Stubble burning: Centre must push states to adopt the Pusa bio-decomposer model

The Pusa project was studied and approved by Arvind Kejriwal, and Delhi’s farmers have got positive results from it. The decomposer solved the problem of stubble, even increased soil fertility
Delhi’s citizens cannot continue to breathe toxic air. (PTI) PREMIUM
Delhi’s citizens cannot continue to breathe toxic air. (PTI)
Updated on Oct 18, 2021 06:37 PM IST
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ByReena Gupta

Every year, Delhi’s air quality begins to deteriorate as the winter season begins. This is primarily due to stubble burning in the north Indian states. Farmers burn leftover paddy stubble to clear their fields quickly before planting wheat for the next season. As a result, the smoke from farm fires moves towards Delhi, leading to high pollution levels not just in the Capital but the entire National Capital Region.

State governments of this region make promises to curb stubble burning, but nothing substantial is ever done. The window provided to farmers between harvesting the first crop and sowing the second, as mandated by government guidelines on sowing practices, is too short. While blaming farmers for the aggravated pollution levels is easy, no viable solution has been offered.

Farming is a loss-making proposition, and small farmers are an impoverished community. For years, Punjab and Haryana have been trying to make farmers adopt machines such as the Happy Seeder to solve the stubble problem. However, these schemes are poorly formulated, and the adoption rates are abysmal since farmers find it difficult to invest in expensive machines used only once a year.

The central government, too, has not done much to solve this stubble burning crisis.

The Delhi government feels strongly about solving the stubble burning problem and has been searching for alternatives and practical solutions to address it at scale.

Last year, we came across an in-situ stubble management system, using the Pusa Bio-Decomposer — a concentrated powder of natural fungi. When sprayed at the right time, the bio-decomposer speeds up the stubble decomposition process, thus allowing substantial time between harvesting one crop and planting the next.

The Pusa project was studied and approved by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, and Delhi’s farmers have got positive results from it. The decomposer solved the problem of stubble, even increased soil fertility in the areas where it was used.

An independent audit showed that in 90% of farms, stubble was decomposed within 15-20 days, and organic carbon increased by 42%, and organic nitrogen increased by 24%. The decomposer is a win-win solution for both farmers and the Capital’s air.

This decomposing technique is not new: Pusa has had this solution for over a decade and approached every state, even the central government, requesting permission to examine its feasibility in controlling stubble burning.

However, the issue wasn’t taken up seriously due to the lack of agility among the central and state governments in formulating policies and a strong desire to solve the problem. The deployment of this technology by the Delhi government seems to have irked some central government officials, and they reprimanded the Pusa scientists for not approaching them first.

The Delhi government shared the results of this in-situ stubble management solution with the Central Air Quality Commission and ministry of environment, forests and climate change several months ago. This is an issue that cuts across states, and central ministries can play a decisive role. But it is too late to do anything this winter.

We hope that the central government will bring the northern states on board to adopt this technology and provide a turnkey solution to farmers ahead of the next harvest season.

Delhi’s citizens cannot continue to breathe toxic air.

Reena Gupta worked as an environmental specialist with the World Bank. Currently, she is an adviser to the government of Delhi

The views expressed are personal

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021