Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar oversaw the signing of agreements with five companies. (PTI file)
Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar oversaw the signing of agreements with five companies. (PTI file)

Centre inks 5 deals for digital agri push

In March 2021, HT reported the Centre was in the process of creating a “digital agri-stack”, a hi-tech national farmers’ database that would give the government and agribusinesses unprecedented insights into the rural economy, quoting people with knowledge of the matter.
By Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 15, 2021 04:27 AM IST

New Delhi: The ministry of agriculture signed agreements with five firms on Tuesday to push a project to harness big data from the farm sector for a digitised platform known as “Agri Stack”, a move officials said would help bring new technologies and private investment in the country’s primary sector.

A ministry’s statement said Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar oversaw the signing of agreements with five companies: CISCO, Ninjacart, Jio Platforms Limited, ITC Limited and NCDEX e-Markets Limited (NeML).

“Modernisation of the agriculture sector will continue by infusing new technologies so that farmers can increase their income,” the statement said.

HT had first reported in May 2018 that a plan was afoot to harness big data in farm sector. In March 2021, HT further reported the Centre was in the process of creating a “digital agri-stack”, a hi-tech national farmers’ database that would give the government and agribusinesses unprecedented insights into the rural economy, quoting people with knowledge of the matter.

Tuesday’s agreements would pave the way for pilot projects which will allow farmers to “take informed decisions on what crop to grow, what variety of seed to use and what best practices (sic) to adopt to maximise the yield”, the statement said.

The government aims to increasingly open the country’s antiquated agriculture sector. It has said these changes would draw private investments and modernise supply chains as well as farm markets. Three laws passed last year to liberalise the farm trade have set off protests by growers. A section of influential farm unions says the move will leave cultivators at the mercy of big corporations.

“Without our permission and consent, government cannot reveal our private data to private companies. We have already officially stated this,” said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, a key farm union leader at the heart of the protests.

India’s agriculture sector is mostly sustained by subsidies on seeds, fuel, irrigation, fertilisers and power, rather than growth-enhancing investment, whether public or private.

The so-called agri stack platform will push “projects that use artificial intelligence, block chain technologies” to modernise the country’s impoverished agriculture sector, which supports half of the population. An Indian farmer earned 27 per day on average from cultivation activities in 2018-19, lower than wages provided by the country’s make-work rural job guarantee scheme, an official survey released recently showed.

The agri-stack, which will be a digital repository, will aid precise targeting of subsidies, services and policies, an official said. Under the programme, each farmer of the country would be assigned an FID, or a farmers’ ID, linked to land records to uniquely identify them. India has 140 million operational farm-land holdings. HT had reported this first in a report in March this year.

The database will connect seemingly simple data points: the number of occupational farmers who avail of subsidies, how much land they own, what they grow and which agro-climatic zones they fall in. These data points will be triangulated by software-driven intelligence that will throw up a far more illuminating picture of the rural and agricultural economy.

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