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Stubble Burning: Side effects and Possible alternatives

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India has a major agribusiness sector which achieved remarkable successes over the last three or four decades. India is an agricultural driven economy where more than 50% population is engaged in cultivation of agricultural products. Production just doesn’t feed the country but generates enough agriculture products to export to the outside world. India is one of the leading countries in production of crops such as wheat, rice, sugarcane and many more.

With million tons of agriculture crops producing every year, it also produces tons of agriculture waste.  Agriculture waste or residue is made up of organic compounds from organic sources such as rice straw, sugar cane bagasse, coconut shell and others. With high amount of agriculture wastes, it becomes difficult for the farmers to dump that waste.

With reaping of paddy fields, large quantities of husk are generated that needs dumping. Farmers generally gather husk and put them to fire. Burning husk is the easiest of ways to dump the husk. But burning husk has several demerits.

Recently in India, husk burning cases by farmers of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have been penalized. FIRs have been lodged against 360+ farmers. National Green Tribunal (NGT) had imposed fine for burning husk reasoning it as the cause of pollution rise in Delhi region.

But why do farmers burn husk? There is very little they can do about the husk. When threshers thresh the paddy field, husk is left behind. Husk surrounds the paddy grain. During milling of paddy about 78% of weight is received as rice, broken rice and bran. Rest 22%of the weight of the paddy is husk. These days, farmers due to lack of labor and time prefer threshers over hand reaping, which leaves husk behind. Husk collecting machines are not provided by the government neither they are given subsides. So the easiest they can do before they sow wheat is collect husk and set it to fire. But they don’t know the harmful effects of burning husk on ground.

SIDE EFFECTS

  • Open burning of husk produces harmful smoke that causes pollution. Open burning of husk is of incomplete combustion in nature. Hence large amount of toxic pollutants are emitted in the atmosphere. Pollutants contain harmful gases like Methane, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Clouds of ash and smoke can travel more than thousand kilometers and create an obstinate and non-clearing clouds. Smog formed of the smoke can increase the levels of pollutants by manifolds in the air, making it difficult to breathe.  After release in the atmosphere, these pollutants disperse in the surroundings, may undergo physical and chemical transformation and eventually adversely affect the human health. Frequent husk burning may contribute to the formation of the brown clouds that affects the local air quality, atmospheric visibility and earth climate.

  • Some think burning is a quick, easy and cheap method as all unwanted husk, plants and shrubs gets destroyed. Some believe that fire may return nutrients to the land. But burning husk on ground destroys the nutrients in the soil, making it less fertile. Heat generated by stubble burning penetrates into the soil, leading to the loss of the moisture and useful microbes. Thus adversely affecting the soil. It kills natural nutrients and bacteria that helps rejuvenate soil.
  • The burning of paddy or stubble leads to the loss of precious nutrients as nearly 25% nitrogen and phosphorus, 50% Sulphur and 75% potassium uptake from the soil are retained soil residues. It is estimated that burning of 1 Ton of stubble or paddy straw accounts for loss of 5.5 kg nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg Potassium and 1.2 kg Sulphur, besides organic carbon. 
  • Husk has high prolific value. Rice husk is unusually high in ash, which is 92-95% silica, highly porous and lightweight, with a very high surface area. Its absorbent and insulating properties are useful in many industrial applications, such as acting as strengthening agent in building materials. Husk is also produced as fuel for processing paddy, production through direct combustion or gassification. It is also used as cattle feed. Burning stubble would be a waste of such utility.

ALTERNATIVES:

Few possible alternatives to Stubble Burning can be:

1) Providing stubble collecting machines to farmers to collect stubble.

2) Subsidizing or availing the stubble collecting machines at rent.

3) Providing reasonable labor to reap the paddy to avoid stubble generation. Providing labor would give temporary employment to people in need.  

4) Allowing cattle to graze or feed upon to clear away husk and stubble. 

5) Decomposing stubble in the farm field and turning it into the useful manure.

6) Making fodder for livestock out of collected stubble.

7) Setting up Bio-mass fuel plants to generate fuel using paddy husk.

8) Government should Involve or invite benefiting industries like cement industry to collaborate in husk/hull or stubble collection to use it proficiently.

9) Inviting packaging industries to collect stubble to make packaging boxes which are more environment friendly than other non-disposable materials like thermocole and plastic.

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