Ending burning of crop stubble through Happy Seeder technology

The Tata Trusts’ RGR Cell has developed a technology to reduce air pollution caused by the burning of straw and paddy residue in fields.

Farmers in Punjab cultivate rice in the Kharif season (June-November) because of the ‘minimum support price’ offered by the government. Today, over 80% of Punjab’s land area is under paddy cultivation during this period.

When the rice is harvested, straw and stubble is left behind. With no cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to clear their fields in time to sow wheat for the winter season, farmers resort to burning the crop stubble. An estimated 23 million tonnes of crop residue are burnt each year in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh and the smoke is a significant source of air pollution across large swathes of northern India. The toxic haze leaves many people in the region with respiratory problems.

Burning crop residue also diminishes soil health and long-term agricultural productivity – rice straw is the repository of all nutrients that are lost in paddy farming, retaining 25% nitrogen and phosphorous, 80% potassium, 50% sulphur and 50-80% of micronutrients including zinc, copper, iron and manganese. When the straw is burnt, the soil is deprived of a sizeable amount of plant nutrients.

What was necessary was a way for farmers to use this agricultural waste. The Tata Trusts were in the forefront of the search for a sustainable solution. The Trusts’ Reviving the Green Revolution (RGR) cell in Punjab has been working with researchers at the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to develop a seed-sowing machine known as the ‘Happy Seeder’.

Happy Seeder is the ideal solution since it sows seed and removes the straw at the same time, scattering it evenly across the field, thus mulching the field and helping it retain its moisture, and encouraging seed germination. The straw naturally decomposes over time, enriching the soil. Studies have validated the benefits that the Happy Seeder has delivered through residue incorporation in the soil and savings on input costs.

Since the machine can be expensive, the state government offers a 50% subsidy for individual farmers, while farmers’ groups and cooperatives can avail of 75% subsidy.

A working coalition of the Trusts’ RGR cell, Nature Conservancy, the Borlaug Institute for South Asia, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and the Council for Energy, Environment and Water has begun work to promote the adoption of these machines in a phased manner across Punjab.

The use of Happy Seeder has been demonstrated across 36 clusters of 15 villages each, spread over nine districts of Punjab. Farmer meets and demonstrations were organised over a two-year period across Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Patiala and Fategarh Sahib districts to educate farmers about the use and benefits of Happy Seeder. RGR also deployed handpicked, trained kheti doots (scouts) to educate farmers on available farm equipment, use of the machinery, and to address their apprehensions.

The intent is to create model zero-burn village clusters covering a significant area within four years.

Area of operation: Punjab

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