Budget 2023-24 has announced two crucial schemes — Digital Public Infrastructure for Agriculture (DPIA) and Agriculture Accelerator Fund (AAF) — for innovative start-ups in rural areas.
Considering the reduced real incomes of farmers and the vast potential of digital technology to address agriculture challenges, these announcements are welcome.
However, the modalities and execution of such schemes need to be unearthed. Will DPIA improve information governance and redefine agri-data domain ownership? Will it accelerate and complement innovative start-ups in rural areas? What are the challenges in rolling out DPIA?
For DPIA to qualify as an open source, open standard interoperable public good, collective standardisation must be achieved; the network of links, interactions and mutual value among users should be standardised for synergy. However, synergy depends on the farmer onboarding, cost structure, revenues for network and infrastructure service.
The network effect is a significant driver of the aggregated value of digital infrastructure. Its value increases as a diverse group utilises and leverages the infrastructure. So, the government can work out the modalities to address equity, free-rider, and horizon problems that may emerge in DPIA in addition to digital divide.
Leveraging and developing synergies with the existing infrastructure of State Agricultural Universities and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, tasked with public knowledge creators and disseminators, becomes essential.
Though India has exhibited prowess in information technology, attracting and retaining talent in the agricultural sector seems a persistent challenge. Reducing the budget for agricultural education does not bode well.
Against an actual expenditure of ₹552.22 crore for 2021-22, Budget 2023-24 declared an outlay of ₹415 crore for agricultural education, representing a drop of over 20 per cent.
Further, the aggregate allocation to agricultural universities and institutions of economics, statistics and management for 2023-24 stands at ₹322.74 crore against the actuals of ₹327.56 crore in 2021-22. When the focus is on leveraging data and evidence for planning and decision-making, the curtailment of Budget allocations for institutions and universities is not a prudent decision.
To sum up, harnessing the potential of DPIA and AAF requires a holistic view supported by complementary interventions.
Dey teaches at IIM Lucknow and Kumar teaches at IIM Calcutta. Views are personal