Driving successful initiatives to quell stubble burning


Winters in the northern parts of India – like Delhi – have become synonymous with smog and a deplorable Air Quality Index (AQI). The burning of crop residue in neighbouring states has been attributed as being the root cause for this air pollution.
The government has actioned several efforts to curtail this phenomenon, and these measures include using satellite imagery to pin-point locations where stubble burning is in progress and subsequently levying steep fines on the offenders.
In addition to these punitive measures, the government has also seeded various equipment at the local panchayat level to facilitate easy access to this machinery for the farmers.
As per reports, there have been instances where the equipment procured by the government have been deemed unfit for purpose by farmers.
Reasons for this, according to farmers, include high consumption of diesel to run the machinery, paucity of trained operators and poor performance in the field. Due to these factors, farmers have rejected these machines and reverted to burning the crop residue off their fields.
On the flip side, a village called Ransih Kalan in Punjab recently made the news for successfully implementing measures to ensure zero instances of stubble burning within its precincts.
This is not a one-off, however, with 96 villages in and around Mathura that came together to successfully end the polluting practice of crop burning. Spanning over 21,000 acres of farmland, connecting with more than 4000 farmers, and employing 11 balers, these efforts proved to be extremely fruitful.
Through the connecting of farmers to the local industry that processes biomass into biofuels, an ancillary ecosystem was created. For example, farmers with tractors which were lying unused pulled them into service to transport the stubble from the field to the processing plants. Job opportunities were created for local residents to load and unload the bales. The creation of such a bustling rural enterprise was instrumental in the collection of approximately 6000 metric tonnes of stubble that was collected through more than 7,300 deliveries.
The reason why mechanising stubble removal works in some places, and seems to fail in others, stems from the choice of equipment employed for the task.
The characteristics of agricultural stubble left behind after varies with the type of crop, and the process used for its harvest. Keeping this in mind, the right slasher must be used to chop the stubble in the fields, which is then aggregated by the appropriate raker. A baler is then used to make bales which are then transported off the field on trailers towed by tractors.
Each machine selected must process the stubble in such a way that it can be picked up in the next stage by the subsequent equipment to further process it till it gets baled and whisked off the field.
This aggregated waste, depending on its composition, can be processed into solid biofuels like briquettes and pellets, or decomposed anaerobically and then methane enriched into Compressed Biogas (CBG).
These fuels are great substitutes for fossil fuels like coal and gaseous ones like LPG and CNG and therefore have significant commercial value.
These earnings can be passed on to the farmers, which will act as an additional source of income for then and incentivise them to adopt such practices to clear their fields, rather than simple setting fire to the stubble.
A key factor in ensuring efficacy of any system is the collaboration of its participants. For crop burning to be extinguished for good, local co-operation of farmers and other stakeholders like tractor owners are crucial.
Through symbiotic efforts, every stage of the clearing of stubble, right up to its transport and even the final processing can be tackled close to the fields. This will reduce transportation costs and augment the growth of a rural economy based on a solid foundation of sustainability and long-term viability. The creation of rural employment opportunities is the icing on the cake.
By Suhas Baxi, CEO and Co-Founder, BioFuelCircle


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