The Hindu Business Line

Study lists al­ter­na­tives to straw burn­ing

‘No-till, no-burn wheat-cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices are prof­itable and cut air pol­lu­tion’

- TV JAYAN AFP Ecology · Farm Equipment · Agriculture · Industries · Punjab · Haryana · India · Washington · The Nature Conservancy · Asia · Minnesota · United States of America · The Nature Conservancy · Indian Council of Agricultural Research · University of Minnesota

Lakhs of farm­ers in Pun­jab and Haryana who cur­rently burn the rice crop residue to pre­pare their fields for grow­ing win­ter wheat crop can make up to 10 to 20 per cent prof­its if they adopt no-till prac­tices for cul­ti­vat­ing wheat, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the jour­nal Science last week.

Th­ese al­ter­na­tive farm­ing prac­tices could also cut green­house gas emis­sion from on-farm ac­tiv­i­ties by as much as 78 per cent and help lower air pol­lu­tion in the North In­dian cities.

Govt role

The study, to which sci­en­tists from a num­ber of in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing some from In­dia con­trib­uted, sug­gested that the gov­ern­ment could help pro­mote wide­spread adoption of al­ter­na­tive tech­nolo­gies by pro­vid­ing “ex­panded sub­si­dies for no-burn agri­cul­ture equip­ment.”

Among those par­tic­i­pated in the study, led by econ­o­mist Priya Shyam­sun­dar of the Wash­ing­ton DC-based en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion The Nature Con­ser­vancy (TNC), in­cluded a team of em­i­nent agri­cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists from the In­ter­na­tional Maize and Wheat Im­prove­ment Cen­tre (CIMMYT), the In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search, the Bor­laug In­sti­tute for South Asia and the Univer­sity of Min­nesota in the US.

Different prac­tices

The sci­en­tists com­pared the costs and ben­e­fits of 10 different land prepa­ra­tion and sow­ing prac­tices for rice-wheat crop­ping prac­tised in 80 per cent of 4.1 mil­lion hectares of the Indo-Gangetic plains. The di­rect seed­ing of wheat into un­ploughed soil and shred­ded rice residues was the best op­tion; it raises farm­ers' prof­its through higher yields and sav­ings in labour, Crop residue burn­ing con­tin­ues be­cause of lax im­ple­men­ta­tion of reg­u­la­tions

fuel, and ma­chin­ery costs.

Since the ad­vent of Green Rev­o­lu­tion in the late 1960s, farm­ers in the re­gion have been re­sort­ing to the rice-wheat plant­ing cy­cle.

“Con­cerns over ground­wa­ter with­drawals have led to a plant­ing cy­cle that al­lows the rice crop to ben­e­fit from mon­soon rains. This cy­cle cre­ates a short pe­riod (nearly 10 to 20 days) to har­vest rice, man­age

rice crop residue, and plant wheat. Many of the 2.5 mil­lion farm­ers in north­west­ern In­dia pre­pare for wheat plant­ing by burn­ing an es­ti­mated 23 mil­lion tonnes of rice residue in their fields,” said the Science pa­per.

Prof­itable al­ter­na­tive

Though reg­u­la­tions are in place, crop residue burn­ing con­tin­ues be­cause of im­ple­men­ta­tion chal­lenges and lack of clarity about the prof­itabil­ity of the al­ter­na­tive, noburn farm­ing. Farm­ers have al­ter­na­tives, the study showed. To sow wheat di­rectly with­out plough­ing or burn­ing rice straw, farm­ers need to pur­chase or rent a trac­tor­mounted im­ple­ment known as the ‘Happy Seeder,’ as well as at­tach straw shed­ders to their rice har­vesters.

Leav­ing straw on the soil as a mulch helps cap­ture and re­tain mois­ture and also im­proves soil qual­ity, ac­cord­ing to ML Jat, CIMMYT Prin­ci­pal Sci­en­tist, crop­ping sys­tems spe­cial­ist and a co-author of the study. The study showed that Happy Seeder-based sys­tems are on aver­age 10-20 per cent more prof­itable than straw burn­ing op­tions. Be­sides, it avoids air pol­lu­tion and green­house gas emis­sions

Need for sub­sidy

“Our study dove­tails with 2018 poli­cies put in place by the gov­ern­ment of In­dia to stop farm­ers from burn­ing, which in­cludes a $166 mil­lion sub­sidy to pro­mote mech­a­ni­sa­tion to man­age crop residues within fields,” said Shyam­sun­dar, Lead Econ­o­mist, Global Science at TNC, and first author of the study, in a state­ment.

Cur­rently, only a few farm­ers in Pun­jab and Haryana sow wheat us­ing the Happy Seeder but man­u­fac­tur­ing of the Seeder had in­creased in re­cent years. “Less than a quar­ter of the to­tal sub­sidy would pay for wide­spread adoption of the Happy Seeder, if aided by gov­ern­ment and NGO sup­port to build farmer aware­ness and im­pede burn­ing,” she said.

 ??  ?? The root of the prob­lem
The root of the prob­lem

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