Revealed : Ministry of Agriculture’s MOU with Microsoft on the Agristack

On 23rd April, 2021, we had filed an RTI request before the Ministry of Agriculture (Agri Ministry) and Farmers Welfare inquiring into the Agristack project. Subsequently, the Agri Ministry released a press release in which they had signed an MoU with Microsoft to initiate a pilot project to

“to develop farmer interface for smart and well-organized agriculture, including post-harvest management and distribution”

which, to our ears, sounded a lot like the Agristack.

In response to this, on 5th May, 55 organisations (including IFF and led by various farmer groups and agricultural cooperatives) had written a joint letter to the Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. The letter highlighted a number of key concerns with the proposed project such as usurious lending practices, exploitation of farmers by procurers, reduced agency on the part of farmers, reduced transparency through algorithmic governance, and inadequate and incorrect land records.

Two days ago, on 18th May, we finally received a response to our RTI, in which the Ministry furnished us with a copy of a MoU dated April 13, 2021, between the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare at the Agri Ministry and Microsoft Corporation (India) Private Limited. We were also provided with a document titled “Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for verifying Farmer’s Database (100 Villages)

As might be expected, there are serious issues with both the MoU and the SOP; our analysis can be found here.

We will continue to monitor the status of the Agristack project. In the meantime, we are planning to hold a conference on the Agristack to bring together stakeholders from farmers groups, kisan unions, agricultural policy organisations, and civil society. Through this conference, we hope to grow public awareness about the Agristack and learn more about its potential benefits and drawbacks. More on this soon.