A report into food security, commissioned by the British government, has concluded that IT has a vital role to play in improving farming and averting world hunger.

The ‘Future of food and farming’ report said urgent action was needed to avoid global hunger, as the world’s population grows rapidly and consumption booms.

Steps recommended by the report include making sure that efforts to increase farming yields do not hit the long term sustainability of food production. But it also said that IT had a key role in improving investment in Third World countries and increasing farmers’ ability to access information.

Greater use of IT, and mobile phones, “could help improve market information and allow producers to make better decisions about timely supply to markets”, which it said could help reduce seasonal wastage.

The report drew attention to the potential of the internet to provide farmers in poorer countries with useful guidance and advice on improving their farming techniques.

“Access to modern information communication technology (ICT) in rural communities offers substantial potential for the dissemination of knowledge and good practice,” it said. “Most producers live in a world of imperfect information, and are subject to considerable uncertainty with regard to weather conditions, pest attacks, and market options; some of these could be mitigated by better access to ICT.”

IT could facilitate much better knowledge for governments of what is happening in the global food system, the report said, but it added that Third World countries needed good technology systems for this to work.

“Modern information and communication technology (ICT) offers vast scope for improving the quantity, quality and accessibility of information available about the global food system. Satellite and mobile telephony and the growing ubiquity of the web make the collection of data more straightforward, as well as its analysis and dissemination,” the report said.

It added that cloud computing, and the “more intelligent handling of data using semantic web technology”, would make shared information more important and more useful.

It warned that “active steps” will have to be taken by all countries to ensure that low-income nations are not left behind by a “digital divide”.

The report was compiled through research from a two-year study, in which 400 experts across the globe were consulted.