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Sowing growth with data: Creating an agri-stack key to future farm growth

The government has been trying to fix the poor quality of land-records data for over three decades now, and the progress in this regard has been slow.

It has already collated data of 4.3 crore farmers linked with land records.
It has already collated data of 4.3 crore farmers linked with land records.

For governments, Covid-19 underscored the need for collating and analysing data to target healthcare response, a key governance element, in an effective manner. In India, during the worst months of the pandemic last year, cities used dashboards to assess the growth of cases in areas and calibrate the availability of hospital beds and ventilators accordingly. State and city administrations also did well to setup war-rooms to connect people with health services. While the Union government is now leveraging this information to build the national health ID and prepare a base for healthcare delivery in smart cities, such efforts on data-based governance need to be extended to other sectors. To that end, the government seems to be moving in the right direction. The Hindustan Times reports that the government is looking to create an agri-stack to streamline the delivery of services and help agri-tech start-ups leverage more data. The report highlights that the government will collect data and organise this to create a ‘farmer ID’ for every person who is linked to agricultural land in government records; the dataset will also contain information on what is grown where and the particulars of the agro-climatic zones. It has already collated data of 4.3 crore farmers linked with land records.

However, there are 14.6 crore operational holdings in the country, and the challenge would be to collect and analyse the data from all sources in a single database. The Soil Health Card, for instance, covers 11.92 crore beneficiaries, whereas the PM Fasal Bima Yojana has 93 lakh farmers. The total number of farmers registered with the PM KISAN scheme is 11.7 crore. All these databases would need to be meaningfully consolidated, along with data from bank records on agri-loans, Kisan credit card and other agri-surveys. Besides, the quality of data, in some cases, can prove to be a hindrance.

The government has been trying to fix the poor quality of land-records data for over three decades now, and the progress in this regard has been slow. While the government has done well to say that it shall sell this data to agri-tech firms, it also needs to leverage the existing databases with these companies to fast-track the process. Start-ups like CropIn, NinjaCart, Skymet, etc, use satellite imagery to determine agro-climatic conditions and cropping patterns, and this information can help the government build better profiles. Not only will this help counter leakages in subsidy disbursal, but can also help re-imagine farm support, like moving to a cash-based fertiliser subsidy. It will help the government create an incentive structure for farmers to diversify crops, besides helping agri-tech start-ups with a rich trove of information.

While the Aadhaar stack and JanDhan-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity helped improve India’s payments architecture and led to the growth of digital payments, now is the time to leverage other data and enable the private sector to engineer better solutions.

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