Seeding a data revolution in Indian agriculture

Synopsis: Two consultation paper, one by the Ministry of Agriculture and the other by Bain were released recently. They both talk about leveraging digital technology for helping farmers and supporting their livelihoods.

Introduction

The first consultation paper is on the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW). It talks about a digital revolution in the agriculture sector. 

The second is on Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption from a private organisation, Bain and Company. It predicts a revolutionary investment growth in agri-logistics, offtake, and agri-input delivery by 2025.

What is Bain report? 

The Bain report is a data-based prediction on agri-business scenarios related 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

As per the report, huge investments into the agri-ecosystem can help to achieve the target of doubling farmers’ income in near future.  

What is IDEA report? 

The IDEA-consulting paper is based on the Task Force and Working Group report constituted by the MoA&FW to design the blueprint of “digital agriculture”.

IDEA concept is aimed at farmer and the improvement of farmers’ livelihood which can be achieved through tight integration of agri-tech innovation and the agriculture industry ecosystem to farming and food systems. 

Value-added innovative services by agri-tech industries and startups are an integral part of the IDEA architecture. This will help Indian agriculture sector to become a single national market with a national platform with better connection between producer and consumers.  

What are some issues with these reports? 

First, the IT industry has opposition to IDEA due to the ethics of creating a Unique Farmer ID based on one’s Aadhaar number and data misuse.  

Second, the emission, energy, and other resource footprints and sustainability issues around these techniques must be carefully studied to confirm the projected trajectory (which is not a part of the report). 

Third, both these reports heavily rely on digital disruption to improve farmers’ livelihoods. But they fail to discuss how much farmers will be prepared to benefit from these newly emerging business environments. The reality is that majority of small and marginal farmers are not having practical knowledge of the technology. Most of them are under-educated for capacity building. Overall, report ignored the capacity-building required at a farmer’s end.    

Fourth, The Bain report relies on the general assumption that more investments into the agriculture sector will benefit farmers, but it failed to answer how. Also, the IDEA concept fails to clarify, how the technology fix will help resolve all the nine issues of Indian agriculture listed at the beginning of the report. T 

What is the way forward?

Though, data revolution is inevitable in the agriculture sector, but we can not only rely on technology fixes to deal with the issue.

We need 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. This capacity building can be done through a mixed approach. 

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.  

To fulfil this target, we need a separate programme across the country with considerable investment. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Seeding a data revolution in Indian agriculture” published in The Hindu on 8th October 2021. 

Print Friendly and PDF