Context: Recently two significant documents relating to the Indian agriculture sector were released.
- The first is a consultation paper on the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) and the second on Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption from a private organisation, Bain and Company.
Salient features of papers:
- IDEA paper: It talks about a digital revolution in the agriculture sector and predicts a revolutionary investment growth in agri-logistics, offtake, and agri-input delivery by 2025.
- Every segment of present-day life including agriculture is data-hungry.
- The MoA&FW report describes creating data to fuel the growth.
- The farmer and the improvement of farmers’ livelihood is proposed to happen through tight integration of agri-tech innovation and the agriculture industry ecosystem to farming and food systems.
- The IDEA principles explicitly talk about openness of data, which means open to businesses and farmers, indicating the kind of integration it aims at.
- Value-added innovative services by agri-tech industries and start-ups are an integral part of the IDEA architecture.
- The Bain report is a data-based prediction on agri-business scenarios, anchored to the agricultural set-up at present and predicting its future trajectories in another 20 years.
- It includes targeting the production of alternative proteins, and food cell-based food/ingredients and initiating ocean farming, etc.
- The report has a ‘today forward– future back approach’ and predicts a drastic investment opportunity development by 2025.
- The agriculture sector (currently worth $370 billion), is estimated to receive an additional $35 billion investment.
- The two enabling conditions for such investment opportunities are the changes in the regulatory framework, especially recent changes in the Farm Acts and digital disruption.
- There are benefits from huge investments into the agri-ecosystem which include doubling farmers’ income
- The report has convincingly demonstrated the business opportunity available in supply chains between farm to Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandi and mandi to the customer, which can be realised with the support of digital disruption and the latest agriculture reforms.
Govt. initiatives for digitisation of agriculture
- AgriStack will create “a unified platform for farmers to provide them end to end services across the agriculture food value chain," amid a broader push to digitise data in India, from land titles to medical records.
- Tech firm Microsoft will run a pilot for the agriculture ministry’s AgriStack in 100 villages in six Indian states.
Objectives: It aims to “develop
- Farmer interface for smart and well-organised agriculture" aimed at improving efficiency and reducing waste.
- Each farmer will have a unique digital identification that contains personal details, information about the land they farm, as well as production and financial details.
- Each ID will be linked to the individual’s digital national ID Aadhaar.
- Linking market places: It aims to integrate all digital marketplaces for agriculture commodities and inputs, thereby providing single log in access to farmers to these marketplaces and access to financial assistance.
- Database creation from particularly three schemes: PM-KISAN (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi), Soil Health Card and PM Fasal Bima Yojna (crop insurance scheme).
- The data from these three schemes will be compiled and compared with land records data.
- If there is a mismatch, it will be shared with the local authorities for validation and field survey.
- The field data received from local authorities will be updated with the compiled data to create “clean, unique, standardised, verified data for AgriStack”.
Challenges for digitisation of agriculture
- The IT industry has opposition to it mainly due to the ethics of creating a Unique Farmer ID based on one’s Aadhaar number and also the potential for data misuse.
- Environmental concerns: It needs more or less focusing on widespread food production in controlled environments. The emission, energy, and other resource footprints and sustainability issues around these techniques must be carefully studied to confirm the projected trajectory.
- The reports heavily rely on digital disruption to improve farmers’ livelihoods, without discussing how much farmers will be prepared to benefit from these newly emerging business environments.
- Digital literacy: The fact is that a majority of small and marginal farmers are not technology-savvy. That most of them are under-educated for capacity building is ignored amidst these ambitious developments.
- Farmers’ protests: Politically, these two reports ignore the protest of farmers against the reforms without considering it as a barrier or risk factor resulting in a repealing of these new farm laws.
- Exclusion of women and agricultural labourers:: By making land records the basis for the farmers’ database called Agristach, the Union government will exclude women (if the land is in the name of the male head of the household).
- It will so exclude agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenant farmers, those associated in allied activities such as fishing, beekeeping, poultry, animal husbandry, pastoralism, sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry from accessing these services on the digital platform because they may not own agricultural land.
- India has more farm labourers in 52 per cent of its districts.
- Poor quality of land records: The quality of land records declined in 14 states. While state governments have initiated digital exercises of their own, they focus on digitising records on paper without updating them.
- Linking land records with services access is problematic.New methods such as the Swamitva scheme have come up, but they are not effective on ground.
Capacity building of the farmer: There need to be immense efforts to improve the capacities of the farmers in India – at least until the educated young farmers replace the existing under-educated small and medium farmers.
- Leveraging Farmers Producer Organisations: This capacity building can be done through a mixed approach – preferably building the capacities of individual farmers or coping with the new situation by establishing support systems, through FPOs and other farmers associations where technical support is available for farmers.
While agreeing on the fact that a data revolution is inevitable in the agriculture sector, given its socio-political complexities, we cannot just count on technology fixes and agri-business investments for improving farmers’ livelihoods. It would need a separate programme across the country with considerable investment.There is no denial that there is potential in data and technology in empowering farmers but only when the flow of information is balanced.
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