IT for Change responded to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare public consultation white paper for the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA). The key points of our submission are summarized below.
- IDEA will prevent corporate capture of core structures of the digital agriculture ecosystem: Digitalization in all sectors is being accompanied by platformization, as monopolisitc platforms make the rules of digital interaction in a sector and own most of its data. The only way to protect the key and sensitive sector of agriculture from such an extremely problematic fate is to develop an initiative like IDEA. This is IDEA’s key appeal, and should be its main driving rationale.
- Farmer centricity as the first and core principle: While the IDEA document appears to claim farmers’ centricity, the proposed plan and architecture often seem to be centered instead on private agriculture services. It should not be difficult to see that the two can mean very different things, and interests of private agriculture services may overlap with some interests of some farmers, but not all in either case. Every aspect and part of IDEA needs a thorough reassessment from a farmer centricity angle, keeping it as its core principle.
- Decentralization and federation: Federated architecture, again, is stated as a key principle, but we are not sure the cardinal values of decentralization and federation are taken in true the political sense of decentralizing power as per the principle of subsidiarity. When applying it, not only do states need to be the principle anchors or hubs of a decentralized IDEA, but also further means should be built for engaging Panchayati Raj bodies, and farmers’ cooperatives and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) directly into the system.
- Farmers’ community data and Data Exchange: Much of data and data value is aggregate, but there is no mention of the all important collective or community data rights of farmers. Such rights are well explained and operationalized in the draft report of the Non Personal Data Governance Framework Committee. The data trust concept and mechanism coming from this report should also be incorporated in Data Exchange apart from the data market aspect which seems currently to be its exclusive function.
- Public versus private roles in IDEA: The main rationale of IDEA, as stated above, is to capture under public control the core roles of the digital agriculture ecosystem. This rationale gets defeated if the IDEA architecture employs Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to invite private players into such core roles. Building blocks and core services must be deemed ‘public functions’ and remain completely with governments. However, private sector participation in the service layer must be encouraged, with suitable guidelines ensuring that farmers’ interests remain center stage and the concentration of network power and data power in a few hands does not take place.