No landless farmers in new database

The Hindu, July 27, 2021

The Centre’s new National Farmers Database will only include land-owning farmers for now as it will be linked to digitised land records, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

A data policy was being prepared specifically for the agriculture sector in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), he said.

This exclusion of landless and tenant farmers becomes significant in light of the fact that, when asked whether the database would be used to select beneficiaries of government schemes, Mr. Tomar said, “Government can make use of the database for targeted service delivery with higher efficiency and in a focussed and time bound manner.”

Mr. Tomar was responding to questions from the Telugu Desam Party’s Jayadev Galla, raising concerns about data protection and farmer inclusion in the Centre’s new Agristack initiative to create a digital ecosystem for agriculture.

The database would be linked to the digital land record management system and would thus only include farmers who were legal owners of agricultural land. “In future, the possibility of including others may be considered in consultation with State governments and other stakeholders,” Mr. Tomar said, in response to a query about the large number of landless farmers in the country.

Asked about the involvement of private companies and the kind of data that was being shared with them, Mr. Tomar claimed that “no private sector companies are involved as far as building of the Agristack is concerned”. However, the first step for the initiative was a “federated farmers’ database that would serve as the core of the Agristack.”

The Agriculture Minister said that leading tech companies were invited to collaborate with the Centre to develop Proof of Concepts “based on small portions of data from the federated farmers’ database for certain identified areas”. These MoUs, signed with Microsoft, Amazon and Patanjali among others, were on a pro-bono basis for a one-year period, he said, adding that if they developed solutions that were beneficial to farmers, they would be scaled up to a national level.

Mr. Galla asked whether the MoUs involved sharing land records of farmers, and what protection was being provided for sharing such data with private players. “As of now, the federated farmers’ database is being built by taking the publicly available data, as existing in the department and in various data silos in government, and linking them with the digitised land records,” said Mr. Tomar. “This department, in consultation with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is in the process of bringing out a data policy for the agriculture sector. Government will ensure the privacy of the farmers’ personal data..”

Apart from being used for government schemes, the database would “facilitate online single sign on facilities for universal access and usher in proactive and personalised services to farmers such as direct benefit transfer, soil and plant health advisories, weather advisories, irrigation facilities, seamless credit & insurance facilities, seeds, fertilizers and pesticide related information, nearby logistic facilities, market access information, and peer to peer lending of farm equipment,” said Mr. Tomar, indicating that all farm extension services currently being carried out by the Ministry would soon come under the Agristack initiative.

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