On 1st June 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture published a consultation paper called The India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA), laying out a proposed framework for ‘AgriStack’. Agristack is planned to be a compilation of digital databases focussing on India’s farmers and the agricultural sector.
A master database of farmers is under preparation. As the database is developed, it will include farmers’ personal details, profile of land held (maps defining the dimensions and location of land parcels, farm size, land titles, local climatic and geographical conditions), production details (crops grown, production history, input history, quality of output, machinery in possession) and financial details (input costs, average return, credit history).
On 13th April 2021, the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a US multinational, Microsoft Corporation. By this MoU, the government was allowing Microsoft’s local partner CropData to compile and control a master database of farmers. It was mandated to start a pilot project in 100 villages of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. With this data, Microsoft committed to create a ‘Unified Farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services. Simply put, this is the application of Information Technology (IT) to provide agriculture related information and other services to the cultivators. Towards this, the government is allowing Microsoft access to all information on peasants.
Thereafter, the ministry signed four other MoUs on 1st June – with Star Agribazaar, Patanjali Organic Research Institute, Amazon Internet Services and Esri India, for different operations under AgriStack. Star Agribazaar is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities; Amazon Internet Services is an Indian subsidiary of Amazon Web Services providing custom software solutions; Patanjali specialises in biological products for agriculture applications and in techniques for organic farming; ESRI specialises in GIS mapping.
In all the MoUs, there are provisions under which the agriculture ministry will enter into a data sharing agreement with these Indian and foreign companies.
The question that is posed is: what will be the impact of these steps taken by the Ministry on the peasants? First issue is that the government has not even bothered to discuss with peasant organisations, the aims, scope and impact of such a database. Secondly, there is a definite link between Agristack and the recent farm laws.
The farm laws aim to set up an agricultural system based on digitised records and transaction. (Sections 4(2) and 7 of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020. Agristack, when implemented, will make peasants extremely vulnerable to predatory moves by the capitalist monopolies, Indian and foreign, that are gearing up to penetrate Indian Agriculture.
Knowing everything on the peasant, about him, his assets and his operations will enable these monopolies to take advantage of the peasant’s vulnerabilities and get him more easily into debt and eventually take over his land. The data giants and e-commerce companies will hold and control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved. For instance, Contract Farming can be planned accurately with this data, Marketing of agri-inputs and procurement of produce can be planned to micro-level. Which farmer is in debt, how much, payment history – with all this data, the companies will be able to decide which farmers are to be targeted.
An under-Secretary in MoA made it clear that, “…if a farmer wishes to sell off his land, then it would be far easier because their land records would be sorted out on their new unique farmer ID.” The development of an active land market has been a demand of the ruling class for a long time. This initiative is a major step in that direction. It will pave the way for Indian and foreign capitalist monopolies to establish their domination over peasants. They will not only be able to monopolise agricultural trade, and dictate, through contract farming, what peasants produce. They will be able to use the digitised information on peasants available through Agristack to take over their lands.
It is clear that Agristack is an initiative of Indian and foreign capitalist monopolies. Its aim is to make all information on farmers available to these corporations who are waiting to penetrate and take over land and other resources of peasants. The US multinational Microsoft and the government of India claim that this digitisation and farmer interface is for ‘smart and well-organised agriculture’. The main issue is that this too, like the farm laws, are intended for the benefit of the corporate monopolies and not the peasants.
This move of the government is in line with the orientation of the Indian economy, which is to enable the monopoly capitalists to maximise their profits by intensifying the exploitation of workers and peasants.
The orientation of the Indian economy needs to be changed from fulfilling monopoly capitalist greed to fulfilling human needs. For this the working class needs to take power into its own hands in alliance with the toiling peasantry. Worker peasant rule is needed to establish social control over all aspects of social production. Such a state will need to provide itself with a comprehensive data set of land, soil, agro-climatic factors like rainfall, etc. It will have an overall plan for agriculture in the country that is driven by the aim of fulfilling the growing needs of society and ensuring security of livelihood of the peasants.