Stubble burning needs sustainable solutions
The issue of stubble burning in agriculture has been a topic of much debate and concern in recent years. While some argue that it is necessary to clear fields and prepare them for the next crop, others see it as a harmful and unsustainable method, contributing to air pollution and climate change. A thorough examination of the factors at play is necessary to determine whether farmers intentionally burn stubble or whether it occurs due to a lack of viable alternatives.
Farmers often resort to this practice in Punjab, India, where stubble burning is prevalent due to time constraints and economic pressures. After harvesting the rice crop, they only have a short window to prepare the fields for the next crop, such as wheat. With limited access to machinery or labour-intensive alternatives like ploughing or manual removal of stubble, burning becomes a quick and cost-effective method. However, burning fossil fuels releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere, such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.
These pollutants have severe environmental consequences, contributing to air pollution and smog formation. They also harm human health, causing respiratory problems, allergies, and cardiovascular diseases. The government has taken several measures to discourage stubble burning, including providing subsidies for machinery and promoting alternative methods like mulchers or happy seeders. However, the practice persists due to farmers’ economic pressures, highlighting the need for more comprehensive and sustainable solutions.
WHY IS IT A MENACE?
Stubble burning was never practised in India. Indian agriculture has been always nature-centric. Stubble burning was inserted by the so-called “green” revolution, which induced changes in cropping, which has become a pressing environmental issue. Its detrimental effects on air quality, soil health, and overall ecosystem balance have led to calls for urgent action. The structure of stubble burning, involving the deliberate ignition of crop residue, poses a significant menace to human health and the environment.
The smoke emitted from stubble burning contains a high concentration of harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. These pollutants can penetrate the respiratory system, causing respiratory problems, lung diseases, and premature death. Additionally, releasing these pollutants contributes to smog and air pollution, further deteriorating the quality of the air we breathe. The menace of stubble burning extends beyond air pollution, negatively impacting soil health and fertility.
THE HIDDEN COST
The hidden cost of stubble burning in North India is far-reaching. It encompasses various aspects of human health and the environment. The deliberate ignition of crop residue releases a vast amount of pollutants into the air, contributing to the region’s already alarming levels of air pollution. These pollutants can cause respiratory problems, aggravate conditions like asthma, and even lead to long-term respiratory illnesses. Additionally, the smoke and pollutants emitted from stubble burning can also contribute to smog formation, further deteriorating the air quality in the region. The thick layer of smog can reduce visibility and increase the risk of accidents on the roads.
Moreover, releasing greenhouse gases during stubble burning adds to the climate change crisis, exacerbating global warming and its associated impacts. Finding sustainable alternatives to stubble burning is vital to protect health and the environment.
HOW IT HAPPENS
Stubble burning occurs primarily due to a combination of factors, including traditional farming practices, economic constraints, and a lack of awareness about the harmful consequences. In many agricultural regions, farmers resort to burning stubble as a quick and inexpensive method to clear their fields and prepare them for the next crop. This practice has been allowed for various reasons, such as the absence of strict regulations, limited enforcement of existing laws, and the need for more viable alternatives for farmers.
Additionally, some farmers may need access to the necessary machinery or resources to adopt more sustainable practices, further perpetuating the cycle of stubble burning. It also leads to the loss of valuable organic matter in the soil, reducing its fertility and causing long-term damage to the agricultural ecosystem.
To break the cycle of unsustainable agriculture practices, governments and organisations must invest in providing farmers with the required resources and knowledge to adopt alternative methods of clearing fields. This can include mechanised farming or promoting the use of organic fertilisers, which can help to promote sustainable agriculture practices for the long term.
Fortunately, several potential solutions can help mitigate the negative impacts of slash-and-burn agriculture. One possible approach is the implementation of agroforestry systems, which involve integrating trees and crops on the same piece of land. By incorporating trees into farming practices, the soil can be protected from erosion, nutrient cycling can be improved, and biodiversity can be enhanced. Additionally, agroforestry systems provide multiple benefits, such as timber, fruit, and fodder, increasing farmers’ income and food security.
Another solution is the promotion of sustainable land management techniques, such as conservation agriculture, which involves minimising soil disturbance, maintaining permanent soil cover, and practising crop rotation.
These techniques can help improve soil health, increase water retention, and reduce the need for chemical inputs. By implementing sustainable land management practices, farmers can mitigate the negative impacts of conventional farming methods and ensure the long-term productivity of their land.
The government also needs to facilitate the transition of stubble into a supplementary source of farm revenue. To achieve this, implementing effective policies and providing financial support to farmers are crucial. Encouraging the widespread implementation of sustainable farming methods and promoting innovative technologies can help farmers find alternative ways to manage crop residue.
Additionally, offering incentives and subsidies for investing in machinery and equipment that can efficiently convert stubble into valuable resources, such as biofuels or organic fertilisers, can further incentivise farmers to embrace these solutions. The government can ensure a smooth transition towards a more sustainable and profitable farming industry by actively involving farmers in decision-making and providing them with the necessary resources.
Despite solutions such as conservation agriculture, available to improve farming practices and mitigate negative impacts, many farmers may not implement these techniques for various reasons. One reason could be a need for more awareness or knowledge about the benefits of sustainable land management practices. Farmers may need to know the long-term advantages of minimising soil disturbance, maintaining soil cover, and practising crop rotation.
Furthermore, farmers may require increased access to resources and support systems to transition to more sustainable farming practices. This could include limited access to training, financial assistance, or technical expertise.
Farmers may need these resources to adopt more sustainable farming practices. Furthermore, the need for more awareness and understanding of the benefits of sustainable agriculture may lead to the perpetuation of conventional farming methods that prioritise short-term gains over long-term sustainability.
K. Siddhartha writes on earth science, geopolitics, international relations and civilisational and Sanatan economics.https://sundayguardianlive.com/opinion/stubble-burning-needs-sustainable-solutions
Published Date: November 12, 2023