During the harvesting season, the reaping of the paddy fields generates a humongous quantity of husk which needs instant dumping. Farmers usually gather the husk and incinerate it. However, doing so creates serious issues that are directly linked to our environment.
By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Stubble burning is intentionally setting fire to the straw stubble that remains after grains like paddy, wheat etc. have been harvested. India is an agricultural-driven economy where 50% of the population is engaged in the cultivation of agricultural products. The production of crops such as rice, sugarcane and wheat not only feeds the country but also a major contributor to the foreign export sector. The production of millions of tons of agricultural crop every year has also increased the agricultural waste that we as a country are dealing with right now. The waste commonly known as the residue is made up of organic compounds from various organic sources like rice straw, coconut shell, sugarcane bagasse to name a few. Since the residue compiles to form a really large amount, it becomes extremely difficult for farmers to take care of the waste.
During the harvesting season, the reaping of the paddy fields generates a humongous quantity of husk which needs instant dumping. Farmers usually gather the husk and incinerate it as it is the easiest way to dispose of it without leaving any trace of waste in sight. However, doing so creates serious issues that is directly linked for our environment. Research has shown that the burning of agricultural biomass residue or stubble is a major health hazard. It doesn’t just affect the organic carbon levels of the soil but also produces an uncontrollable amount of harmful smoke that causes air pollution to the immediate vicinity. A large number of toxic pollutants are emitted into our atmosphere due to the open burning of the husk. These pollutants also contain harmful gases like methane, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These toxic gases either build a cloud of ash or formulate into smog that is formed due to the intensified amount of smoke present in the atmospheres. These harmful gases create an obstinate amount of cumulative danger that has the ability to travel thousands of kilometers, increasing the level of air pollution in the nearby cities and completely wrecking the air quality index and becoming the causes of numerous health issues. Stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana in north-west India has been cited as a major cause of air pollution in Delhi. Smoke from the burning produces a cloud of particulates visible from space and has produced toxic cloud in New- Delhi. The burning of husk or stubble more often contributes to the frequent formation of brown clouds that have an adverse effect on the local air quality, hampers atmospheric visibility and further impacting the reason for climate change. We also need to understand that the burning of paddy or stubble leads to the loss of key nutrients as nearly 50% Sulphur, 75% potassium and 25% of the nitrogen and phosphorus is lost. A study estimates that crop residue burning at Punjab and Haryana, released 149.24 million tons of Carbon dioxide (CO2), over 9 million tons of Carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tons of oxides of Sulphur (SCX), 1.28 million tons of particulate matters and 0.07 million tons of black Carbon. These directly contribute to environmental pollution and are responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers. Burning stubble causes increased soil erosion and heat from burning it penetrate 1Cm into the soil elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.20C which kills beneficial soil organisms like bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil and eventually causes lower yields. Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organism present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the ‘wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased, and as a result, crops are more prone to disease. The solubility capacity of the upper layer of soil have also been reduced as intense burns induce the formation of a water-repellant soil layer by forcing hydrophobic substances in litter towards through the soil profile. In dry environments, burning residues can reduce soil fertility quite quickly. Since soil organic matter holds sand, silt and clay particles into aggregates, a loss of soil organic matter results in a loss of soil structure. According to a report , one-ton stubble burning leads to a loss of 5.5 Kgs of Nitrogen,2.3 Kgs of Phosphorus, 25 Kgs of Potassium and more than 1 Kg of Sulphur- all soil nutrients, besides organic carbon.
Stubble burning is a serious issue and it must be sought an immediate effect. With such a grave impact on the environment, understanding the importance of opting for potential alternatives to stubble burning is the only available solution. Providing stubble collecting machine to the farmers or offering reasonable labor to reap paddy fields in order to avoid stubble generation is the other way to control the issue. Offering temporary employment to the people in need during the harvesting time is another way to combat the situation. One great way to approach the issue is to think of an alternative to deal with it. Converting stubble into energy in an innovative way to address the matter. Not only it helps in reducing the greenhouse effect but also helps to fight against the threats of global warming. Setting up biomass power plants in the villages can help meet the energy needs of the villagers. Setting up biomass fuel plants to generate fuel using paddy husk or making fodder for livestock out of the collected stubble can also serve as an important step to bring down the adverse effect of crop residues finding their way into the environment during the needless burning of crops. Another impact of alternative practices to stubble burning on the environment is the using of Happy Seeder– a machine that can sow wheat in the presence of rice straw – is profitable for farmers and can also help the environment. The researchers found that using the Happy Seeder led a nearly 10-20% increase in farmers’ profit on average. Since in Happy Seeder practice reuses the crop residue in the field, the biomass improves soil moisture and could be good for the long term health of the soil. In Happy Seeder practice for mulching, the machine can be mounted on a tractor and it cuts and lifts rice straw, sows wheat into the bare soil and deposit the straw over the planted area as mulch. However , not all farmers currently have access to Happy Seeder equipment and there needs to be more available options for renting these machines as it is not affordable for everyone. Besides this, crop residues can also be effectively managed by using machines like: Rotavator; Zero till seed drill; Baler; Paddy straw chopper and reaper binder etc.
(Writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)Manipur, Stubble Burning