Stubble Burning

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By- Pavas Shrigyan

Stubble burning is a practice of setting fire to the stubble (residual straws) that remains after the grains harvesting like paddy, wheat and others. Farmers perform this activity mainly to kill bugs and other pests, and also because it could reduce the nitrogen tie-up in the soil. It is basically practiced in winters with the Rabi crops. It has been a part of Indian agriculture since ages and it still continues to be. It is a very common practice which is done every year with both its effects and consequences.

Why and where does it happen

There are different grains whose straws are burnt on a large scale but if we talk about a significant one, then it is paddy (rice crop). The main reason for which stubble burning is practiced on paddy is because of the availability of a short span of time between rice harvesting and the sowing of wheat and a delay in the sowing, adversely affects the crop. And because a farmer gets less than 20-25 days between these two crops, so the easiest and quickest breakthrough from this problem is to burn the crop remains and residues and clean the field all over for sowing another crop within time.
Because these crops are mainly grown in the northwest regions of India and at the commercial level as well, the stubble burning is largely performed in portions of Punjab, Haryana and some other northwest cities.

Extension of harms

It is estimated that in late September-October each year, farmers in Punjab and Haryana burn out about 35 million tons of stubble from the paddy fields after harvesting as a low cost, waste disposal practice for reducing the turnaround time between harvesting and sowing for the further second crop. The smoke from this large level of waste burning generates a cloud of particulates that are visible from space and thus, then produces what’s known as ‘toxic cloud’ in mainly the regions of Delhi that results in the declaration of an air-pollution emergency every year. Just with the onset of winters, these field fires become a widespread unchecked practice in northern India. The problem of the poor air quality is aggravated in already the deteriorated conditions and environment of Delhi, where basically the pollutants get trapped, unlike in coastal cities where they are generally swept out to the sea around.

Reduction- basic ways

1. Instead of blaming and prosecuting the farmers, the main focus should be on improving the technology of the combined harvesters, so that they do not leave any residue behind to be burnt.
2. Convince the farmers to not burn stubble, by seeking their attention and providing the economic value of the residue, that might either be converted into cattle field or fuel.
3. The industries which convert the crop residue into wealth through cattle fields or fuel, could also be subsidized suitably.
4. Encourage farmers to opt for early paddy, so that they can have enough time to harvest and also prepare their fields for the next crop.
5. Spread awareness and educate the farmers to opt for some alternate fruit or vegetable crops, instead of paddy, for better economic returns as well.

Technology used for prevention

Pollution from stubble burning leads to the contribution in smog too during winters, but still the procedure has been continued unrelentingly. So, for the issue, India has been testing a Swedish technology that can convert rice residue into a ‘bio-coal’. PSA (The Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor), now has funded a pilot project in Punjab for evaluating the viability of the new technology, to the Indian government.

The Bottom Line

Though it might not seem a very big problem when residues are burnt in some regions, for the sake of clearing of the fields for the next crop, but if we might think deeply then every drop counts. Burning so much stubble together every year, has its hazardous effect on the environment. Stubble burning is one of the reasons for polluting air and environment degradation that needs to be stopped, and note that it has already been a high time.

Read more about: Environment in post-pandemic world

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