Farmers like Amolak Singh in the farm rich state of Punjab are making money and also helping clean the air in cities like Chandigarh and Delhi by selling agricultural waste to generate bioenergy.
Every year in November, farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan burn agricultural waste which leads to rise in air pollution levels in the national capital and neighbouring cities, home for over 2.5 crore people.
Things have changed as Amolak and other farmers like him are now selling the waste to Sukhbir Agro, a subsidiary of a company owning rice mills in the region, at a mutually negotiated price. “No one believed the company representatives when they came about three years ago proposing to buy green waste lying in our fields,” says Amolak, whose family owns huge tracks of paddy fields in the Muktsar region of Punjab. There is not a single home in his village that does not sell paddy straw to the collection centre set up by the company a few kilometres away. “I get paid by the same company for both rice as well as the waste,” an elated Amolak said, adding that the waste now generates enough money to partially pay for his annual farm labour cost.
It was easier for Sukhbir Singh to set up one of Punjab’s first agri-based biomass plants as his family owned rice mills in the region, thereby providing a ready infrastructure to collect waste — the biggest hurdle in setting up these plants.
The company added to its 40 existing paddy centres to collect straw after the harvesting season and it provided them with the network to collect agriculture waste from Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa districts and even from the neighbouring states.
Sukhbir said: “As the quality of paddy straw is good, its power load factor (efficiency) is about 80%, almost the same as that of thermal power and way above that of solar photovoltaic which ranges between 13% and 18%. It also means a good return for the investment.” The waste collected is enough for the company’s biomass plant to generate green electricity, he said.