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Rainmatter Foundation calls for a ‘fair’ consultation on AgriStack

Rainmatter Foundation, a non-profit initiative by the team behind stockbroker Zerodha, has called for a “fair and transparent” public consultation process for India’s ambitious plan to introduce technological measures to the country’s burgeoning farming ecosystem, RTI documents obtained by Entrackr showed. 

The Rainmatter Foundation focuses on climate and environment-related projects and also invests in businesses working in these areas via its investment company Rainmatter Capital. 

Rainmatter’s feedback seems to mirror the concerns of many of the project’s critics. In brief, the proposed AgriStack seems designed to provide information and data to stakeholders other than the farmers themselves, especially smaller, marginal farmers. Including information that could be used to exploit or sell to farmers. 

The project is part of India’s broad plan to create the ‘AgriStack’, which would act as the backbone of the various technology-based interventions the government wants to introduce in agriculture. 

To set the plan in motion, the Indian government had signed an agreement with software giant Microsoft in April to initiate a pilot project in some hundred villages across the country to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services.

Later, the government also signed agreements with Star Agribazaar, Patanjali Organic Research Institute, Amazon Internet Services and ESRI India for carrying out various parts of the project.  Each of these firms has taken on a different responsibility to build/run pilots. 

Thus, while the focus for Star Agribazaar is building a strong layer of advisory services based on pre and post-harvest actions, Patanjali is supposed to be building a mobile application and training that will help with inputs on soil nutrition, quantifying yield etc. Amazon of course is to provide the foundational layer on which solutions can be built, while ESRI is tasked with providing GIS tools to build the data hub on a GIS platform.

However, it was only in June, about two months after signing the agreement with Microsoft, that the government released a draft paper, titled ‘The India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture’ (IDEA) laying out a proposed framework for the project for the public feedback by June 30.

In its comments in response to the draft consultation paper, Rainmatter said that the chronology of releasing the draft was “incomprehensible” and called for putting the draft paper in abeyance until a fair consultation is carried out. 

“The administration signed the MoU [with Microsoft] in April and then asked for a public consultation on June 1. This chronology is incomprehensible. The MoU must be held in abeyance until a due, fair and transparent public consultation process is completed,” Rainmatter noted in its comments to the draft paper. 

The RTI was filed by Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher, who shared it with Entrackr exclusively. 

We have reached out to Rainmatter for comment and will update the story when they respond. 

By seemingly ignoring engagement with the agricultural community and civil society the Agristack project has drawn fire from them too. They said that without consulting them, the government launched its pilot project along with Microsoft.  

In May, more than 50 organisations including Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and the Internet Freedom Foundation had written to the Agriculture Ministry seeking increased transparency and participation in building AgriStack. 

A recurring criticism and fear expressed has been about how Agristack will only support corporatisation of agriculture, qualms on data privacy and consent aside. 

Under the project, the government aims to offer a unique ID to all farmers in the country, however, Rainmatter wasn’t too keen about the idea. “Why is there a need for distinct unique farmer Ids when Aadhaar already serves as a unique identity,” asked the organisation. 

In its draft paper, the government also proposes to use digitised land records, however, Rainmatter said that digitised land records “have historically been riddled with errors”. 

“Given the fact that the majority of farmers are small and marginal landholders as well as a huge chunk that have tenancy rights, the paper offers little information on the digitization process. There is no mention of remedial measures in case of inaccuracies,” Rainmatter said. 

On using technological measures in agriculture, Rainmatter cautioned that IT in agriculture must be complemented with an offline, affordable, timely, easy-to-understand, small-holder- and farmer-centric ecosystem.  

“IT, ITES and IoT need to have last-mile information service delivery and most importantly handholding of the farmers to process that information for a better decision, then make that decision into actionable points and have an ecosystem to convert those actionable points to get operational in their field within the shortest time frame,” Rainmatter said.

Update: The story headline has been changed.

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