From October-end to early November, the air quality drops in Punjab. Reason: unchecked stubble burning by farmers in their fields.
With 28 lakh hectares under wheat and paddy cultivation in the state, a total of 47.2 million tonnes of straw are produced every year. About 95% of paddy straw and 25% of wheat straw are burnt, despite the ban imposed by the state government back in 2005.
The carbon dioxide level in the air shoots up by 70% during this period, while the concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide rises by 7% and 2.1%, respectively, thereby causing respiratory and cardio-vascular problems.
These figures are part of a study report compiled in 2010 by a senior soil scientist at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, Dr SS Kukal.
According to the expert, burning of straw results in loss of plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur. The soil loses 6-7 kg nitrogen per tonne, 1-1.7 kg phosphorus, 14-25 kg potassium and 1.2-1.5 kg sulphur due to stubble burning. In total, the loss of nutrients is around 1.5 lakh tonnes per annum. This leads to an additional expenditure of Rs 150 crore per year to replenish the soil.
“It is important to preserve organic carbons as they boost the soil’s water-holding capacity, thereby saving water, which is the need of the hour in our state,” Dr Kukal added.
How to handle stubble
Ploughing straw back into the fields: The stubble gets decomposed in 20-25 days and increases soil fertility.
Surface mulching: A layer of biodegradable straw is spread over the soil. This not only helps to retain moisture content in the soil but also reduces weed growth.
Custom hiring of happy seeder: This multi-purpose farm machine sows seeds and chops the straw simultaneously. It can be rented at an affordable rate of Rs 400 per acre. Custom hiring aims to provide affordable farm machinery to small and marginal farmers.
Off-farm utilisation of straw: The government can introduce schemes for straw collection which can be used for making phosphor compost, paddy straw compost, animal feed, mushroom production and power generation.
‘Stress on creating awareness’
Mangal Singh Sandhu, director, agriculture, said, “We have started a campaign to put an end to stubble burning in the state. In Muktsar, we have achieved 100% success as there has not been a single case of stubble burning this year so far. In Fazilka, we have managed a success rate of around 95%. Keeping in mind the difficulty in restricting farmers through law enforcement as there is usually no evidence/witness to hold the person guilty, we are emphasising on creating awareness through radio, television, print, electronic and social media.”
He added: “We have increased the area under basmati as its straw is good for animal fodder. Moreover, we have asked for subsidy on agricultural machinery from the union government so as to address the problem on a larger scale.”
‘Ignorance a hindrance’
Pavittar Pal Singh Pangli, president of the National Farmers Empowerment Initiative (NFEI), said there was no short-duration variety of wheat with optimum yield in India. He added that even one-week delay in sowing of wheat crop resulted in a loss of 150-kg produce per acre as the grain shrivelled up in February-March due to rise in temperature. As a result, a large number of farmers burnt paddy straw to clear the fields for wheat sowing.
“Also, a majority of the farmers are ignorant about the importance of soil health. This needs to be communicated by the government and PAU. Now that the government is emphasising upon sowing of basmati, it should also ensure buying through government agencies rather than leaving the farmer at the mercy of private agencies,” Pangli added.
Figures that matter (annual)
47.2 million tonnes: Total straw accumulated in Punjab
25.2 million tonnes: Wheat straw
22 million tonnes: Paddy straw
95%: Paddy straw burnt
25%: Wheat straw burnt