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Indian government to digitise agricultural databases

Under public distribution system (PDS) reforms, the Department of Food and Public Distribution has implemented a scheme for the end-to-end computerisation of targeted public distribution system (TPDS) operations, in an attempt to improve the efficiency and transparency of food grain allocation structures.

The scheme also addresses other concerns including leakages and the diversion of food grains. It will eliminate fake and bogus ration cards. Under the scheme, all the states and union territories in the country have a completely digitised ration card and beneficiary database, an online grievance redressal facility, and a toll-free hotline.

A system for online allocation has been implemented in every region in the country, barring Chandigarh and Puducherry, two union territories that have adopted a direct benefit transfer (DBT) scheme. The supply chain has been computerised in 31 states and union territories.

Additionally, the government is automating fair price shops (FPS) by installing electronic point of sale (ePoS) devices at the FPSs for the distribution of food grains in a transparent, electronic manner. To confirm the authentication of genuine beneficiaries, the systems use biometric technology through Aadhaar cards, which are twelve-digit unique identification numbers linked to a citizen’s basic demographic and biometric information. At present, more than 92% of FPSs across the country have ePoS devices and a facility for the biometric identification of beneficiaries.

Apart from Aadhaar cards, the government is in the process of creating a “digital agri-stack”, a hi-tech national farmers’ database to provide insights into agribusinesses and the rural economy. As per news reports, the digital repository will aid precise targeting of subsidies, services, and policies. Every farmer will get an FID, or a farmers’ ID, linked to land records to uniquely identify them. India has 140 million operational farm-land holdings.

The government is also developing a unified farmer service platform that will help digitise agricultural services delivery by the public and private sectors. The data of 43 million farmers linked with land records have already been verified and the database will be unveiled shortly.

The database will connect the number of occupational farmers who avail of subsidies, how much land they own, what they grow, and which agro-climatic zones they fall in. These data points will be triangulated by software that will throw up a far more complex but illuminating picture of the rural and agricultural economy, the report said. The next step would be to create a model to monetise the data.

The database uses Aadhaar-based data generated from key farm sector programmes such as PM-KISAN, a cash-transfer scheme and is being built under the National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture, a programme launched in the fiscal year 2010-11.

The agricultural sector contributed nearly 20% to the gross domestic product (GDP) during 2020-21, up from 17.8% in 2019-20. Further, the agri-tech ecosystem has the potential to attract investments of over US$10 billion over the next ten years, according to a FICCI-PwC report. The existing start-ups in the country, estimated at over 600, account for merely 1% of the potential market opportunity estimated at US$24 billion.

Despite the pandemic, India saw investments of more than US$500 million in the agri-tech arena in 2020, compared to US$248 million in 2019. It noted that the government has been exhibiting its commitment to bring policy reforms in the agriculture and allied sector and bolster the agri start-up ecosystem.

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