Vijay Rajmohan Director Ministry of Agriculture

Interview: Vijay Rajmohan, Director (Digital Agriculture & Trade) and Chief Data Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI

“As with every other industry or sector, Agriculture too is poised to go fully digital…Together, we should build scalable solutions through which farmers’ lives are made better.”

This interview was originally published in AGI’s Jul-Aug 2021 Newsletter Edition on the theme of Agriculture and Fisheries. To download the full newsletter, click here.

The Digital Agriculture Mission has been welcomed with great enthusiasm across all sectors, including the Geospatial Industry. Could you throw some light on this initiative by the Government of India?

As with every other industry or sector, agriculture too is poised to go fully digital. We are seeing the usage of AIoT (Agriculture Internet of Things), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Blockchain, Big Data, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing, Drones, Robots and automated Farm Machinery in India.

To facilitate all the above and to further propel digital technologies in the agriculture sector, the Government of India is in the process of bringing out a Digital Agriculture Mission with increased funding.

The Mission would give impetus to these initiatives and would create appropriate mechanisms at the national and state levels for taking these initiatives forward. Currently, the Mission is under examination with various departments of GoI and is expected to be announced shortly.

The India Digital Ecosystem for Agriculture (IDEA) is focused on creating a nationwide sustainable architecture for the farming community. What are your expectations from the initiative?

Similar to the UPI, which enabled the use of digital payments across the country, the Agriculture Ministry is involved in creating a nationwide architecture for the Digital Ecosystem in the Agriculture sector. A task force has been working during the pandemic under the joint leadership of Sanjay Aggarwal, the Agriculture Secretary and J. Satyanarayana, former Secretary of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

IDEA Agristack Architecture Ministry of Agriculture
IDEA Architecture | Source: Consultation Paper on IDEA, Agriscoop

IDEA is expected to ‘lay down a framework for public digital infrastructure in the agriculture sector, outline the principles and standards and act as a catalyst of the digital agriculture ecosystem in the country with the goal of building a National Digital Agriculture Ecosystem, elevating Indian Agriculture to higher levels of efficiency and productivity, and improving the welfare and incomes of the farmers’ (IDEA concept paper).

Another new initiative which has been undertaken during the pandemic is building of the first ever federated farmers database at the national level. The federated farmers database would act as a core building block of the Agristack that would contain layers of data from States as well as private players and the IDEA framework would enable this ecosystem in the country, thereby bringing a paradigm shift in the agriculture sector.

The Ministry of Agriculture has started engaging with private sector players, such as ESRI India for creating a AgroGeo Hub to evolve a National Farmer’s Database integrated with Geospatial Information, and another one with Microsoft for a pilot programme for 100 villages in 6 states. How do you think private players in tech and research fields can improve the efficiency of India’s agricultural sector as a whole?

These partnerships are through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which will go on for a year and on a pro bono basis. The government shares a portion of data (100 villages or 3 districts) with these partners.

At the end of the MoU period, GoI would evaluate the services and solutions developed by the partners using the data and if these services/solutions are found to be beneficial to the farmers, it would take up the best services and scale them up at the national level.

The services and solutions proposed by these partners and others who are expected to strike a partnership with the government is exciting. Some have proposed leveraging the data for FinTech in agriculture sector – a farmer need not run around and submit multiple documents to financial institutions for loans, a bank also need not collect, scrutinise and physically send someone to verify the farm.

We could see the deployment of algorithms that analyse the past profile of the farmers with his track record of crop insurance, procurement of his/her crops by the government, remote sensing data pertaining to the current crop, their health and the expected harvest, and land ownership details.

This enables the government to tap into the enormous talent that is available with Indian startups and use their talents for benefiting our farmers. These would also improve the farms; in case these services are successful and would give a fillip to sustainable farm practices across the country. Together, we should build scalable solutions through which farmers’ lives are made better using the latest and emerging technologies.