Agristack: The New Digital Push in Agriculture
Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to run a pilot programme for 100 villages in 6 states.
The MoU requires Microsoft to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services.
This comprises a major part of the ministry’s plan of creating ‘AgriStack’ (a collection of technology-based interventions in agriculture), on which everything else will be built.
- It is a collection of technologies and digital databases that focuses on farmers and the agricultural sector.
- AgriStack will create a unified platform for farmers to provide them end to end services across the agriculture food value chain.
- It is in line with the Centre’s Digital India Programme, aimed at providing a broader push to digitise data in India, from land titles to medical records.
- The government is also implementing the National Land Records Modernisation Programme (NRLMP)
- Under the programme, each farmer will have a unique digital identification (farmers’ ID)that contains personal details, information about the land they farm, as well as production and financial details.
- Each ID will be linked to the individual’s digital national ID Aadhar
- At present, the majority of farmers across India are small and marginal farmers with limited access to advanced technologies or formal credit that can help improve output and fetch better prices.
- Among the new proposed digital farming technologies and services under the programme include sensors to monitor cattle, drones to analyze soil and apply pesticide, may significantly improve the farm yields and boost farmers’ incomes.
- Problems such as inadequate access to credit and information, pest infestation, crop wastage, poor price discovery and yield forecasting can be sufficiently addressed by use of digital technology.
- It will also fuel innovation and breed investment towards the agricultural sector and augment research towards more resilient crops.
- Absence of a Data Protection Legislation: In its absence, it might end up being an exercise where private data processing entities may know more about a farmer’s land than the farmer himself and they would be able to exploit farmers’ data to whatever extent they wish to.
- Commercialization: The formation of ‘Agristack’ will imply commercialization of agriculture extension activities as they will shift into a digital and private sphere.
- Absence of Dispute Settlement: The MoUs provide for physical verification of the land data gathered digitally, but there is nothing on what will be the course of action if disputes arise, especially when historical evidence suggests that land disputes take years to settle.
- Privacy and Exclusion Issues:
- Given that the proposed farmer ID will be Aadhaar-seeded, further issues of privacy and exclusion would emerge.
- Several researchers have demonstrated the vulnerability of the Aadhaar database to breaches and leaks, while Aadhaar-based exclusion in welfare delivery has also been well documented in different contexts.
- Also, making land records the basis for farmer data bases would mean excluding tenant farmers, sharecroppers and agricultural laborer.
- Data shows that the population of farm laborer has outstripped that of farmers and cultivators.
- There is no denial that there is potential in data and technology in empowering farmers but only when the flow of information is balanced.
- The private firms working on pilot projects must effectively cooperate with state governments to reconcile the differences over land ownership.
- The government should move ahead with the project based on the results obtained from pilot trails.