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Will Agristack, the Unified Platform help Transform Agriculture in India?

The Government of India is on an Urgent Mission of developing a Digital Ecosystem for covering everything related to agriculture – including farmers’ database, land records, soil types, crops, etc - with the idea that Companies and Centre will use this data to provide services/products/advice to farmers. It has already started Pilot projects, signing MoUs with corporations ranging from Microsoft to Patanjali, sharing farmers' data with them.

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Sustainable Agriculture
Indian Farmer

The Government of India is on an Urgent Mission of developing a Digital Ecosystem for covering everything related to agriculture – including farmers’ database, land records, soil types, crops, etc - with the idea that Companies and Centre will use this data to provide services/products/advice to farmers. It has already started Pilot projects, signing MoUs with corporations ranging from Microsoft to Patanjali, sharing farmers' data with them.  

An MoU has been signed for a  Pilot Project in 100 villages of UP, MP, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh with Microsoft to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services. Thereafter, the ministry signed four other MoUs — with Star Agribazaar, Patanjali Organic Research Institute for agricultural management and services, Amazon Internet Services, and Esri India in the month of June for different operations under AgriStack. 

MoU with Microsoft for building the underlying digital infrastructure (Unified Farmer Service Interface) on which everything else will be built, With Amazon for creating the ‘startups ecosystem’ for apps to be created using all the data in AgriStack. With Patanjali for creating the farm management solutions (precision agriculture in which farms have sensors connected to the internet - the Internet of Things of IoT - to automate farming) and  With ESRI for creating Geographic Information System (GIS) solutions towards satellite information based farmer information and  With Agribazaar ostensibly towards creating a marketplace for agrifinanceagri-inputs and produce, along with technical information (weather, package of practices, market prices, etc) for farmer and also for  Inviting proposals for building further on AgriStack. 

AgriStack’ is a collection of technology-based interventions in agriculture, on which everything else will be built. The National Agri Data Stack is supposed to build innovative agri focuses solutions leveraging technologies such as AI, advanced analytics, Blockchain, IOT to contribute effectively towards Doubling Farmers Income. IT also means they will nurture start-ups in the above spaces who are focuses on building technology solutions to improve efficacies of farmers. The sole objective of the initiative is to make best efforts at building an effective digital solution stack that can help enhance livelihood of farmers and promote inclusive development of agriculture sector in India. 

While there are potentially positive aspects to use of digital data, there is  major worry that  this is likely to push farmers even faster into the clutches of companies & agribusiness - with no proper safeguards to protect their rights and interests. Private entities would be able to exploit farmers’ data to whatever extent they wish. The Farmers’ data would be shared with private companies the major one being Microsoft whose owner Bill Gates is said to be the largest private farmland owner in the US. 

What does the MOUs reflect? 

In a response to an RTI, The MoU appears to propose that farmer’s data will be used to authenticate their identity for the receipt of entitlements under agricultural schemes. Further, the MoU speaks of a data sharing agreement, wherein the Agriculture Ministry will share farmers’ data with Microsoft. While the SOP contains guidelines for correcting gaps and errors in land records concerns on data protection, exclusion to entitlements and algorithmic governance emerge. There is a serious worry about whether a central farmer database would be prepared by linking the land records of farmers across the country  and would integrate the data from PM Kisan,Aadhar related Fertilizer Distribution System, Soil Health Cards, Pradhan Mantri Insurance Scheme and other data as well as geotagging. 

This Central database will be leveraged by Microsoft and its local partner CropData to build post harvest management solutions and capture agricultural datasets such as crop yields, weather data, market demand and prices. 

Serious Concerns  

Various Farmer Groups and Agricultural cooperatives had written a joint letter to the  Ministry and has highlighted a number of key concerns with the proposed project such as charging  exorbitant rates of interest by even agri fintech organizations, exploitation of farmers by procurers, reduced agency on the part of farmers, reduced transparency through algorithmic governance, and inadequate and incorrect land records. Not all farmers have landrecords and linking them with database will exclude  many labourers, farmers. 

The Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India has put out a Consultation Paper on IDEA (India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture) Transforming Agriculture in public domain which can be seen at https://agricoop.nic.in/consultationpaper 

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