Row over European pilot project to monitor Indian organic cotton farms via satellites

Concerns about the country’s defense security have been raised after a pilot project was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and German artificial intelligence (AI) company Marple to remotely monitor Indian organic cotton farms through satellites. .

In a June 6 statement, GOTS said it had launched the world’s first “new pilot project” which aims to demonstrate the potential for remote satellite monitoring of organic cotton growing systems.

The concern about the project is that the proposed remote satellite survey will cover sensitive areas important to national security, especially since the remote monitoring will take place in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

GOTS response

Sources in the remote satellite monitoring sector said that no foreign company can undertake any satellite monitoring project in India without the government’s permission. “Even Indian companies have to take permission from the government for such projects,” said a source in the sector for more than two decades.

When asked if permission had been obtained for the remote satellite monitoring project in India, Geoffrey Thiem, project manager at GOTS, said his organization had “informed the Ministry of Agriculture of this and other projects related to organic cotton in India, and they have shown interest in collaborating.” “.

Emails to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Surveyor General of India, which authorize such a survey, had not received a response as of publication of this report. The ESA’s media relations officer said he would get the agency’s response, however Business line You haven’t got it yet.

MCF facilities

GOTS said in June: “The project, which will be implemented under ESA’s Business Applications and Space Solutions (BASS) programme, will train artificial intelligence to use ESA satellite data to detect and automatically classify cotton fields across India according to their planting criteria.” . 6 statement.

“GOTS does not have any legal entity in India. Who represents it to get the license?” the source asked.

Sources in the satellite monitoring sector said the survey may cover the border areas of Kutch in Gujarat state, where there are a number of security installations.

Also, Madhya Pradesh, the capital of Bhopal and Hassan in Karnataka, both cotton-growing states, have home master control facilities (MCF) that monitor and control all of the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) geostationary satellites.

Satellite monitoring policy

Asked whether the Indian government has approved remote satellite monitoring of Indian organic cotton farms, Thiem referred to the country’s policy on remote satellite monitoring.

The policy says it will enhance capacity and capacity to use remote sensing technology with private sector participation and enable easy access to data and provision of services by private entities to users under simplified permits and procedures.

But remote satellite sector sources pointed out that the policy also states that “Government of India has, however, reserved the right to monitor and monitor the obligations of imaging, surveillance and release of sensitive data in case of national security, international compliance and/or foreign policy.”

GOTS said it had asked the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Agency (APEDA), India’s nodal organic agriculture and export monitoring agency, to collaborate on projects related to cotton, “but it has yet to come to fruition,” he said. .

Thiem said the Cotton Textile Export Promotion Council (Texprocel), which is developing Kasturi Cotton, supports the initiative and is “eager to collaborate”.

Google Maps

Also, India’s National Geospatial Data Guidelines contain negative lists that would be specific to highly sensitive attributes and care has been taken to reduce restrictions to enhance ease of doing business.

“The rules and regulations we have on remote satellite monitoring are nowhere near as comprehensive as maritime law. In this part, technology has overtaken the law,” said S Chandrasekaran, a trade analyst who tracks the organic farming sector closely.

Although remote satellite monitoring sector sources said some may refer to Google satellite maps, key defense zones are darkened and given over to ensure the country’s security.

Google displays its data publicly. “But ECA, GOTS and Marple are ad-hoc private data in which there is no transparency and no guarantee that the country’s security is at risk,” said the remote satellite monitoring source.

Results at the end of the year

GOTS said the project will introduce an innovative approach to incorporating standardized productivity metrics, which will enable GOTS to generate realistic estimates of organic cotton production in selected regions. GOTS said the survey will be conducted using Marple’s Cotton Remote Agriculture Assessment (CoCuRA) software which was “successfully piloted in a feasibility project in Uzbekistan in 2021.”

The pilot project will be implemented across the country and results will be available by the end of the year. It is co-financed by GOTS and ESA, in collaboration with Marple GmbH, which developed the CoCuRA (Cotton Growing Remote Assessment) program with ESA BASS and successfully piloted it in a feasibility project in 2021 in Uzbekistan.

GOTS said the project’s “expected” impact extends beyond designating certified organic cotton fields. “GOTS is also expected to enable identification of cotton fields that have not yet achieved organic certification but have the potential for a smooth transition to organic farming, thanks to their use of traditional and environmentally friendly farming practices,” she added.

This would enable GOTS to bring more farmers – particularly small scale ones – into the certified organic sector and supply chains, creating new economic opportunities for small farmers and their communities while also helping the textile sector to meet the needs of consumers’ growing demand for organic cotton.

Charges against GOTS

Sources in the remote satellite monitoring sector cited allegations that GOTS facilitates the collection of numerous social data through inspection and certification agencies, which can be “used for social engineering and against national integrity”. This is because a large number of tribal farmers are involved in the cultivation of organic cotton.

A source in the organic farming sector said that a foreign NGO recently funded another front organization in Indore, Madhya Pradesh through overseas business loans.

Chandrasekaran said APEDA had detected organic cotton farming scams over the past two years but had failed to effectively enforce organic textile standards. “GOTS is now trying to capitalize on this,” he said.

OA sources asked if a situation had been created to conduct a satellite survey.

“The lack of government regulation in organic textiles and recognition of private foreign standards has forced the market to deal with foreign agencies. Although we are aware of the integrity issues, there has been a delay in the implementation of organic hurtthat could have mitigated the risks,” Chandrasekaran said.