Reducing air pollution: Stubble burning needs economic solutions

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Source: The post is based on the article “Reducing air pollution: Stubble burning needs economic solutions” published in the Business Standard on 21st September 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3: Environmental pollution and degradation.

Relevance: To understand the issues associated with the stubble burning.

News: As the paddy-harvesting season is near, none of the northern rice-growing states seems to have a workable strategy in place to prevent farmers from burning crop residues. This might aggravate air pollution in the National Capital Region in October-November.

What is stubble burning? and What are the negative impacts of Stubble burning?
Read here: Stubble Burning Issue
Why do farmers prefer to burn stubble?
Read here: Why stubble burning is so hard to fix

Wheat straw is commonly used as animal feed and sells at good prices. But rice is unfit to be fed to cattle because of its high content of unpalatable silica. Therefore,  it has little market value.

What are the government steps to control stubble burning and its drawback?

The drawback of Microbial stubble decomposer: It was developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. Delhi and Punjab governments offer this to farmers to spray them on fields.

It has been rejected by the farmers as an impractical proposition. This is because it takes 20-25 days to decompose the leftover biomass. This is too long for farmers.

The drawback of crop residue management machinery: The machinery involves additional expenses to farmers. So the farmers find it unaffordable without financial assistance.

The drawback of other types of machinery: Happy Seeders and Super Seeders can sow the new crop without removing the paddy remnants from the fields.

Some bigger machines can harvest paddy, cut the straw into pieces, and spread them on the ground or tie them into bundles in a single operation. But these are costly machines which individual farmers cannot afford.

State governments subsidise the cost of these machines for cooperative societies and custom-hiring service providers. But they do not offer financial aid to farmers to meet the charges for their use.

Note: Haryana is the only state that offers Rs 2,500 per acre for this purpose, but the farmers find the amount too little to cover the costs.

Overall, stubble burning is essentially an economic issue that requires an economic solution.

Read more: Why Punjab’s short-duration paddy varieties have not solved stubble burning
What should be done to prevent stubble burning?

Unless rice straw is converted into an economic good, farmers would have no incentive to spend money on disposing of it in an environmentally safe manner. Some of such solutions are a) Making various kinds of paper and hard boards, fuel briquettes for replacing coal in thermal plants, b) converting them into biofuel for blending with petrol. Haryana has already set up a 2G ethanol plant in Panipat to produce alcohol from paddy and other agricultural wastes.

All this shows the need to focus on the supply chain for collecting crop residues from fields and making them available to the end-users.

Read more: Check stubble burning, monitor policy implementation
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