Crop burning: Farmers say they have few workable options
“Smog is not just in Delhi, it is in Haryana too,” said Prem nonchalantly as he moved around torching paddy stubble stacked neatly in concentric circles in his field. As the smoke billowed, he held a cloth over his nose and moved away. Prem’s field in Hansi village of Haryana is not an isolated case. Crop burning is common in the states neighbouring Delhi, and continues despite a government clampdown on the practice.
As heavy smog enveloped the national capital, ET’s reporter travelled along national highway No. 9 — from New Delhi to Sirsa in Haryana’s paddy and cotton-rich belt — to see why farmers resort to the practice. Along the entire stretch—from Rohtak through Hisar till Sirsa—the fields showed different patterns of yellow interspersed with black stripes — tell-tale signs of crop burning.
Like Prem, even Pawan Sharma in Francy village was aware of the ills of crop burning. “But what option do we have?” he said. The reason why farmers bur The problem is worsening as this belt is fast switching from cotton to paddy. Bhupesh Mehta, who owns large tracts of land in Sirsa, said, “Cotton is very prone to pest attacks. Though it fetches high returns, a pest attack ruins the crop quickly and the farmer loses all his investment. With farmers switching from cotton to paddy, the problem of crop burning will only worsen.”
The problem is worsening as this belt is fast switching from cotton to paddy. Bhupesh Mehta, who owns large tracts of land in Sirsa, said, “Cotton is very prone to pest attacks. Though it fetches high returns, a pest attack ruins the crop quickly and the farmer loses all his investment. With farmers switching from cotton to paddy, the problem of crop burning will only worsen.”
Farmers have the option of burying the crop waste in the fields and turning it into manure. But it is an expensive option, which few are willing to try. A tractor with a disc harrow is used to cut the paddy waste and then plough it into the ground. Over a one-acre plot, a tractor would have to make 3-4 rounds around to field to cut the stubble to size and then bury it. This would mean an additional investment of Rs 1,600-2,000 – an expense most farmers are unwilling to take. If the farmer has his own tractor, he still has to spend money on diesel, which works to Rs 800-1,000. Mehta said even with this the waste remains on the field and it is difficult to sow rabi crop. Farmers thus find it easier and more cost-effective to burn the stubble.
The toughest part is the small window farmers have to sow wheat. The harvest of paddy ends in November and the sowing of wheat must be completed by mid-December, giving farmers just about a month to sell their harvest, prepare their fields for the rabi crop cycle and sow wheat. This small time frame is not enough to convert the paddy stubble into manure.
This year, the Haryana government tried to clamp down on the practice. It slapped fines on farmers, leading to an agitation in the state. The drive had to be slowed down.
Prof Sudhir Panwar, who is member of Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission and the president of Kisan Jagriti Manch, said, “There are very few workable options before the farmers. A mechanical solution has been suggested by the Punjab government. There is an expensive mechanical harvester which cuts the paddy from near the root, leaving behind very small stubble and waste in the field. But it is an expensive option. Punjab had sought Rs 50-60 lakh for this from the Centre. Another option is chemical degradation of paddy stubble which could give a green manure. But again this would require at least two months and the window for sowing wheat after paddy harvesting is very small.” According to Panwar, apart from economics, another reason for farmers resorting to paddy-stub burning is the misconception that it makes the soil fertile.
Panwar’s student, Sher Bahadur, a resident of Nepal, however, points to the prevalent practice in the Himalayan kingdom. “We have been regularly mixing paddy stubble with waste from gobar-gas plants. It degenerates fast into a green manure which is very good for all crops. The degeneration time is less than a month,” he said.
The Centre had framed a National Policy for Management of Crop Residue in November 2014. The agriculture ministry had conducted a workshop on stubble burning in Chandigarh in January 2015. The national policy envisages formulation of suitable legislation, adoption of technical measures and training on crop residue management. However, no state has done anything on this.
UP, Punjab and Maharashtra contribute the most in terms of crop residue, data show.
The smog in Delhi has brought the issue in the spotlight. Now, the agriculture ministry has again taken stock of the measures being employed by states.
Source: ECONOMIC TIMES
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