Baljinder Singh Saini and Kulbir Brar explain the critical role of innovative technology in managing crop residue and discusses the impact of the Trusts-supported HARIT project
Crop residue burning is an age-old practice followed by farmers all over India so they can prepare their fields for the next cropping season. In 2018-19, an estimated 12 million tonnes of rice residue were burnt in north-west India, especially Punjab and Haryana.
The disadvantages of this practice, however, are too many to dismiss – the practice of crop residue burning affects soil health and in the long term, agriculture productivity, besides causing air pollution. The livelihoods of millions of farmers are at risk and hundreds of millions of people, especially in New Delhi and the National Capital Region with 40 million residents, are impacted each year by air pollution caused because of these practices. However, crop residue burning should not be solely held responsible for the pollution problem in Delhi as there are other contributing factors such as industries and vehicle pollution.
The Tata Trusts have been working with farmers in Punjab since 2018 to minimise the impact of crop residue burning and to address other issues in the agricultural sector through their Reviving the Green Revolution (RGR) initiative. The Trusts’ initiatives have been designed to complement government efforts to help farmers adopt a better way to manage crop residue.
The foundation of the Trusts’ Crop Residue Management Initiative, however, was initiated as early as 2011-12 when they sanctioned a grant to Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to conduct demonstrations of the Happy Seeder technology which helped in the initial standardisations of problems associated with machinery. Over time, these issues were ironed out further.
With the use of innovative technologies like the Super Straw Management System (Super SMS) – combine harvester and Happy Seeder, the Trusts showed farmers how they could harvest paddy and plant wheat on the same day. The Super SMS-mounted combine harvester cuts and spreads loose straw on the field. The Happy Seeder, attached to the tractor, sows wheat in a single pass through the loose straw and standing stubble that acts as water-saving, weed-resistant mulch.
Since the inception of this initiative, RGR has supported 540 villages across 38 blocks in 9 districts in Punjab, benefiting both farmers and the environment, improving soil fertility and farm yield, while simultaneously reducing the use of water, fertilisers and herbicides. Information on crop cultivation practices were shared with over 256,000 farmers. The Trusts conducted over 2,400 training camps for farmers at the village level and 23 field days at cluster level. The Trusts also provided 95 Happy Seeder machines to progressive farmers and conducted over a thousand field demonstrations using project assisted Happy Seeder machines.
In 2019, the Trusts launched HARIT – Harnessing the power of Agricultural Residues through Innovative Technologies. The project, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy India (TNC India), Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD), aims to encourage farmers to adopt Happy Seeders for optimum results.
HARIT has impacted 84 villages across 21 blocks in 7 districts in Punjab and Haryana, training 350+ farmer ambassadors and around 200 custom service providers through 35 farmer training sessions. The project also conducted field demonstrations with 83 Happy Seeders on over 4,000 hectares of land. Field information days and seminars have helped inform more than 2,500 farmers about the benefits of using the Happy Seeders as well as associated production practices.
In the short period since its launch, the Trusts’ Crop Residue Management initiative has made a huge impact on farmers’ cultivation methods. Surveys showed that 80 per cent of farmers in the pilot villages did not burn crop residue and used alternate sustainable practices in their holdings. More than half (56%) used the Happy Seeder and zero till drills for sowing wheat. More than half the farmers (58%) who used Happy Seeders rented it from other farmers, thereby providing the owners with additional income.
Farmers who used the Happy Seeders also reported cost savings, improved productivity and improved soil conditions. Their net profit also increased to Rs10,000-12,000 per hectare, a net profit of almost 6.5 per cent. Farmers also reported using less weedicides and fertilisers. For more details on the impact of this initiative, click here.
The Trusts’ goal is to scale up proven technologies and encourage farmers to use sustainable agricultural practices. With the support and collaboration of governments, research institutions, farmer organisations, policy makers and key stakeholders working on crop residue management, we hope to end all crop-residue burning by 2024.