AgriStack can serve as a foundation for ‘Innovative Agri-Centric Solutions’, enabling the creation of a better ecosystem for agriculture in India

Question – AgriStack can serve as a foundation for ‘Innovative Agri-Centric Solutions’, enabling the creation of a better ecosystem for agriculture in India. Comment. Also mention the concerns related to it. 5 March 2022

Answer – AgriStack is a collection of technologies, and digital databases focused on farmers and the agriculture sector. It will create an integrated platform to provide end-to-end services to farmers in the agri-food value chain. Also, it is in line with the Centre’s Digital India programme, which aims to make massive efforts to digitize data ranging from land digitization to medical records in India.

Needfulness:

  • At present most of the farmers in India are small and marginal farmers with limited access to advanced technologies or formal credit, which can help in improving production and getting better prices. Proposed under the program include sensors to monitor cattle, drones to analyze soil and spray pesticides, improve farm yields and boost farmers’ income using new digital farming technologies and services.
  • Stakeholders can be deployed for GIS and IoT (Internet of Things) services for their feedback. For example, in the post-harvest stage, a trigger can be sent to the harvesting equipment suppliers and buyers, who can then contact the cultivator to provide necessary services to the farmers.
  • It can enable the provision of market intelligence for de-risking commodity price fluctuations, demand-supply forecasting and weather advisory. A marketplace can be created where various entrepreneurs and suppliers of products and services can meet.
  • Problems like inadequate access to credit and information, pest infestation, crop failure, low cost of crops and yield prediction can be adequately tackled with the use of digital technology. It will promote innovation as well as increase investment in agriculture and promote research for more resilient crops.

However, recently several organizations working for farmer rights and digital rights expressed concern over the government’s plan to create AgriStack due to the following concerns:

  • Data security: It is being implemented in the absence of a data protection law. Without such safeguards, private entities can exploit farmer’s data as much as they want.
  • Financial Exploitation: Once FinTech companies are able to collect granular data about farmer’s actions, they can directly offer them interest rates if they need a loan.
  • Digital Access: There is a massive digital divide in the country with major issues related to digital access and literacy in the country.
  • The MoUs do physical verification of digitally collected land data, but nothing is clear on the course of action if a dispute arises.
  • Several researchers have clarified the vulnerability of the Aadhaar database to breaches and leaks, while Aadhaar-based exclusions in welfare distribution have also been well described in various contexts. Also, creating a farmer database of land records means that tenant farmers, sharecroppers and agricultural laborers will not be included in it.

It cannot be denied that data and technology have the potential to empower farmers, but the government should put in place a strong framework to protect the interests of farmers whose data is being used. Also, since agriculture is a state subject, it is important that state governments are involved. There is a need for creation of common agriculture data standards and common mechanism through inter-ministerial/centre-state consultations.

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