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Half of the Rs 1,150 crore fund allotted by the Centre was utilised last year, another half is being utilised this year to offer subsidies on machinery to manage stubble.Updated: Aug 19, 2019 16:15 IST
This winter will be a test case for whether the Centre’s scheme for in-situ management of crop residue has been a success.
If there is in fact a major reduction of crop stubble burning cases this paddy harvest season in October-November as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has recently said, the government should have a plan on how it can be sustained and how small farmers can either access stubble management machinery or diversify their agricultural practices.
The impact of the scheme can be easily anaylsed through year-on-year satellite images of October-November.
Half of the Rs 1,150 crore fund allotted by the Centre was utilised last year, another half is being utilised this year to offer subsidies on machinery to manage stubble.
Farmers are offered a 50% subsidy on machines like happy seeder/zero tillage while custom hiring centres are offered the machines at 80% subsidy so that they can sublet it to farmers in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
The farmers can rent the machines for a cost of Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 per acre. They also spend on diesel to run the machines. So the stubble solution comes at a cost.
Even the cost of hiring these machines seems steep to some farmers so there is a chance that they go back to setting fire on the stubble once the scheme ends next year.
Farmers of Bharatiya Kisan Union and other groups have suggested that a direct subsidy be paid to farmers instead of subsidising machines to convert more farmers from the practice of burning stubble to using zero tillage machines.
The Centre and state governments have to find a way to sustain the campaign and ensure farmers understand how happy seeders or zero tillage machines can lead to higher yields by improving soil fertility.
The happy-seeder or zero-tillage technology cuts paddy straw, sows wheat into the soil, and put straw over the sown area ensuring that the nutrients in the soil are restored.
Using a happy seeder could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions per hectare by more than 78%. according to a study published in Science Magazine journal last month.
The other strategy which the northwestern states can explore along with ensuring access to stubble management machinery is to help farmers diversify their agriculture practices.
The stubble burning problem is rampant in these states because of almost a complete dependence on the paddy-wheat combination.
After harvesting paddy in October, burning the residue is the quickest way to prepare the field for wheat sowing in late October or November.
There can be a lasting solution if the paddy-wheat combination is broken.
Ramanjaneyulu GV, a sustainable agriculture expert, had once told me, “The cropping pattern should change. In Andhra, following rice, bean gram and black gram is planted while the rice stubble decomposes on its own. To discourage this paddy-wheat system government should procure pulses and oil seeds which are suitable for the northern region in good quantities. The problem of stubble burning will never solve otherwise.”
The government can now consider procuring pulses and other less water intensive crops better suited for the region, at fair prices which may also contribute to a climate friendly, diversified platter.