At this point of the year we have reached the end of the Kharif cropping season and farmers are now preparing their land for the next rabi season crops. In doing so they are unknowingly releasing a monstrosity in the atmosphere by burning the residue of the crops left on the field after harvesting which is commonly known as soot. In order to clear the field of these residues, they burn them which not only fulfills the main purpose of clearing the fields but also rids the field of the pests and disease causing organisms. It has also been studied that in the short term this practice actually helps the farmers in increasing the yield of the next season crops.
Biomass burning is one of the largest contributors to the global pollution levels. Although the practise of crop residue burning is beneficial in the short run but can have devastating effects on the crops and environment in the long run. With the advent of newer technologies like the combine harvester this problem has only gained teeth as these harvesters leave behind longer stalks of the crop plants during harvesting as against the earlier manual approach used by farmers which did not result in as much amount of residue as it is doing now. While the residue burning does increase the levels of pollution of local regions but when seen on an increased scale it adds to the pollution levels of the atmosphere. Due to the incumbent winter season in october/november it increases the smog levels in the whole region and thus is a health problem to the general population. It also affects the flight timings as due to the smog the flights can’t take off and thus hampers their operations. In case of South Asia where this practise is rampant leads to the increased possibilities of acid rains in Tamil Nadu and other adjoining states which experiences rains in November. October is the month of retreating monsoon which is also the month when the residue burning starts. The soot released in this process is transported by the retreating monsoon towards Bay of Bengal where these winds get moisture and lash the eastern coast with rains. The soot present in the wind can combine with water to form acid clouds.
If one goes in the finer details in the effects that this practise causes one can immediately grasp that in long term these effects destroys all the gains made in the short term. While this practise does not necessarily affect an individual in any major way in short term for him to realize any of the ill effects that this practise causes. Thus at the core of the problem is lack of awareness among farmers, mentality which gives precedence to lower costs than to increased labour with increased benefits. Thus it is necessary for the government to take stock of the situation and actively pursue policies to reduce this menace by educating farmers of its ill effects and also providing them with alternative methods to deal with the problem of residue.
There are various steps that can be taken in order to prevent this process from continuing. Following are some of the methods that can be employed by the government:
- Farmers burn the residue because for them the stalks are useless and hence it would be beneficial for them to burn them and make it support the next crop. So the first step that should be taken is to use these stalks in things which would make them more valuable than a manure. One of the possible usage can be in Biogas production. This will not only increase the biogas production of the country but will also be beneficial in improving the local economy. It will also benefit farmers by providing them with manure which is the spent fuel of the biogas plants.
- As already mentioned earlier that the combine harvester has increased the problem of the residue by leaving behind longer stalks. Hence to counter this investment in new machinery should be made. One of the possible solution to this problem is the happy seeder which cuts and lifts the rice straw, sows the wheat seed, and deposits the straw as a mulch. This not only improves the fertility and moisture content of the soil but can also decrease the weed growth in the field.
While there are various ill effects of this practise in the long run but in the short run this practise is beneficial for the farmers and thus to make them leave this practise we need to give them better options to use the stalks. A collective effort is required where the government and farmers work hand in hand to not only address the issues of the farmers in the short run but also to work on solutions that take into account all the ill effects that burning causes in the long run over a wider scale. It is important that the industry also comes forward to provide better technological solutions to make use of the left stalk so that they can also have a market value. Campaigns should be launched in order to educate the farmers over these matters and how it affects in them over a period of 5-10 years. We need a second Green Revolution in the country to not only improve the crop yield in the country but also to address various practises that affect the environment. Today a futuristic approach is important in planning and like any other industry farming should also be considered as an industry which is need of upgradation to address all of the issues that limit its growth.