Delhi pollution: Expensive machines not the only fix for stubble burning

Between the option of hiring or buying expensive machines or outright burning, there are several others solutions to handle paddy stubble in the fields. 

However, these come with their own complications. 

Natural decomposers and digging the stubble deep within the soil itself to let it decay are, for instance, suggested as an alternative to costly machines or the cheap option of burning the stubble. Decomposers are spread on the stubble, quickening their natural decay. Once the stubble is decayed, it is manure for the soil. 

The problem is time. The window between harvesting of paddy and subsequent sowing of wheat is very small. Natural decomposition, even with assistance, requires more time. 

That apart, there are natural farming practices, such as inter-cropping with wheat, to prevent stubble burning. “A few farmers in Ambala district of Haryana have started sowing wheat even when paddy is in the field. At a point, both crops are almost the same height. Later, the paddy is harvested and its residue acts as a natural manure for wheat,” said Vikram Ahuja, a farmer and entrepreneur in crop residue management, told Business Standard.

‘Just pay them’

Some say all this is avoiding the main issue. Farm expert Devender Sharma, for instance, says it is false to believe that without using expensive machines or burning, paddy stubble can’t be handled.

“There are the options of composting, using as manure or selling the stubble for making biomass for farmers. The entire focus on machines is meant to push more mechanisation into an already saturated market,” he contends.

His solution? Give each farmer a flat Rs 100 a quintal allocation to handle paddy stubble. Let them decide what to do with the surplus. 

“In Punjab alone, around 22 million tonnes of paddy stubble is produced in one season. Of which, 18-19 mt needs to be treated. Similarly in Haryana, 14-15 mt of stubble is generated. Together, the total expenditure would be around Rs 20 billion, which should be given to farmers. Let them decide what to do with the stubble,” said Sharma. 

Punjab, he adds, has far more numbers of tractors than required. Asking them to also buy stubble-dealing equipment like Happy Seeder Machines or mulchers raises the issue of how much burden they can take.

Cash support?

Pushpendra Singh, a farm leader from western UP and head of a Kisan Shakti Sangh, says his region also sees paddy grown in big amounts. However, there is no problem of stubble burning -- most of the harvest is done manually and not through combines. The latter method leaves stubble behind. 

Also, farmers there use paddy stubble as dry fodder for animals. Stubble of varieties which animals don’t like to eat is used for keeping them warm during winter. And, as bio-fertiliser. 

“For farmers to shift from machines to manual harvesting would lead to more expenditure, as labour rates have gone up. Farmers need to compensated adequately and schemes like MGNREGS (the rural jobworks guarantee) can come in handy. Or direct compensation through Minimum Support Prices could be thought of,” Singh suggests.

Finance, not tech

There are solutions available but the government needs to decide what to propagate. In Punjab itself, there are companies which have developed processes for converting paddy stubble into manure and biogas.

Fazilka-based Sampurn Agri Ventures, for instance, has developed a paddy pulveriser and digester which can handle 70 tonnes a day. However, it costs around Rs 350 million to set up. 

The stubble can be brought in any form by the farmer. It is broken into pieces and dealt with by natural ingredients in a digester. In this process, biogas is produced, readily purchased by power companies. The remains are converted into high value fertiliser. 

“There are a lot of companies which claim to produce biogas from paddy stubble but we probably are the only ones which don’t use any enzymes,” said Sanjeev Nagpal chairman. 

He said paddy stubble is purchased from farmers at the rate of Rs 2 a kilogram.

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