“Farmers are selectively termed as the sole culprits of pollution while industrial pollution always goes unnoticed,” accuses farmer Amar Singh at the farmers’ welfare workshop in Uncha Samana village in the Karnal District of Haryana.
The Agricultural Development Officer Surendar Kumar spoke on the government’s latest agro-policy and the problems associated with stubble burning. He explained the drawbacks of traditional farming practices like using water-guzzling techniques, which are lowering the water table of the state by one metre every year and the notorious stubble burning that contributes to the declining air quality of the NCR region. This leads to the decimation of the farm fauna systems like birds and reptiles that act as natural deterrents against bugs and pests. He went on to tell about the government’s latest Climate Smart Village Schemes that would empower the farmers to adopt better yielding, cheaper and eco-friendly farming techniques such as Direct Seed Rice or DSR methods of sowing paddy and the use of a happy seeder, a farming accessory that helps sow wheat while at the same time gets rid of the rice crop’s residue.
The farmers were skeptical. Amar Singh, who has been using the DSR method of plantation for the last six years, said that this scheme was just an amalgamation of existing eco-friendly techniques that farmers have been practising for some time now. He didn’t out-rightly decry these new techniques as he did agree they helped reduce water consumption by up to 75%, but on the downside, he had to use thrice the amount of weedicide to allow the crop to survive.
Suresh, a small farmer who owns 1.5 hectares of land said, “the equipment mentioned in the plan, like the happy seeder and the Laser Land Leveller are expensive pieces of machinery not readily affordable by most small and medium level farmers. The government lends one or two of these equipment per village and the big farmers who have connections with the officials are most likely to get them for their farms.”
When asked why he isn’t adopting the DSR method, he smiled and said that he did try sowing Direct Seeded Rice but the long time it takes to germinate, coupled with the complicated weedicide and pesticide doses along with the societal stigma of not sticking to conventional methods made him cave under pressure and he could do nothing but roll back to the plough and flood system.
On inquiring about the practice of burning stubble to clear harvested land for sowing, the farmer reiterated the inaccessible nature of de-stubbing equipment like the happy seeder and the high prices of manual labour to clear up fields. The prices of stubs which are sold as fodder or burning fuel for furnaces have reduced from around Rs. 450 last year to only Rs. 200-250 per quintal this year. This is a loss for the farmer as it costs around Rs. 200-250 to clear up an acre of the fields. Stub burning has reduced, but if a farmer is unable to clear up his fields in only 15 days, his crop hangs in jeopardy.
The Climate Smart Village initiative has the potential of succeeding but, so far it has only done so in isolated conditions, which is why straw burning may not abate in the near future unless the rice-wheat cycle is disrupted and other crops like maize and pulses gain prime importance – that happening is next to impossible as the Indian meal has rice and wheat as the basic source of carbohydrate.
We can safely expect many more years of straw burning and alarming satellite images, but let’s not just blame the farmer. We, the consumers, are very much a part of the reason that they light up their crop.