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IIM–Amritsar students suggest farmers – Don’s burn, just earn

IIM–Amritsar students suggest farmers – Don’s burn, just earn. It is that dreaded time of year again when Delhi NCR will record the maximum amount of air pollution, the worst in the entire world. Among the major problems of air pollution, one is the seasonal burning of crop residues, especially paddy straw, by farmers in their fields. It majorly happens in neighboring Punjab and Haryana.

This causes the release of enormous quantities of particulate matter, especially the dangerous PM2.5, along with other noxious gases. The cold winter air and absence of significant winds keep this smog of pollutants close to the ground, preventing their dispersal and posing even more severe health problems than usual.

In order to combat air pollution, a group of students of the Indian Institute of Management-Amritsar (IIM-A) has taken one good step. They have suggested ways to farmers to utilize paddy straw and earn money instead of burning it.

The study dwells upon the alternative ways to utilize paddy waste. The study was carried out for a period of three months from July to September.

Students Sawan Khapne, Shivam Rana, and Shailendra Singh visited the Khot Khalsa area here and interacted with farmers to understand their problems and the reasons for burning stubble. The farmers acknowledged that despite government efforts, burning still remained an easy option to dispose of straw.

The study proposed mushroom cultivation and gasification process for using paddy straw in producing biochar to be converted into biofuel, besides management of residue in fields by growing crops with leftover stubble. It also suggested the use of straw in making bio-concrete for the construction of buildings.

For effective implementation of these alternatives, the students focused on 31 villages of Verka, near Amritsar, and divided these into four clusters for an easy distribution of equipment and collection of paddy waste.

“The supply chain management is basically a journey of procuring a thing till it reaches its destination. I have interacted with many farmers. The aim is to develop a pattern that can be followed as paddy is harvested,” said Dr. Neeraj Bhanot, professor, who supervised the study.

The straw can be procured from farmers by companies or NGOs termed as service providers. These service providers can take help of laborers engaged by government bodies or cooperative societies. The straw needs to be transported to processing units or markets. The chain begins with farmers selling straw to the service provider. These service providers shall procure straw directly from fields or from traders.

“We have not only designed this chain but have also proposed the alternative uses. The chain shall also help farmers make money by selling straw,” said Sawan Khapne, a student.

Proposed steps:

• The study proposed mushroom cultivation and gasification process for using paddy straw in producing biochar to be converted into biofuel
• Management of residue in fields by growing crops with leftover stubble
• It also suggested the use of straw in making bio-concrete for the construction of buildings

There are many options for handling and utilization of paddy straw stubble, but each of them involves not merely technologies, which are available, but appropriate financing and institutional mechanisms.

Among the more straightforward is in situ management of the stubble, an approach strongly advocated by the Punjab Pollution Control Board. One approach is to plow the stubble back into the ground, which would save on inorganic fertilizers and add to soil organic content. But doing this manually is impossible and mechanized options are expensive, especially for just a few days in the year.

Another option is the tractor-mounted “Happy Seeder” machine developed by Punjab Agricultural University, which adopts a no-tillage system to cut the stubble close to the ground and collects it, sows wheat seeds for the next crop, and spreads the cut straw on the field as mulch. But the problem is the Rs.1.5 lakh cost of the machine, notwithstanding the 33 percent subsidy available for its purchase.

No system currently exists enabling farmers to hire any of the equipment required for in situ stubble management, and the economics simply do not provide a viable option for farmers.

Campus Sigma

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