Crop residue burning: A problem for everyone!

Burning of crop residues damages the micro-organisms in the topsoil as well as its organic quality. The loss of ‘friendly’ pests increases the aggression of ‘enemy’ pests and crops are susceptible to disease. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of the soil is also reduced.

The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 cm of soil and raises the temperature from 33.8 to 42.2 degrees Celsius. It kills bacterial and fungal populations that are critical to fertile soil.

According to a report, burning a tonne of seedlings causes a loss of 5.5 kilograms of nitrogen, 2.3 kg of phosphorus, 25 kg of potassium and more than 1 kg of sulfur — all soil nutrients, along with organic carbon.

A study conducted in 2016 revealed that 84.5 percent of people suffer from health problems due to smoke. 76.8 percent reported eye irritation, 44.8 percent nose irritation, and 45.5 percent throat irritation.

Coughing or an increase in coughing was reported by 41.6 percent and 18.0 percent reported wheezing. According to another study by the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, people in rural Punjab spend Rs. 7.6 crores are being spent annually for getting treatment for the diseases caused by stubble burning.

Why do the farmers burn the crop residue?

Farmers in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh typically burn crop waste after harvesting their first crop in October to clear their fields before they sow winter crops a few weeks later.

Interestingly, farmers are aware of the negative implications of burning the crop residue, but a lack of viable options forces them to burn their fields.

Solutions to burning problem

In 2014, the Union Government released a National Policy for Crop Residue Management. Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) developed a revolutionary bio-enzyme, called PUSA, which decomposes the residue, into organic manure. We also saw startups like Takachar, turning crop residue into carbon-negative bioproducts and Takachar is building an economy around this problem by offering their technology for rural enterprenuers.

Farmers can also manage crop residues efficiently by using farm machinery:

  • Rotavator (used for land preparation and mixing crop residue into the soil)
  • Zero till seed drill (used for land preparation for sowing seeds directly in previous crop stomach)
  • Baler (used to collect straw and make paddy bales)
  • Reaper Binder (Used for harvesting and bundling rice sprouts)

In the past 9 years, there are quite a bit of initatives at the ground level to reduce the crop residue burning, and many inititives in the cities to improve the air quality. We should see a collaborative approach between govertments to bring solutions like PUSA to farmers at an affordable pricing and handle the crop residue.

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