO, the previous Global Forum supported by the European Union and organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), highlighted that "digital technologies, are transforming every sector of the global economy, including agriculture. New technologies are improving agricultural productivity, lowering carbon emissions and making better use of the earth's natural resources. They are also making information more accessible to small-scale producers across the globe."

At the annual Asia Agri-Tech Expo & Forum 2018 held last July in Taiwan, UBM Taiwan general manager Sabine Liu remarked: “The manpower of agricultural industries is steeply decreasing, but the demand for food is dramatically rising. We believe innovative technologies and equipment will bring the solutions for food crisis, food safety and animal diseases.”

Liu noted the practice to input IoT and bio technology into agriculture has been well developed in Taiwan. It is expected to become one of the agri-tech representative models in the future.

Precision agriculture is being the trend nowadays and leads the boost of greenhouse. Tatung Company and Hua Wang Ltd., are making ongoing efforts to change weather conditions in small spaces and helping farmers achieve steady yield and income. In addition, Seed & Seedling Pavilion promoted harvest performance of cruciferous vegetables, watermelons, cherry tomatoes and graft passion fruit seedlings. They feature better quality and greater survival of grafted plants, and are heat-, disease-,moisture-, and drought- resistant and tolerant.

The exhibitors, Blutech and Fu Chen Automatic Control, expand IoT market footprints on intelligent facility that helps monitor aquatic farming environment.

“The purpose of smart farming is to reduce the cost of manpower, but increase yields. Unmanned fish farm is more than just an idea, it’s now our task to work on AI-enabled system for smart aquaculture development,” explained Deral Chen, CEO of Blutech.

In other parts of Asia, several AgriTech startups have emerged in the past few years and are backed by veture capitalists and angel investors. iGrow and Cropital, based in Indonesia and the Philippines respectively, function as crowdfunding platforms where the general public can invest in crops. Through a mobile app, investors get to choose the seeds they want to purchase based on their budget, interest, and expected returns, which would then be planted by farmers involved in the startups' networks.

Other interesting Asian Agri-Tech startups iclude India's CroFarm, FlyBird Farm Innovations, and Vietnam's MimosaTek. CroFarm developed a supply chain system that connects the consumers directly to the farmers to avoid wastage; FlyBird Farm Innovations develop solutions to automate the irrigation process, while MimosaTek provides a cloud-based system that lets farmers control and manage farms with the use of sensors to monitor the environment, alerts on unfavourable environmental factors, crop progress monitoring, crop database, and remote irrigation execution through mobile phones.


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