Stubble burning menace emerges in Kuttanad

A burning problem:A file photo of a paddy field being burnt after harvest near Thrissur in Kerala.K.K. MustafahK_K_Mustafah; -  

Paddy fields in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, look black these days with some of them emitting plumes of smoke. Relatively a new phenomenon in this part of the region, setting paddy fields on fire after harvest by ‘padashekhara samitis’ and farmers is emerging as a major cause for concern.

It is posing serious health and environmental hazards. After the harvest of the puncha crop (first crop) began last month in Kuttanad, Fire Services and Rescue personnel and fire tenders have been pressed into action several times after the blaze went out of control, threatening to engulf even houses, life and property.

In Punjab or Haryana, residue burning is rampant after harvest, resulting in heavy smog choking the region every year.

‘Unaware of danger’

This season, farmers have undertaken paddy cultivation in more than 30,000 hectares in Alappuzha district, a major portion of which is in Kuttanad.

“The rampant burning of fields started only a few years ago. The smoke from stubble contains carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals, which adversely affect human health and environment. However, the farmers are yet to be aware of the dangers. In 2017, a farmer died after inhaling the smoke while burning his field in the region,” says Jayan Champakulam, district convener, Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad environment subject committee.

In Kuttanad, the farmers are burning fields to destroy stubble, to check the germination of weedy rice and prevent diseases, as part of preparing their fields for the next crop season. They believe setting the fields on fire will improve the soil fertility.

Experts, however, say the burning impacts the quality of soil as it robs the soil of vital nutrients.

“We are not recommending burning of stubble. There was a time when Kerala Agricultural University recommended burning of paddy straw following a pest attack. However, with global warming and scientifically speaking, we can no more justify it,” a scientist at the Rice Research Station, Moncompu, told The Hindu .