As Bihar’s Kishanganj gets digital fertility map, farmers sound alarm

Farmers at the mercy of corporates if digitalisation of agriculture is allowed to go on, they say

By C K Manoj
Published: Friday 16 July 2021

Agricultural experts and farmers in Bihar’s Kishanganj are worried about the growing digitalisation of farming, even as the border district has now got its own fertility map prepared.

The digital fertility map has been prepared by the scientists of Bihar Agriculture University (BAU), Sabour, in Bhagalpur district after months of hard work. The scientists said they collected more than 2,500 soil samples from across Kishanganj district — some four-five samples from each of its 848 villages — to prepare the fertility map.

Raj Kishore Kumar, agriculture scientist (soil science) at BAU, said farmers would benefit a lot from this special map.

“They can now easily decide which crops they should grow in particular areas for better gains. They can introduce new crops, go for crop diversifications and can also decide about the exact dose of fertilisers after knowing the fertility level of their soil. This will get them bumper crops,” Kumar said.

He added that after going through the soil fertility level, the farmers could also decide about the selection of crops on the basis of rainfalls and climate.

Currently, villagers in Kishanganj have also shifted to various kinds of farming, such as tea cultivation, pineapple and bamboo tree farming in a marked shift from the traditional mode of cultivation, such as farming of paddy, wheat, jute and maize.

Similar maps of three other districts — Supaul, Khagaria and Purnia — too are being readied and are expected to go online in the next few weeks.

Dangers of digitisation

But agricultural experts and farmers are worried over the growing digitisation of land records and their fertility details. They apprehend the data could be exploited by private companies and big corporate houses for various purposes, such as land acquisition and predatory lending, leaving farmers in crisis.

“The whole exercise (preparation of digital fertility map) is a part of a larger conspiracy to snatch the agricultural lands of poor farmers who are dependent on farming for survival,” Dhirendra Jha, general secretary of All India Agriculture and Rural Labour Association told this reporter.

According to him, now that the land fertility map has gone online, everyone, either the farmer community or the private companies, can check the quality of land from afar and try to acquire these lands for commercial purposes which will ultimately prove disastrous for the poor farmers.

“Our farmers have thousands of years of experience. But they are getting involved in such projects. Crop patterns are being decided at the instance of multinational companies,” Jha said.

He said Kishanganj has been known for two traditional crops — jute farming and paddy cultivation. Of late though, efforts are on to turn it into a hub of tea and pineapple plantation.

Jha said Kishanganj and Bihar’s entire north-eastern region had been facing flood devastations every year and the first priority of the government should be better water management and flood control.

Another farmer activist and state secretary of the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Mahasabha, Rajendra Patel said the whole exercise was proceeding on the pattern of land banks and would ideally benefit corporate houses.

He said farmers had limited resources and were engaged in traditional cultivation. “What will happen in the days to come is that the big private players will acquire their fertile land by promising money. The end result will be that the farmers will become labourers on their own land,” Patel said.

Patel said the corporate houses had their eyes fixed on the land of the farmers and many things were being done to suit their interests.

Kishore Jaiswal, a farmer from Munger, said the idea of preparing a digital fertility map had got farmers scared. He said this was the next step of contract farming and would lead to a fight for land ownership after the companies had acquired farmers’ land.

Jaiswal is apprehensive about another fact — over-production of crops will result in low market prices of farm produce to farmers.

But Raj Kishore Kumar said there was nothing to worry. He said many farmers were poor despite having large plots of land since they did not have resources and expertise.

“The private players, if they are involved, will go for crop diversification which will give at least 300 days of employment to farmers,” Kumar said.

Agriculture experts and farmers have got further worried especially after the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and farmers Welfare in April this year entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with technology major Microsoft Corp Ltd to start a pilot project in 100 villages of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

The MoU requires Microsoft, an American multinational technology company which produces computer software, to create a ‘Unified farmer Service Interface’ through its cloud computing services. This comprises a major part of the ministry’s plan of creating ‘AgriStack’ (a collection of technology-based interventions in agriculture) on which everything else will be built.

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