ASHA Letter to GoI on Direction & Partnerships of its Digital Push by Ministry of Agriculture

6:54 pm in News by Kavitha

———- Forwarded message ———
From: ASHA Kisan Swaraj <asha.kisanswaraj@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, May 5, 2021 at 11:04 AM
Subject: Direction and Partnerships of the digital push by the Ministry of Agriculture
To: <ns.tomar@sansad.nic.in>
Cc: <ravis@sansad.nic.in>, <vch-niti@gov.in>, <secy-agri@gov.in>, <secretary@meity.gov.in>, <anantm@microsoft.com>, <sachin@cropdata.in>

5th May 2021

To,

Shri Narendra Singh Tomar,

Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare,

Government of India.

Cc:

  1. Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister of Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology

  2. Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairperson, NITI Aayog

  3. Shri Sanjay Agarwal, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare

  4. Shri Ajay Prakash Sawhney, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology

  5. Shri Anant Maheshwari, President of Microsoft India

  6. Shri Sachin Suri, Managing Director of CropData Technology Pvt. Ltd.

Subject: Direction and Partnerships of the digital push by the Ministry of Agriculture

Dear Sir,

The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Microsoft India have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 13th April, 2021. As per news reports, “Microsoft through its local partner CropData will leverage master database of farmers to address challenges of individual or group of farmers. “The government has a verified database of more than 50 million farmers along with their land records,” a senior agriculture ministry official said.” Another report states, “the creation of Agri-Funds based on the National Farmers Database. The government is preparing a farmer database by linking the land records of farmers across the country. The data related to PM Kisan, Soil Health Card and Pradhan Mantri Crop Insurance Scheme, available with the government, have been integrated and the process of inclusion of other data is going on.”

These developments seem to allude to the AgriStack and seem to be taking place in a policy vacuum with respect to the data privacy of farmers and other related issues. At a time when “data has become the new oil” and the industry is looking at it as the next source of profits, there is a need to ensure the interest of farmers. It will not be surprising that corporations will approach this as one more profit-making possibility, as a market for so-called ‘solutions’ which lead to sale of unsustainable agri-inputs combined with greater loans and indebtedness of farmers for this through fintech, as well as the increased threat of dispossession by private corporations. All this is apart from the widely documented exclusion and other issues related to the central role that Aadhaar plays in this ecosystem.

Ultimately, any proposal which seeks to tackle the issues that plague Indian agriculture must address the fundamental causes of these issues – something the existing implementation of the Agristack fails to do. Indeed, the current model relies on ‘tech-solutionism’, in which it emphasises using technology to solve structural issues. Such an approach may fail to solve structural issues and instead gives rise to new problems, as has been witnessed in Indian agriculture in the past. In this case, these problems would include:

  • Usurious lending practices.

  • Further exploitation of farmers by procurers, including because of reduced local traders and competitors reducing the chances of getting a better price.

  • Reduced agency on the part of farmers.

  • Reduced transparency on the part of the government through algorithm-based decision-making. This includes the strong possibility of the database leveraging process using AI techniques that has the danger, either inadvertently or intentionally, of control systems becoming autonomous and even misaligned intelligence directing goals that are not set to our purpose. Lack of an AI policy and a legal security net in India, enhances such a danger.

  • In India, we find that real cultivators and farmers are still not part of data systems and they are not recognised as farmers. Digitisation of land records created new problems which have not been addressed so far.

The government’s official press release states that “[t]ransparency at the central government level is benefiting the farmers”. In keeping with this government’s espousal of the idea of transparency, and in order to truly benefit farmers without compromising on their autonomy and agency and clear the air on the government’s vision for greater digitisation in agriculture we request the following immediately:

  1. The Ministry should hold consultations with all stakeholders, especially farmers’ organisations, on the direction of its digital push as well as the basis of partnerships and put out a policy document in this regard after giving due consideration to feedback from farmers and farmer organisations. As agriculture is a state subject, the central government should consult the state governments also.

  2. All initiatives that the government has begun with private entities to integrate and / or share multiple databases with private / personal information about individual farmers or their farms be put on hold till (i) the policy framework mentioned in the earlier point is finalised by the ministry and (ii) a data protection law is passed by the Parliament. This agreement and any other such agreements with any IT organisations must be backed by adequate legal systems in India. Existing laws must be reviewed considering the advancements in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data and new laws need to be enacted accordingly.

  3. The MoU signed between the Ministry of Agriculture and Microsoft India on 13th April, 2021 should be put in the public domain on the website of the ministry, apart from being put on hold as per Point 2 above. Further, any financial commitments or implications must also be put on hold and be disclosed.

Sincerely,

  1. Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) – Kisan Swaraj

  2. Amrita Bhoomi

  3. Article 21 Trust

  4. Association For Democratic Rights (Punjab)

  5. Bhoomi Ka

  6. Breakthrough Science Society, Howrah Chapter

  7. Cashless Consumer

  8. Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development

  9. Darbar Sahitya Sansada

  10. Desi Seed Producers Company Ltd

  11. Durgapur Biogarden Pvt. Ltd

  12. Federation of Tamil Nadu Rice Mill Owners Association

  13. Gramya Resource Centre for Women

  14. Growthwatch

  15. Gurgaon Organic Farmers Market

  16. Inclusive Media for Change Project at Common Cause

  17. Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

  18. Internet Freedom Foundation

  19. IT for Change

  20. Jai Kisan Andolan

  21. Jan Chetna Sansthan

  22. Kalanjium Women Farmers Association

  23. Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddhi Vedike

  24. Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha

  25. Krishi Patasala

  26. Lipok Social Foundation

  27. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)

  28. Nalla Keerai

  29. Nalla Sandhai

  30. National Adivasi Alliance

  31. National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)

  32. Organic Farmers Market

  33. Paatasala

  34. Poovulagin Nanbargal

  35. Punarchith

  36. reStore

  37. Restore Gardens

  38. Rethink Aadhaar

  39. Rythu Swarajya Vedika

  40. Safe Food Alliance

  41. Samajwadi Samagam

  42. Samanvaya Consulting

  43. Save Our Rice Campaign Network

  44. South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements

  45. South Indian Organic Producers and Retailers Association

  46. Sunray Harvesters

  47. Tamilnadu Organic Farmers Federation

  48. Telangana Rythu JAC

  49. Thaalanmai Uzhavar Iyakam

  50. Tharchaarbu Iyakkam

  51. Thirunelly Agri Producer Company Limited

  52. Thiruvallur Organic Farmers Group

  53. Thondaimandalam Foundation

  54. Women’s Collective

  55. Yugma Network

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Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA-Kisan Swaraj)
FOOD – FARMERS – FREEDOM