Agristack: The New Digital Technology in Agriculture
On April 13, 2021, the Union Ministry of Agriculture has entered into a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft Corporation to start a pilot project in 100 villages of 6 states.
These six states are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
The MoU requires Microsoft to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services.
This sets in motion the ministry’s plan to creating ‘Agristack’ (A collection of technology – based interventions in agriculture), on which everything else will be built.
Agristack, the project will collect granular data to provide growers with a range of customized services.
Each farmer will be provided a unique farmer’s ID. Which will be linked to his/her Aadhaar Number.
It will contain details related to land ownership, the crops she grows, soil health and the benefits available under government scheme such as direct cash transfer, crop insurance and subsidized credit.
Need of Agristack
Significane of Agristack
Highlights of MoU
On June 1, 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture signed four MoUs-with Star Agricluture, Patanjali Organic Research Institute for Agricultural Management and services, Amazon Internet Services and Esri India.
MoU with Star Agribazaar mentions building a generalized advisory platform for farmers, including mobile applications, for pre and post harvest advisories.
The MoU with Patanjali talks about developing a mobile application for advising farmers on soil nutrition, accurate quantification on farmer crop and yield and fertilizers recommendations etc.
In the MoU with Amazon Internet Services, it is discussed that the company will build a ‘National Agri Data Stock’ that can serve as a foundational data layer on which ‘agri focused solution’ will be built.
It will also offer its cloud services to solution providers/partners to help build ‘solution across agri value chain’ and will also help agriculture related start- ups.
The Esri India MoU discusses how the company will support the ministry in establishing a ‘national agricultural geo hub’ provide the required GIS tools and technologies and create farmers and other agriculture data services on GIS platform.
Linking land ownership data with Aadhaar may hit a roadblock because the process of digitizing land records is still a work in progress in the country where land disputes accounts for more than 60% of all civil litigation.
A blind reliance on technology may lead to exclusion errors in welfare programme like the food subsidy scheme.
The project was being implemented in the absence of data protection legislation. It might end up being an exercise where private data processing entities may know more about a farmers land than the farmer himself.
This information asymmetry, tilted towards the technology companies, might further exploit farmers especially small and marginal ones.
The formation of ‘Agristack’ also implies commercialization of agriculture extension activities as they will shift into a digital and private sphere.
Making land records the basis for farmer database would mean excluding tenant farmers, sharecroppers and agricultural labourers.
The revenue model of pritave firms working on pilot projects is still not clear. They may sell farmers data and breach their privacy.
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 government should move ahead with the projects based on the results obtained from pilot trials.
The private firms working on pilet project must effectively cooperate with state government to reconcile the differences over land ownership.