Fields On Fire: Odisha Farmers Take To Hazardous Trend Of Stubble Burning

Sambalpur: Stubble burning, which is the intentional burning of the remains after harvesting by farmers, is a big problem in Punjab and Haryana. And now the problem has emerged in Odisha as well. Taking a cue from their counterparts in the north, more and more farmers in the state are taking to the practice here.

How & Why Of Stubble Formation

Most stubble formation can be blamed on modern farming practices. Many farmers use tractors and agricultural equipment for ploughing and sowing seeds. After the crop is ready, a harvester — either a chain-mounted one or a tyre-mounted one — is used for reaping, threshing and winnowing, which provides grains that can be packed and sent to the markets.

However, a harvester leaves long stubble in the field as it is not able to cut the crop completely. Cutting this stubble again incurs a lot of cost, which a farmer can ill afford. So, the farmers resort to burning them to avoid the additional cost.

The burning of stubble leads to intense CO2 pollution and as harvesting happens in November, the cold weather and low speed of air result in the formation of smog, which is very poisonous. Apart from health hazards, smog kills some good bacteria and worms that are healthy for the crops. Moreover, the pollution layer is detrimental for overhead wires and trees and leads to nitrogen content disbalance in the long run, which is detrimental to soil fertility.

A Farmer’s Opinion

Dilip Sahoo of Sambalpur says that with conventional methods, the cost of harvesting, threshing, winnowing and packing grains came to Rs 4,000 per acre. Plus, it used to take three-four days, depending on the availability of labour.

Now, with the advent of the harvester, the cost has come down to Rs. 2,500 and the process hardly takes a few hours. So, coupled with economy, convenience and time saving, this option has started attracting more and more farmers.

Earlier, stubble was used as fodder for cattle or making thatched roofs for huts. Now, the number of cattle has reduced and there is a shift towards concrete houses. As for cattle, more productive feeds are available in the market to increase milk productivity. So, this natural fodder is dying out and its handling is becoming a big headache.

Environmentalist’s View

Ranjan Panda of Sambalpur, fondly referred to as the waterman of Western Odisha, said, “For a farmer, a harvester is a blessing as it is very convenient and saves time and cost. The flip side is that many labourers who used to work in the field are getting unemployed.”

Warning against the trend of stubble burning, Panda said, “It is not a viable solution. It pollutes the environment and affects wildlife. We are in the first stage of the cycle. As prevention is better than cure, this is the right time to ponder on the best solutions to dispose of or use stubble in the most cost effective way before it becomes a menace.”

He further said that due to the use of pesticides, the water quality has already deteriorated. “Ash from the burnt stubble will further aggravate the problem. If researchers can blend the traditional ways with the new applications, we can come out with a feasible solution to this problem,” he added.

Agri Expert’s Stand

Dr Bibhuti Bhusan Mishra, an agricultural scientist from Bargarh, said that the harvester is a boon for farmers as hiring people is a big challenge. “A harvester produces smaller sized stubble. But the rest remains in the field and is difficult to remove,” he said.

As per the traditional method, the field was burnt after harvesting to prevent spread of diseases. “Owing to convenience, burning has become a regular practice. This is highly detrimental for the top layer of soil, which is the most fertile part and is formed over ages. We have to realise this importance and should totally prohibit stubble burning,” he said.

Due to the use of chemical fertilizers, the quality of soil deteriorates and it loses useful microorganisms. This can be improved with the use of organic fertilisers. These boost the revival of useful microorganisms, which are good for the crop. “We need to change the mindset of the farmers to start adopting stubble as an alternate organic fertilizer, which is good in all ways for short and long term quality of soil,” Mishra informed.

Stubble management has become the biggest challenge for farmers and so they are forced to resort to easier solutions like burning. If managed proactively, stubble can be buried in soil for it to decompose and convert into organic manure. “There are many soil microbes that decompose organic matter. There are microbial bio agents like Trichoderma, Bacillus and many others, which bring about natural suppression of the soil pathogens, mostly causing the plant to wilt and rot. So, all these useful microorganisms, along with others like earthworms, will be destroyed if we burn the stubble,” he added.

Some Viable Options

If the field is filled with water for 2-3 days after harvesting, the stubble will get decomposed and then further preparation for the next crop can be done.

Bharat Petroleum has come up with an ethanol plant, which will consume the stubble from farms for production of ethanol. Once it comes up, it may provide a long term solution to stubble burning.

Stubble mixed with cow dung and domestic waste can be used in biogas plants. If implemented judiciously, it can work out as an alternative for renewable source of energy.

Mulching is also a viable option. In this, stubble can be spread over the soil which prevents water evaporation. So, there is less water consumption and over a period of time, this stubble gets decomposed after getting mixed in soil and improves its fertility.

Farmer Leader Speaks

Lingraj Pradhan, a social activist who spearheaded the farmers’ movement in Western Odisha, said that the current situation is the outcome of the technological development that came into being due to Green Revolution.

In traditional farming, the manual/bullock plough was used. Then farmers started using tractors and finally, the harvester. This with other advanced farming equipment has become part of routine farming in the past one decade.

“The by-product due to the use of the harvester is stubble in two parts. One part of the stubble that remains in the farm is difficult to cut and the other part that remains as a by-product is also not easily disposable. Farmers, who go for two crops in a year, do not have sufficient time to leave the stubble for decomposition, but small farmers with a single crop have time. They also resort to stubble burning simply because it is easy and economical,” he explained.

“We have to work towards changing farmers’ conscience. We also need to work towards issues like pollution, farmers’ economic condition and availability of advanced technology. Although an ethanol plant is slated to come up at Bhatli in Bargarh district, how many farmers will really benefit is a point to be seen in future,” he added.


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