Every year, during the last week of September to November, farmers are compelled to burn rice crop remains from the field before planting wheat. Burning straw stubble that remains after the harvest of grains, such as rice, is known as stubble burning.
Preparing the fields for rabi crop sowing through paddy stubble burning is practiced chiefly in the Indo-Gangetic plains of Punjab, Haryana, and UP. Farmers harvest the paddy crop in Punjab and Haryana between October’s first and last weeks. Then, farmers sow the wheat crop between the first week of November and the middle of December.
MOTIVES FOR BURNING RESIDUE
Because there is only a tiny window between paddy harvest and wheat sowing, farmers burn rice crop stubble – the lowest short bits left standing after the rest of the crop has been chopped. Farmers that use a combine harvester, also known as a combine, are more likely to burn the stubble than farmers who harvest their crops manually. Combines remove the spike, or granular section of the rice plant, but leave around 30 cm of the stem in the field.
The farmer must choose between manually cutting the stem, using a machine, using in-situ management, or burning it. Burning is the most straightforward and most affordable choice out of the three options. The main contributing factors include a lack of labor during crucial farm operations, a relatively small window of time for preparing the field for the following crop, a lack of processing facilities, and the widespread usage of combine harvesters for paddy harvesting.
ALTERNATIVE USES OF STUBBLE
The stubble can be utilized in a variety of ways other than burning, including as animal feed, compost manure, roofing material for rural regions, a source of biomass energy, a growing medium for mushrooms, packing material, fuel, paper, bioethanol, and industrial output.
Several farming communities are taking the lead in finding alternative uses for stubble. Farmers in Rohtak, Haryana, choose to turn their leftover crop residue into fodder, helping decrease the number of stubble-burning occurrences in the state. Farmers in the Jalandhar village of Bajra employ equipment like superseeders and balers to manage stubble as best they can.
ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
With the help of the innovative seeder machines, farmers can fully omit the process of burning used rice straw. The seeder, mounted on a tractor, cuts, gathers, and chops the residual rice straw once the rice harvest is over. Wheat is seeded into the ground using the machine’s seed drill, and the straw is then spread over the sown area as mulch. As the straw decomposes over time, it enhances soil fertility and naturally traps moisture. It also keeps weeds from growing in the wheat crop.
The Indian government offers between 50% and 80% capital subsidies for purchasing farm equipment to implement in-situ crop residue management. However, some farmers are reluctant to buy stubble management equipment due to the machines’ seasonal nature and short usage period.
These challenges indicate that the practice of stubble burning is being supported by the usage of regular Combines, a lack of solid market ties for non-basmati stubbles, and the promotion of expensive technologies that take a long time to become widely used. We require a technologically sound, economically viable solution that farmers can adopt quickly.
One solution is to alter the Combine Harvester, which can be a simple and cost-effective approach. The required features are already present in certain more recent versions of Combine and their use can be encouraged to avoid stubble. Indian entrepreneurs can take a lead in developing technology to solve indigenous problems, and the government must encourage wide adoption of innovative solutions.
Because paddy straws can be converted into value-added products and are nutrient-rich, sustainable residue management is crucial to avoid the wastage of a useful product. The relevant government departments, institutions, and several private organizations are collaborating to raise awareness about the issue and hoping to suppress stubble burning. The key tactics to consider are organizing training camps at the village level with financial incentives and promoting contemporary technologies through governmental initiatives. Farmers won’t need to burn the stubble if they can easily access the appropriate technology and management techniques that will benefit them in the long run. Alternative methods can help farmers increase their income, minimize air pollution, and improve the health of their soil.