Farming And Agriculture
Why do farmers indulge in stubble burning?
According to traditional farming, stubble burning is practised to make the land fertile and ready for the next season. Stubble burning helps farmers save their time and resources before the onset of next season’s plantation.
Due to a lack of modern technical solutions, farmers often choose the traditional way. Moreover, the technological solutions are expensive and difficult to use and hence farmers avoid the modern process. In recent times, governments in various states have begun to incentivize the use of sustainable technologies to replace traditional stubble burning. The governments of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have started working together to address this issue.
Pollution and modern agricultural solutions
It’s an established traditional practice for farmers to burn stubble after harvesting Kharif crops. In recent times, these practices in north India have become the primary reason for increased pollution in the National Capital Territory.
Due to massive stubble burning practices in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Delhi NCT is subjected to worse levels of air pollution in the months of October and November. However, rising air pollution has various reasons, according to a study conducted by IIT Kanpur in 2015, stubble burning and other biomass emissions in winters contributed to between 17-26% of the total air pollution in Delhi NCT. According to the World Health Organization, the pollution level of India’s most polluted states, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are toxic to the extent that it reduces the average lifespan by 9 years. Air Quality Index (AQI) is used to monitor the quality of the air in the city. Scientists suggest that AQI above 100 adversely affects our health and the average AQI of Delhi NCT in October and November ranges between 250 – 300, which can be categorized as severely harmful.
The Ministry of Agriculture has recommended and initiated the use of ‘Happy Seeders’. Happy Seeder is a device that can be fixed on tractors and it helps in cutting and collecting the leftovers from the harvests.
The device can be used for planting seeds as well. However, agricultural experts point to the fact that in order to use Happy Seeders, the tractor must be well equipped and farmers with inferior tractor models cannot use it. Therefore, the use of Happy Seeders is expected to be limited.
‘Pusa Spray’ – Modern problems require modern solutions
To counter an issue as grave as air pollution, we need to turn towards scientific and modern innovations for solutions. In this context, the New Delhi based Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa has come up with innovative equipment to address the issue of stubble burning.
The equipment is called ‘bio-decomposer’ and ‘Pusa Spray’. The use of ‘Pusa Spray’ helps in converting stubble into useful organic fertilizers and is cheaper to use compared to other complicated technological products. The converted fertilizer is helpful for the farms, it can also be utilized in other agricultural activities. The use of Pusa Spray is expected to grow in the following years and the objective of stopping stubble burning can be quelled.
Electricity from stubble: a TERI Innovation
Agricultural scientists from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi have an exemplary technological solution for the issue of stubble burning. Scientists believe that the stubble can be collected, and used for producing electricity at the village level.
The produced electricity can then be used for the maintenance of cold storage units across the village. This would serve twin purposes, the first of combating air pollution and the other of producing electricity using biomass. It can further promote practices such as Horticulture as well. Horticulture is an expensive practice and requires cold storage, but using this model of sustainable agriculture, horticulture can be made cheaper and help in further fruit production.
Mushroom farming as an agricultural solution
Mushroom farming is gaining relevance as an alternative to stubble burning and has multiple benefits. A study conducted by The Mushroom Council suggests that mushrooms emit less carbon dioxide compared to other vegetables, require less land to cultivate and is cheaper to grow.
Stubble burning affects the soil adversely and various nutrients are lost in the process. Mushroom farming remedies this situation and planting mushrooms helps in maintaining the quality of the soil. The plant takes two months to grow and can be sold after that or used by the farmers, therefore replacing stubble burning and providing a sustainable solution.
Mushrooming income - An Alternative
In Assam, organic and carbon waste coming from farms helps in mushroom farming and farms with such waste are considered as the ideal land for growing mushrooms.
Farm wastes are nutritious and further make the land fertile. Waste or straw from rice and wheat harvest, banana leaves, cotton straw etc. are used in this process. Mushrooms are further sold in the market, thereby ensuring additional income for farmers and making them self-sufficient.
Mushroom Development Foundation’s innovative experiments
Mushroom Development Foundation (MDF) is an NGO located in Assam. They promote mushroom cultivation to combat malnutrition by providing alternative farming techniques. Pranjal Barua is the co-founder of the organization and works for alternative farming and increasing community participation.
The ‘Kathfulla Haat’ is a market organized by MDF and provides a platform for farmers to market and distribute the mushrooms directly to buyers. The foundation works especially with the farmers of socially and economically marginalized communities. The communities are engaged on the basis of a detailed analysis of their socio-economic conditions.
MDF promotes women in farming and helps farmers financially. MDF’s innovative alternative farming has trained more than 100 farmers through workshops and 200 women farmers have benefitted from this. In the very first year of mushroom cultivation, female farmers did a business of more than Rs. 25 lakhs. An important achievement of the organization was the establishment of 125 collection and distribution centres to give better access to mushroom farmers to the market.
Coffee Plantation helping biodiversity
Starting in the 17th century, Coffee plantations have helped in maintaining the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. More than 10,000 MT of coffee is produced every year in the Western Ghats, out of which 70 to 80% is exported to countries like Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States.
Moreover, 43% of India’s coffee produce comes out of only one district, the Kodagu district in Karnataka. Karnataka at 71% and Kerala at 21% contribute most to the coffee production in the Western Ghats.