STUBBLE BURNING MENACE EMERGES IN KUTTANAD
27, Mar 2019
Prelims level : Environment & Biodiversity – Pollution Control & Climate Change Mains level : GS III Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
- Paddy fields in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, look black these days with some of them emitting plumes of smoke. Relatively a new phenomenon in this part of the region, setting paddy fields on fire after harvest by ‘padashekhara samitis’ and farmers is emerging as a major cause for concern.
- It is posing serious health and environmental hazards. After the harvest of the puncha crop (first crop) began last month in Kuttanad, Fire Services and Rescue personnel and fire tenders have been pressed into action several times after the blaze went out of control, threatening to engulf even houses, life and property.
- In Punjab or Haryana, residue burning is rampant after harvest, resulting in heavy smog choking the region every year.
What Is Stubble Burning?
- Stubble burning is, the act of removing paddy crop residue from the field to sow wheat.
- It’s usually required in areas that use the ‘combine harvesting’ method which leaves crop
- residue behind. It is mainly carried out in Haryana and Punjab.
- Open burning of husk produces harmful smoke that causes pollution. Open burning of husk is of incomplete combustion in nature. Hence large amount of toxic pollutants are emitted in the atmosphere. Pollutants contain harmful gases like Methane, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
What is combine harvesting?
- Combines are machines that harvest, thresh i.e separate the grain, and also clean the separated grain, all at once.
- The problem, however, is that the machine doesn’t cut close enough to the ground, leaving
- stubble behind that the farmer has no use for.
- There is pressure on the farmer to sow the next crop in time for it to achieve a full yield. The quickest and cheapest solution, therefore, is to clear the field by burning the stubble.
Why do Farmers Burn?
- Cost Factor: The straw management equipment is costly and process is time consuming. Also, the cost of stubble management is not taken into account while determining the minimum support price (MSP).
- Increasing mechanization of agriculture: Stubble problem was not as severe when paddy was harvested manually because the farmers use to cut it as close to the ground as possible. Due to mechanization the crop residue that remains in the field is of larger quantity;
- Labour costs are very high now
- Combine harvester machines to tide over the labour scarcity- The machine appears to be the key reason behind the problem because it only reaps the grains, leaving stalks or stubble of around 40 cm. Those who want fodder have to get the stubble removed manually or use specialised machines to do the job. But that is costly. For every 0.4 ha of wheat crop, the cost of renting a combine harvester is just Rs 800. Once the machine has harvested, the cost of getting the stubble removed is Rs 3,500/ha.
- Time Factor: Delay in sowing means yield decline, this leaves very little time to clear the farm for sowing.
- Monoculture of wheat and paddy. In Andhra, bean gram and black gram are planted while rice stubble decomposes on its own. Unlike wheat stalks that are used as animal fodder, the paddy straw has high silica content that animals can’t digest.
- Since farmers need to sow wheat within a fortnight of harvesting paddy, they burn the straw to save time, labour and money.
Measures taken by government:
- In the budget of the 2018-19, the central government had announced a special scheme’ to encourage farmers in these states to shift to alternative ways of dealing with agricultural waste. In pursuance of the announcement in the budget, the government announced a central sector scheme on ‘Promotion of Agricultural Mechanization for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue. The scheme provides for in-situ crop residue management machinery to the farmers on subsidy, the establishment of Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) of in-situ crop residue management machinery and undertaking Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities for creating awareness among farmers to avoid stubble burning.
- The Union Ministry of Power has brought out a policy for biomass utilization for power generation through co-firing in pulverized coal-fired boilers. The Ministry of Power has decided that the States of Haryana and Punjab shall issue bids for all coal based Thermal Power Plants to use a minimum of 5 per cent of biomass pellets and up to 10 per cent to be co-fired with coal.
- The government is also taking steps to popularize zero tillage farming where the crop seed will be sown through drillers without prior land preparation and disturbing the soil where previous crop stubbles are present.