Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to run a pilot programme for 100 villages in 6 states.
What is AgriStack?:
- The AgriStack is a collection of technologies and digital databases proposed by the Central Government focusing on India’s farmers and the agricultural sector.
- The central government has claimed that these new databases are being built to primarily tackle issues such as poor access to credit and wastage in the agricultural supply chain.
- Under AgriStack’, the government aims to provide ‘required data sets’ of farmers’ personal information to Microsoft to develop a farmer interface for ‘smart and well-organized agriculture’.
- The digital repository will aid precise targeting of subsidies, services and policies, the officials added.
- Under the programme, each farmer of the country will get what is being called an FID, or a farmers’ ID, linked to land records to uniquely identify them. India has 140 million operational farm-land holdings.
- Alongside, the government is also developing a unified farmer service platform that will help digitise agricultural services delivery by the public and private sectors.
- 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.
Issues with the move and Farmer Database India
- Agriculture has become the latest sector getting a boost of ‘techno solutionism’ by the government.
- But it has, since then, also become the latest sector to enter the whole debate about data privacy and surveillance.
- Since the signing of the MoUs, several concerns related to sharing farmers’ data with private companies the major one being Microsoft whose owner Bill Gates is said to be the largest private farmland owner in the US.
- In all the MoUs, there are provisions under which the agriculture ministry will enter into a data sharing agreement with the private companies of the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Patanjali.
- The development has raised serious concerns about information asymmetry, data privacy and consent, profiling of farmers, mismanaged land records and corporatization of agriculture.
- The formation of ‘Agristack’ also implies commercialization of agriculture extension activities as they will shift into a digital and private sphere.
Why such concerns?
- The project was being implemented in the absence of a data protection legislation.
- It might end up being an exercise where private data processing entities may know more about a farmer’s land than the farmer himself.
- Without safeguards, private entities would be able to exploit farmers’ data to whatever extent they wish to.
- This information asymmetry, tilted towards the technology companies, might further exploit farmers, especially small and marginal ones.
- 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.
Source: Down To Earth
Also read: AGRICULTURE