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Government constitutes task force for farmer database under AgriStack

Thousands of farmers held a protest at Krishi Upaj Mandi, Sikar in September 2017

The government has constituted a task force for its ‘AgriStack’ project which will deliberate the contours of a Unified Farmers Service Platform (USFP), it said in replies to Parliamentary questions.

The question raised by Indian National Congress Member of Parliament Pradyut Bordoloi, the Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar said that the Task Force is only working a framework document and Digital Blue Print for the UFSP. The database will be built only once the Ministry approves the Task Force’s recommendations, after involving the relevant organisations.

“The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare has constituted a Task Force to develop IndEA (India Enterprise Architecture) Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA). The Unified Farmers Service Platform (UFSP) will be prepared based on the IDEA. The details and components are being deliberated by the Task Force and shall be communicated when finalised”

AgriStack effectively is the next domain of the India Stack project. After creating technology tools for identity (Aadhaar), documents (DigiLocker), payments (Unified Payments Interface) and healthcare (National Health Stack), the India Stack project has turned its sights on agriculture. InDEA is essentially an initiative of the central government to create standardised digital systems for central government ministries, state governments, government departments and various agencies in order to improve governance functions.

What is AgriStack?

AgriStack is essentially a collection of technology tools and digital databases for the agricultural sector and India’s farmers. These databases and tools, the government says, will help tackle issues in agricultural marketing, agriculture supply chains and access to credit. Under the proposed project, each of India’s 120 million farmer swill be given a unique digital identity linked to their Aadhaar number.

The data under AgriStack and under UFSP may include personal details, profile of land held, production details, financial records, details on subsidies availed and which agro-climate zones they fall in. It will also help in targeting subsidies, services and policies, according to the Hindustan Times. The database will be integrated with existing government schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), PM KISAN and Soil Health card among others, said Ashish Bhutani, joint secretary in the Agriculture Ministry in a statement last year.

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What are the legal origins?

The origins for the proposed project stem from three policy documents:

1) Report of the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income Volume XI: The report cites various examples of how technology solutions have been implemented in government schemes, bringing in more efficient targeting of resources and better access to services for farmers. It recommended that the government introduce more information-communication-technology tools like Big Data in the agriculture sector.

“Agricultural system needs to feed the population while remaining ecologically friendly and resource efficient. To address this challenge, it is critical to provide new, digitally-enabled agro-services to farmers that will help increase yield while conserving resources, for example, through precision farming. To be successful in this endeavour, or be smart in agriculture, it will be critical to harness intelligent insights from data,” the report said.

2) NITI Aayog Discussion Paper on National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence: The paper recommends the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for soil and crop health monitoring,  providing real time advisories to farmers, increase efficiency of farm mechanisation and improve the share of price realisation to agri-producers.

“AI holds the promise of driving a food revolution and meeting the increased demand for food (global need to produce 50% more food and cater to an additional 2 billion people by 2050 as compared to today). It also has the potential to address challenges such as inadequate demand prediction, lack of assured irrigation, and overuse / misuse of pesticides and fertilisers. Some use cases include improvement in crop yield through real time advisory, advanced detection of pest attacks, and prediction of crop prices to inform sowing practices,” the paper said.

3) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: Under this law, the centre can implement a electronic registration system for a trader and can also set up a Price Information and Market Intelligence System for farm product. Private players can also  establish an electronic trading and transaction platform for farm produce under this law.

What are the concerns?

The move to create a national farmer’s database, UFSP and AgriStack, comes at a time when farmer organisations have been protesting near the national capital for more than 100 days against three new agriculture laws that the government brought in last year.

According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the AgriStack project is being pushed through without adequate consultations and that the project itself has several implications for data privacy. “Further evidence of the undemocratic, non-transparent policy making process can be witnessed by the current farmer protests going on across the country, where several farmers unions have criticised the government precisely for introducing laws without any consultations in the midst of restrictions of a raging pandemic,” it said.

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IFF states that there three major implications from a privacy perspective for farmer:s

  1. With 86% of India’s farmers classified as small or marginal, many of them resort to debt financing. Further, land title records in India are extremely inexact and in many instances farmers may be exploited by large agri-businesses grabbing their land. The idea of AgriStack improving access to credit is based on extracting sensitive fiscal data without solving the underlying credit issues.
  2. Just as the Aadhaar linked welfare delivery systems has led to exclusion, AgriStack could also lead to further exclusion
  3. Algorithm and Artificial Intelligence-based decision making systems reduce the agency of farmers and could also impact their legal rights

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