Stubble Burning | National

Instances of burning stubble haven’t noticeably come down from last year

A farmer burns straw stubble in a field at Butana in Haryana. File

A farmer burns straw stubble in a field at Butana in Haryana. File

A programme this October to check stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana by a private “agri-tech” firm claims to have reduced the paddy-area being burned by 92% over last year. This however doesn’t seem to have dissuaded the bulk of farmers in the States from burning stubble as multiple accounts suggest that instances weren’t noticeably reduced from last year.

In the programme, Bengaluru-based nurture.farm sprayed a bio-decomposer in the paddy fields of about 25,000 farmers in Punjab and Haryana in October.

The decomposers are a powder mixed in water meant to accelerate the process of turning rice stubble into compost. Untreated rice straw takes 4-8 weeks to disintegrate which is too long for the average farmer to wait to be able to sow the winter wheat crop.

Expensive and unaffordable option

The other option is to employ farm labour who will cut the stalk and pile it into bundles, but that’s expensive and unaffordable for more than 95% of the farmers. The chemical formula for the decomposer, which is essentially a bio-enzyme, was developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, in Pusa, Delhi.

The bio-enzyme developed was initially formulated as a capsule and needs to be mixed with an organic liquid mixture to be usable. Last year, several States including Delhi had distributed them as part of pilot trials.

However, it emerged that a capsule was not the best way to put the product into fields. Hence the company licensed the technology and made it into a powder that can be mixed with water, which is loaded into a tank in the boom sprayer. After spraying, the soil needs to be turned over and irrigated.

When done correctly — spraying, turning the soil over and irrigating it for four days — the straw can be disintegrated in eight days, said company officials. An acre could be sprayed in seven minutes with the boom sprayer whereas manually it took half a day.

Apart from nurture.farm (sic), Delhi and Uttar Pradesh too said they would be using the spray decomposer but there isn’t information publicly available yet on its performance this year.

The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), which monitors stubble burning via data from multiple satellites based on a protocol from the Indian Space Research Organisation, has reported that there were 78,291 instances of stubble burning from September 15 to November 30 in Punjab and Haryana which comprise over 85% of instances of the kharif crop. Last year there were 84,771 instances recorded in these States in the same interval.

More fires this year

Delhi-based environment think-tank The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has a different set of figures based on data from the NASA VIIRS satellite that says there were more fires this year than the last. Between October 1 and November 28 from the satellite, which tracks thermal radiation at high resolution, said there have been 86,296 fires cumulatively in the two States this year — 6,700 more than last year’s 79,518 — according to media reports citing experts from the organisation.

What’s common though in both reports is that Punjab accounted for a very high number of fires and there was sharp increase in fires out of Haryana.

Nurture.farm told The Hindu that though they serviced 4,20,000 acres this year, it was still less than 10% of the overall farm acreage burned each year in Punjab and Haryana. This year around 62 lakh acres has come under paddy (non-basmati parmal rice) in the two States — around 50 lakh acres in Punjab and the rest in Haryana. It’s non-basmati rice fields that are usually burned to dispose stubble to prepare the soil for wheat and other crops.

“Of the 4,20,000 acres serviced, 92% of the farms were not burnt. This is 150 times more than any other project with similar intent prior to this and points to outstanding success for the programme, since it clearly demonstrates that if a viable, affordable and sustainable solution is presented to the farmers, they are willing to adopt it,” said Dhruv Sawhney, Business Head and Chief Operating Officer, nurture.farm, which is also a subsidiary of agrochemical giant UPL. He said the company expected to scale up the project next year to 20 lakh acres and sign up 1,00,000 farmers.

The company specifically chose districts in Punjab and Haryana where a large fraction of fields were burnt in previous years. In Punjab, 68% of the acres were burnt in 2020 which came down to 3% in 2021 and in Haryana 86% came down to 14% this year, he said.

“This isn’t just a spraying operation. This is a massive operation, deployed at scale, over a short period of time, and is a large attempt at bringing social and behaviour change in farmers to recognise and adopt this new and sustainable alternative,” he said.

Slew of measures

The contribution of farm fires to the air pollution in Delhi varies from as low as 5% to 40% with Dipavali-week this year so polluted that it prompted the Supreme Court to sharply rebuke the Centre and ordered it to take urgent steps to quell the problem. Though the Centre, before October, had proclaimed a slew of measures to check air pollution, there was little impact as air quality dipped precipitously in October and November.

Factors such as the Punjab Government’s rules that prohibit early planting of paddy in the monsoon months and its crop procurement policies significantly influence the farmers’ decision to set their fields ablaze.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 2:57:19 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/instances-of-burning-stubble-havent-noticeably-come-down-from-last-year/article37934469.ece