What is Digital AgriStack and why are Indian farmers opposing it? – World Affairs SRS

What is Digital AgriStack and why are Indian farmers opposing it?

– World Affairs SRS

The government is working on a digital ‘stack’ of agricultural datasets, the core of which is land records. The apps built atop the stack will provide farmers with updates on weather, farm credit, insurance, etc., along with recommendations on which seeds to buy, and best practices to maximize their yield. The government has said that this will also help in increasing the income of farmers and improve the efficiency of the agriculture sector.

But such a centralized agglomeration would use old and incorrect land records; Farmers’ personal and financial details would be accessed without a strong data protection law; And the level of digital literacy is low in rural areas. So, such an ‘AgriStack’ is problematic, experts told IndiaSpend.


The proposal comes against the backdrop of the government backing down on three agriculture laws passed in September 2020, which were asked to help the government in its goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.

What is Agristack?

As a collection of digital database, AgriStack will have some salient features including a unique farmer identification number for each farmer, and some of the building blocks like data on weather, latest science and research on agriculture, prices of agricultural commodities in India and abroad, Access to information and central government schemes, agricultural regulations and permissions. In June 2021, the government shared a paper on the India Digital Ecosystem Architecture (IDEA), detailing AgriStack’s architecture.

There are existing technologies and applications like Kisan Suvidha, which provide agriculture related information from existing schemes. But these do not integrate the database, experts say. Nachiket Udupa, member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a labor and farmer rights organisation, said Idea/AgriStack is billed as the underlying platform (like Android or iOS) on which apps like Kisan Suvidha and others will run. Rajsamand district in Rajasthan.

Idea is expected to ensure that state and central data will be independent parts of the architecture, but they will not exist in silos, and can be used together to give farmers the information they need.

AgriStack aims to ensure that farmers make informed decisions about which crops to grow and when, what seeds to buy and how to get maximum yield. Agricultural supply chain players can plan their production and logistics accurately; Farmers know when, where and at what price to sell their produce; And farmers can benefit from new technologies and data protection. The overall objective is that India move towards precision farming – the use of all agricultural inputs in a specific, measured quantity for higher yields.

An AgriStack that can bring all stakeholders in the agri-value chain on a common platform, “would be a game changer”, said GR Chintala, president of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), in a speech in September 2020.

Stack may also assess the creditworthiness of agricultural borrowers, said the Steering Committee’s 2019 report on fintech-related issues. “This stack may include a farmer’s lending history, land ownership data, cropping patterns and income data, among other information.”

This “places the farmer at the center of the agricultural ecosystem”, the ministry said in a consultation paper on the idea dated June 1, 2021.

But not everyone agrees with the intention of the government. Udupa said the government has two reasons to go to the idea. “There is an assumption, which is not necessarily true, that the combination of databases will lead to better targeted delivery of government programs and, therefore, savings for the exchequer,” Udupa said. “The second reason is to open a new market for businesses. Sadly, none of these reasons have anything to do with what is best for the farmer.”

Presently, the government has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with private companies including Microsoft, ITC, Cisco and Amazon to develop Proof of Concepts (PoCs) on viable ways to develop AgriStack.

Old land records, extent of landlessness Agristack accuracy, utility

The land records, which are at the core of AgriStack, are either dated, incomplete, incorrect or non-existent in India.

However, you need a technology like AgriStack/Idea to identify farmers, said GV Ramanjaneulu, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an agricultural research non-profit in Secunderabad, adding that the problem is “not having a proper record of land ownership”. .

In 13 years by 2021, as a result of the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme, 92% of India’s villages had computerized land records. But government data shows that only 68% of cadastral maps (which record the area, ownership and value of land) in villages were digitised.

The accuracy of the maps is also questionable. According to a 2009 government report, State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task in Land Reforms, “the average age of village/cadastral maps available in most states is over 50 years”, and “most were drawn during British rule”. .

States have neglected to update records through surveys, and maps have not been used to establish actual boundaries on land, as noted in the September 2017 PRS legislative report. Thus asset diagrams do not always match with textual records. Furthermore, out of all cadastral maps, only 53% were linked to a Record of Rights (ROR) that shows land transactions, and less than half of the villages issue a digitally signed ROR.

“We are not against digitization, but how it is being done,” Udupa said. “Landless livestock farmers, beekeepers, fishermen and others are [who are part of the agriculture ecosystem]… narrowing the idea down to only those who have land on record is very limited.”

Government figures show that about 8.2% of rural households are landless, while more than half are agricultural labourers.

Economist and professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, R. “If the land record is Aadhaar, there is no clarity on how tenant farmers will be recognized,” Ramkumar said. Across India, government data shows that tenant holdings (ie those who do not own land) increased from 9.9% in 2018-19 to 17.3% over 16 years. In Andhra Pradesh this figure is up to 42 percent.

Low digital literacy, small farm size

Even if AgriStack becomes a reality, farmers will not be able to use it. In rural areas, between January and March 2021, there were just 36.2 internet subscribers per 100 people, compared to 60.7 in urban India. According to a March 2021 analysis by NITI Aayog’s Venugopal Mothkoor and Fatima Mumtaz, four out of ten (38%) households across India are digitally literate. In rural areas, this ratio is lower, at 25%.

And then there is the problem of small holdings: of the 93.1 million agricultural households, nearly nine in 10 have small holdings of up to 2 hectares. And for all these reasons, experts agree that AgriStack may not be useful in India.

“AgriStack tries to superimpose the nature of running the big farms of the West with the smaller farms of India,” Ramkumar said. “This may not be realistic. In India, agriculture is an unorganized and informal sector.”

Data privacy and security

Then come the issues of data privacy, the absence of a data protection law and the high degree of digital illiteracy.

IT firms see an opportunity to control agricultural data, said Ramanjaneyulu, especially because food is a basic need. Rohin Garg, policy advisor for regulation and social welfare at the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), said, “There is a need for agriculture-specific data protection regulations and safeguards, so that farmers can control the data they share and ensure that companies do not have access to core or raw data, which can lead to [their] Exploitation”.

The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 allows certain exceptions from data protection, including non-personal data, which is defined as data without personally identifiable information. “Agriculture or agricultural data can be considered as non-personal data,” Garg said.

The lack of data privacy and security legislation means that private companies that have MoUs for pilots in different districts will decide which data is non-personal. For example, Microsoft’s standard operating procedure, accessed by IFF through a Right to Information request, states that its team will ensure that captured data is “verified and 100% matching”, but There is no clarity on how they will do so, whether by matching them with official government figures or in some other way, Garg said.

IndiaSpend has written to Microsoft for their comments on agricultural data privacy and security measures, and on verifying and correcting discrepancies in data collected during surveys. We will update the story when we get a response.

Identification of large multinational companies [multinational companies] And if the process was more open and involved smaller firms working around agricultural data, they could have been asked to harvest the data,” Ramkumar said.

Ideally, this should be carried forward by the public sector. If not, the government should ensure that the entire interface is under government control, Garg said. “Private entities will have to operate in a strictly regulated environment.”

IndiaSpend has written to senior agriculture ministry officials for their comments on data protection, and pilot projects by private companies. We will update the story when we get a response.

centralization

Above all there is the question of federalism, given that agriculture is a state subject whereas AgriStack wants to impose central command and control. “AgriStack will centralize the data, which otherwise would have been the property of the states,” Ramkumar said.

The farmers’ groups in June 2021 highlighted, “There are preliminary anecdotal reports indicating that the central government is denying states access to the consolidated database, while the states are the ones that have provided the database”.

In addition, the government’s Idea proposal suggested that a portion of central assistance to states be linked to “progress achieved in implementing the idea”.

“Incentives can work because some states will do better than others, and this process can be adopted by other states,” Ramanjanelu said. But the IDEA model should allow states to make changes based on their local context, rather than having all states follow the same model.

Ramkumar said AgriStack tries to make a small farm into an economic entity by creating a unique ID and linking Aadhaar and transfer of agricultural subsidies and other benefits. “I don’t think our agriculture can be changed by such digital short-cuts.”

91 organizations working on farmers’ rights and digital rights of citizens have expressed concern about the idea and asked that its implementation be put on hold pending consultations with all stakeholders.

Udupa said, “… there is still a need to create ways and means designed for farmers to participate in the development of AgriStack,” adding that there should be better grievance redressal and accountability measures to ensure the interests of farmers. . Not compromising.

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