Here's how digital public infrastructure could transform the agriculture landscape

The vision of digital public infrastructure for agriculture focuses on improving the livelihoods of farmers, and efficiency, inclusivity and sustainability of the AgTech sector.

The vision of digital public infrastructure for agriculture focuses on improving the livelihoods of farmers, and efficiency, inclusivity and sustainability of the AgTech sector. Image: Unsplash/Amol Sonar

Arushi Goel
Specialist, Data Policy and Blockchain, C4IR India, World Economic Forum
J. Satyanarayana
Chief Advisor, C4IR India, World Economic Forum
Sebastian Buckup
Head of Network and Partnerships; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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  • Digital public infrastructure (DPI) can transform the agriculture technology (AgTech) sector with access to data and safe, trustworthy data-sharing mechanisms.
  • In August 2023, the agriculture data exchange (ADeX) launch helped enable responsible data sharing between multiple data providers and consumers alongside the Agriculture Data Management Framework (ADMF).
  • In agriculture, DPI can democratize data access and help players build innovative applications to deliver tech-enabled services.

Agriculture is a complex ecosystem with diverse stakeholders. Digital public infrastructure (DPI) – often described as a set of digital capabilities, open-source and interoperable public goods – can aid public and private service delivery in such an ecosystem and is already reshaping the digital agricultural landscape.

Data sharing is essential for developing robust DPI. Globally, in 2014, the average farm generated approximately 190,000 data points daily. According to experts’ projections, this figure will skyrocket to about 4.1 million data points per farm per day by 2050. In India, data and AI-driven digital solutions are estimated to add more than $50 billion to the Indian agriculture sector.

Collecting, processing and analyzing such data can revolutionize agriculture and food systems worldwide. However, challenges in accessing and discovering agricultural data hinder the development of an efficient and responsible digital ecosystem for agriculture.

Digital public infrastructure for agriculture

In August 2021, the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) India, with the Government of Telangana and a multi-stakeholder community comprising leading industry experts on agriculture and data, put forth a white paper on developing responsible data ecosystems.

What began as an idea has now evolved into implementing India’s first agriculture data exchange.

Developing further on the principles and framework, on 11 August 2023, the State Government of Telangana in India, in collaboration with the Forum and Indian Institute of Sciences, launched the agriculture data exchange (ADeX) to enable responsible data sharing between multiple data providers and consumers.

While the data exchange has been envisaged as a DPI, being open-source and an interoperable public good, it is also supported by a comprehensive policy framework. The Agriculture Data Management Framework (ADMF), released on the same day, was developed after extensive consultations with a multi-stakeholder community comprising government authorities, the private sector, startups, civil society and academia. It is a forward-looking, agile framework.

At the national level, Agri Stack is being shaped as a key enabler in supporting the AgTech ecosystem. It is a set of data, policies and regulations, data exchange and a consent layer intended to allow private sector stakeholders to access datasets and innovate. It initially addresses three foundational questions:

  • Are you a farmer?
  • Which land parcel do you own?
  • Which crop do you grow?

Initiatives such as ADeX, ADMF and Agri Stack, among others, are laying the groundwork for the evolution of DPIs for the agriculture sector in India.

Building blocks

The vision of DPI for agriculture focuses on improving the livelihoods of farmers and a more efficient, inclusive and sustainable agriculture sector and the broader food systems. Mohit Kapoor, Group CTO of Mahindra, says: “By leveraging the India Stack, a DPI in agriculture such as ADeX has the potential to democratize access to data and enables the public and private sector to build innovative applications and deliver tech-enabled services to benefit the society”.

Based on learnings from the pilot in Telangana, the building blocks for driving the ecosystem development are:

  • Data standards and enablement – due to the lack of common vocabulary and the use of different formats, data collection and processing remain fragmented. In the initial phase, using established specifications such as JSON (a JavaScript format), about 70 data objects were identified (with code developed for 12 objects so far) across five concepts (persons, processes, resources, materials and services). This phase will be further developed and harmonized with the broader industry participation.
  • Platform – a technology platform, such as ADeX, that connects multiple data providers with multiple data consumers and facilitates secure standards and consent-based access to high-value agriculture datasets such as farmer identity, land records, soil health information, weather information, market data etc. Using standardized APIs and data models, the platform enables AgTechs to discover trusted data sources and efficiently build agriculture solutions.
  • Policy – while technological interventions are essential for accelerating digital agriculture, policy for ensuring responsible innovation and robust accountability mechanisms are also crucial. To this end, the ADMF leverages global and domestic best practices for an agile framework for data management in the agriculture sector. The expert committee envisaged under the framework will issue guidelines and standard operating procedures critical to ecosystem development while protecting individual rights.

Though not exhaustive, converging the three streams mentioned above will result in AgTechs deploying important use cases at scale, such as providing automated market advisory, pest prediction advisory and easier access to credit facilities, with more such applications planned.

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Looking into the future

As ADeX and Agri Stack, as well as other components of the ecosystem, develop and converge, it is crucial to bolster capacity in the public and private sectors, cultivate a sustainable business model and incentivize stakeholders to join the ecosystem. Additionally, effective policy implementation and undertaking measures to increase awareness and adoption of digital services will be imperative to build trust and transparency in the digital world.

“Leveraging learnings from the India Stack and insights from the industry experience, the way Aadhar and United Payments Interface (UPI) have transformed India’s identity and payments systems. Along those lines, DPI in agriculture is essential for accelerating the adoption and scaling of digital agriculture,” stated Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder of iSPIRT.

In essence, DPI in agriculture will enable the evolution of an efficient, inclusive and sustainable digital agriculture ecosystem.

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