Stubble burning and pollution: As Diwali is fast approaching, along with the enthusiasm of festivals, a fear is enveloping the residents of north India, especially Delhi, about the return of the pollution. Air pollution is rampant in northern parts of India in the period between Diwali and Dussehra, with the winter fog approaching and, of course, the stubble burning in the neighbouring agriculture-extensive states. The problem of stubble burning has been highlighted over the past few years, especially since the major pollution spell that Delhi witnessed in November 2017. Since then, several organisations have worked to come up with solutions that could provide farmers with an alternative to burning stubble.
Also read | ‘Very poor’ air quality in Delhi but contribution of stubble burning to city air comes down to 2%
One of the solutions is Indian Agricultural Research Institute’s PUSA bio-decomposer, which is a bioenzyme that can be sprayed on the stubble to decompose it. However, for farmers, stubble burning is usually cheaper than any alternative, which is why, Bengaluru-based AgTech startup nurture.farm tied up with the IARI to provide the PUSA bio-decomposer for free to famers in Kaithal, Karnal, Ambala, Sirsa, and Kurukshetra.
Stubble burning refers to the burning of the rice paddy stubble, and in India, this is done across 5.7 million acre every year. Not only does stubble burning pose a problem for the environment, but it also deteriorates the quality of the soil and harms the microbes. This means that burning of stubble is also not an attractive solution for farmers, but they are forced to do so due to lack of other choices. This is where PUSA bio-decomposer seems to come into play.
The PUSA bio-decomposer is being sprayed by nurture.farm in the farms of about 26,000 farmers, who own a total of around 5 lakh acres of land in Punjab and Haryana. The company has deployed boom sprayers to spray the bio-decomposer. In theory, what happens is that the bio-decomposer is sprayed on the stubble that remain on the field, and within a span of 20 to 25 days, the entire stubble decomposes and acts as a fertiliser for the field, allowing farmers to sow their next crop of wheat within a short period of time.
To understand the ground impact of the bio-decomposer and its acceptance among farmers, Financial Express Online visited Karnal.
Talking to FE Online, farmer Prem Singh said that the farmers were aware that burning stubble is not a positive solution because it led to pollution as well as problems for their own lands. “It causes a lot of loss. So, we thought that we will not burn the stubble this time, and signed up for the PUSA bio-decomposer. If this turns out to be successful, we will be free of many problems. If this works, we will have to put in less manure, and it will increase the yield capacity of our land.”
“This is a great solution for us because the company has provided the bio-decomposer to us for free and they are spraying it on their own as well, so we do not have to worry about it right now. If this works well, I will even recommend PUSA bio-decomposer to my friends, because it can help us. In fact, if this is successful, we will even pay for this beneficial solution. I will be able to plough my field in two days or so after the spraying of the bio-decomposer, and in the next 20 days, my field will be ready for sowing of wheat,” he added.
Farmers Satish Batra and Joga Singh also told FE Online that they are among the many farmers who do not have any other option but to burn their stubble during this time. However, they chose to use the free-of-cost PUSA bio-decomposer because it can lead to a more fertile land. “We do burn stubble, but if this solution is successful, we will not have to do it anymore,” Satish Batra said.
Joga Singh explained the plight of farmers. “We do not have any other option. There is so much paddy stubble left after the harvesting of rice that if we do not remove it, our wheat crops would not grow,” he said, adding that the deteriorating fertility of the land is something that farmers just have to deal with.
All of the farmers who have signed up for getting the PUSA bio-decomposer for free via nurture.farm are hopeful that it would be successful and put an end to their woes. The pollution caused by burning of stubble, especially in Punjab and Haryana, has led to farmers being penalised if they are caught burning their rice paddy stubble. Despite this, they are left with no option, since many of the machines made to deal with stubble so far are highly expensive for the struggling farmers. Their only resort is to burn it so that their field can be ready for the next crop in time. In this, farmers have also been appreciative of the fact that the stubble begins to decompose quickly due to the bioenzyme that is being sprayed, because then they do not have to wait for a very long time to sow in the next crop.