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A year after IDEA moved, it's still not clear who owns farmers' data
New Delhi |Monday, 2022 2:45:09 AM IST

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Little more than a year ago, IDEA -- India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture -- was moved by the government had given its thrust on digitalisation spanning all sectors, majorly on agriculture with increasing farmers' income but there is no clarity about who will own the data that will be generated from it.

It all started, officially, in June 2021. The government brought out a concept paper; constituted a High-Level Task Force; invited comments from various stakeholders -- subject experts, farmers, Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and even the members of the public; all for coming up with a framework for creating what it termed as 'AgriStack' in the country.

AgriStack in simple terms is a stack of digital datasets, starting with land records, it can and may include soil health quality, weather, crop patterns and so on and so forth. This will serve as a foundation to build innovative agri-focused solutions leveraging digital technologies to contribute effectively towards increasing the income of farmers and improve efficiency of the Agriculture sector in the country, that is what the government's claim is.

In fact, in her budget speech earlier this year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had emphasised in a major way on various steps that the government is taking or planning for digitalisation in agriculture and increased use of technology, all that is geared to increase farmers' income.

After the concept note was floated, the government went ahead and signed 10 MoUs with private companies, including the giants in the software/data fields such as Microsoft, wanting them to develop proof of concept (PoC) towards AgriStack for select districts. These PoCs will help in understanding the uses of Agristack and service & solutions that can be built using available data and some of them, if found beneficial to the farmers will be scaled up at national level, the government said.

What will happen to the information collected of individual farmers and also of aggregated data sets is a question still being debated among stakeholders. The government tried to allay fears stating that there is nothing called a national database as all the data about land rests with the state governments.

Of the many plans and projects towards digitalisation in agriculture, the government has under National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGPA) provided funding to more than half a dozen states for enabling use of technology for farmers. However, as of date, all such exercises are happening in silos.

Another digital exercise that is well underway across states and even at the national level is the use of a multitude of Apps in farming. Be it government Apps such as KisanSuvidha or for weather or for availability of fertilizers or seeds etc. or be it from private players for example providing information about mandi prices. Here too, data is being collected that is both at individual level and aggregated but either by the government or by the App makers/owners.

Rohin Garg, Associate Regulatory and Parliamentary Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation, cautioned about grand plans without giving ownership of data to the farmers. "The lack of transparency can impact the trust factor and also, it can promote in-equitability of bargaining power.

In fact, the point about data privacy came up again and again two days ago at a consultation meeting organised jointly by Bharat Krishak Samaj, an NGO/think tank working for farmers' for over five decades, Internet of Freedom and IT for Change. But then there were good suggestions to tide over that fear too.

Ravindra Shevade, chief strategy officer at the NeML (NCDEX e-Markets Limited) said, only those companies/entities that are into contract farming, lending and insurance need data at individual level, rest all can do with aggregated data at block or village level.

Last year, when the government had put out the consultation paper on agri-digitisation in June 2021, multiple farmers' organisations had expressed grave concerns and demanded that the government not rush into the IDEA proposals and should in fact withdraw the MoUs.

One of them, an Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), too had dashed off its comments. Nachiket Udupa from the Steering Group of ASHA was very clear when he asked why should the farmers' database be centred around land records?

Another point that Udupa raised was the exclusion of all other kinds of farmers -- as acknowledged by the Swaminathan Committee too -- that do not have land. For instance, cattle owners, fisherfolks and those tilling others' lands among the over dozen categories.

Pramod Meherda, joint secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, who is in-charge of the digitalization process, said: "The most important fact is trust. If you have to buy milk? You buy from a brand that you trust. Today, there are many farmers that are benefitting from private players, say, seeking advisories but it is not necessary that the farmers trust them. Now here is an eco-system which is trust-worthy, which is enabled by none other than the government. There are going to be checks and balances in the system."

"Digital technology is neutral technology. The first thing that it will dismantle is the middlemen, who are trying to force farmers. Technology will enable farmers to make choices. That kind of enablement, that kind of empowerment will make the system trustworthy," Meherda said.

In a reply to a Parliament question, the Ministry had replied on April 5 that the "Digital Agriculture Mission is yet to be finalized. The Department has constituted a High-Level Task Force, which is in the process of finalizing 'India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA)' report."

The stakeholders are hoping their concerns are addressed and that the farmers will not need to pay 'data lagaan' as famously put forth once by activist Vandana Shiva.

(Nivedita Khandekar can be reached nivedita.k@ians.in)

--IANS niv/pgh

( 972 Words)

2022-05-01-20:32:52 (IANS)


 

 
 
 
 
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