Stubble burning: A problem for the environment

Stubble burning: A problem for the environment

In this article we will discuss all about Stubble burning. Stubble burning is very common in NCR, In order to plant next winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers in Haryana and Punjab have to move in a very short interval and if they are late, due to short winters these days, they might face considerable losses.

 What is Stubble Burning?

Stubble (parali) burning is the act of setting fire to crop residue to remove them from the field to sow the next crop. In addition to wheat and paddy, sugarcane leaves are most commonly burnt. According to an official report, more than 500 million tonnes of parali (crop residues) is produced annually in the country, cereal crops (rice, wheat, maize and millets) account for 70 per cent of the total crop residue.

Of this, 34 per cent comes from rice and 22 per cent from wheat crops, most of which is burnt on the farm. According to an estimate, 20 million tonnes of rice stubble is produced every year in Punjab alone, 80 per cent of which is burnt.

Why Stubble Burning?

In order to plant next winter crop (Rabi crop), farmers in Haryana and Punjab have to move in a very short interval and if they are late, due to short winters these days, they might face considerable losses. Therefore, burning is the cheapest and fastest way to get rid of the stubble. If parali is left in the field, pests like termites may attack the upcoming crop. The precarious economic condition of farmers doesn’t allow them to use expensive mechanised methods to remove stubble.

Causes of the Stubble Burning

Technology: The problem arises due to the use of mechanised harvesting which leaves several inches of stubble in the fields. Earlier, this excess crop was used by farmers for cooking, as hay to keep their animals warm or even as extra insulation for homes. But, now the stubble use for such purposes has become outdated.

Adverse Impact of Laws: Implementation of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act (2009) made the time period of stubble burning coincident with the onset of winter in Northern India. Late transplanting of paddy during Kharif season to prevent water loss as directed by PPSW Act (2009) had left farmers with little time between harvesting and preparing the field for the next crop and hence farmers are resorting to the burning of stubble.

The state government has not implemented the National Policy for Management of Crop Residues to protect the parali (crop residue). On December 10, 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned crop residue burning in the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

Burning crop residue is a crime under Section 188 of the IPC and under the Air and Pollution Control Act of 1981. However, government’s implementation lacks strength.

High Silica Content: Rice straw is considered useless as fodder in the case of non-basmati rice, because of its high silica content.

Effects of Stubble Burning

Pollution: Open stubble burning emits large amounts of toxic pollutants in the atmosphere which contain harmful gases like methane (CH4), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

After the release in the atmosphere, these pollutants disperse in the surroundings, may undergo a physical and chemical transformation and eventually adversely affect human health by causing a thick blanket of smog.

Soil Fertility: Burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile.

Heat Penetration: Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of moisture and useful microbes.

Environmental and health risk of Stubble Burning

A study estimates that crop residue burning released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon. These directly contribute to environmental pollution, and are also responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers.

The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimetre into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil.

Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil have also been reduced.

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According to a report, one tonne stubble burning leads to a loss of 5.5 kilogram nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg potassium and more than 1 kg of sulphur —  all soil nutrients, besides organic carbon.

A study revealed that 84.5 per cent people were suffering from health problem due to increased incidence of smog. It found that 76.8 per cent people reported irritation in eyes, 44.8 per cent reported irritation in nose, and 45.5 per cent reported irritation in throat.

Cough or increase in cough was reported by 41.6 per cent people and 18.0 per cent reported wheezing. Another study by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru, estimated that people in rural Punjab spend Rs 7.6 crore every year on treatment for ailments caused by stubble burning.

 Wealth From Stubble

Instead of burning of the stubble, it can be used in different ways like cattle feed, compost manure, roofing in rural areas, biomass energy, mushroom cultivation, packing materials, fuel, paper, bio-ethanol and industrial production, etc.

From parali (stubble), high-grade organic fertilizers can be prepared by mixing with cow dung and few natural enzymes. The total amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and sulphur in the parali burnt annually in Northwest India is about seven lakh tonnes, valued at Rs 1,000 crore.

Along with the above mentioned nutrients, organic carbon is also destroyed during stubble burning. These nutrients, if successfully utilized in organic manures, can also reduce the risk of cancer in Punjab by reducing the levels of carcinogens caused by chemical fertilizers in soil.

Using straw for electricity generation is another productive way of generating wealth from residue. USA-based New Generation Power International has proposed to set up 1000 MW biomass energy generating plants in Punjab to address stubble burning.The company plans to set up 200 plants, each having 5 MW capacity, which will use the stubble as raw material.

Chhattisgarh Model

An innovative experiment has been undertaken by the Chhattisgarh government by setting up gauthans. A gauthan is a dedicated five-acre plot, held in common by each village, where all the unused parali is collected through parali daan (people’s donations) and is converted into organic fertiliser by mixing with cow dung and few natural enzymes.

The scheme also generates employment among rural youth. The government supports the transportation of parali from the farm to the nearest gauthan. The state has successfully developed 2,000 gauthans.

Way Forward

An expansion of schemes like the MGNREGA for harvesting and composting of parali. An integrated regenerative rural development model of narwa (rivulet regeneration), garuwa (cattle conservation), ghuruwa (composting) and baari (kitchen garden) through a participatory process using MGNREGA.

The most efficient technology to counter stubble burning at the moment is Turbo Happy Seeder (THS). It not only cuts and uproots the stubble but can also drill wheat seeds in the soil that have just been cleared up. The straw is simultaneously thrown over the sown seeds to form a mulch cover.

Establishing Farm Machinery Banks for custom hiring of in-situ crop residue management machinery. Co-operative societies of farmers, self-help groups, registered farmers societies/farmers groups, private entrepreneurs for establishment of farm machinery banks or custom hiring centres.

Financial incentives to small and marginal farmers to engage in the management of the residue of their non-basmati variety rice crop in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. However, in the longer time span, shifting cropping pattern away from paddy to maize, cotton, fruits or vegetables in Punjab, Haryana and UP.

Solutions to the Stubble burning problem

In 2014, the Union government released the National Policy for Management of Crop Residue. Since then, crop residue management has helped make the soil more fertile, thereby resulting in savings of Rs 2,000/hectare from the farmer’s manure cost.

Farmers can also manage crop residues effectively by employing agricultural machines like:

  • Happy Seeder(used for sowing of crop in standing stubble)
  • Rotavator (used for land preparation and incorporation of crop stubble in the soil)
  • Zero till seed drill (used for land preparations directly sowing of seeds in the previous crop stubble)
  • Baler (used for collection of straw and making bales of the paddy stubble)
  • Paddy Straw Chopper (cutting of paddy stubble for easily mixing with the soil)
  • Reaper Binder (used for harvesting paddy stubble and making into bundles)

On other hand, these machines are too costly and the state governments should come forward and provide better subsidy so that farmer can afford these machines. The government is providing subsidy at 50-80 per cent for crop residue management machinery.  A provision of Rs 1,151.80 crore for two years has been made under this scheme for states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Region.

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