+ Climate Change Resilience: Reducing Air Pollution Through Crop Residue Management – CII Blog

On 26 October, CII’s work on crop residue management to curb air pollution received the ‘Global Development Award 2021’ under the Most Innovative Development Programme category (Theme 2: Community-driven Climate-related Disaster Risk Reduction in Rural Areas).  The award recognised CII’s work for “a promising approach to impact the life of local communities in a holistic way while addressing climate change impacts.” The award has been instituted by the Global Development Network (GDN), a public international organization which supports high quality, policy-oriented, social science research in developing and transition countries. 

Last year, the work on crop residue management was awarded the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) Action Award by UNDP in partnership with the Government of Punjab under the category ‘Integration, Convergence, Joint Action and Holistic Solution Approach – Industry’.

Every year, air pollution in India reaches catastrophic levels during the winter months, especially in the northern parts of the country. Apart from vehicular pollution and other causes, a major contributor to the problem of air pollution is the crop residue that farmers burn in the fields to clear stubble for the next planting season. This was highlighted in a study conducted by CII in partnership with the NITI Aayog in 2016-17.

To minimise crop residue burning, CII launched the Crop Residue Management initiative, which is an industry-led multi-stakeholder partnership for exploring and promoting solutions to the farm stubble burning issue. This initiative revolves around on-ground programme implementation, research, and stakeholder engagement. A pilot project was launched in 2018 in 19 villages in Punjab.

The on-ground interventions under this initiative include:

  • Awareness building and behaviour change interventions
  • Machinery and financial support
  • Farmers’ trainings and farm demonstrations
  • Facilitation of participatory monitoring

Given the magnitude and complexity of the problem, as well the various dimensions to it, CII brought together diverse stakeholders from industry, agriculture universities and farmers to work together on this initiative. Some of the key stakeholders include Apraava Energy, Birlasoft, SIAM, PTC Financial Services, Fidelity, GAIL, ONGC, Cummins and SBI Cards, etc. who supported viability gap funding to enable procurement of requisite farm machinery.

Field partners such as GBDSGNS Foundation, Doctors for You and the Guru Nanak National College Trust, along with farmer cooperatives, helped build awareness and mobilise support for the Crop Residue Management Programme. In partnership with the Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, and Department of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare of Punjab & Haryana, a large number of technical training and awareness sessions were conducted. CII Foundation has built a network of over 100 youth volunteers who are playing a key role in farmer-to-farmer learning and awareness building.

Given the significant ground-level changes that have occurred due to the interventions, the CII Foundation has expanded the geographic footprint of the initiative from 19 villages in 2018 to 250 villages in the current season. The initiative now covers 2,13,000 acres of land and reaches out to 45,000 farmers.  

The efforts have yielded some truly meaningful results. According to the Impact Assessment Study conducted by the CII,  87% farm area in the intervention villages witnessed significant reduction in biomass burning by 2020. A total of 339.6 thousand tonnes of rice straw was prevented from burning in 2020, resulting in savings of an estimated 1.58 thousand tonne PM10, 1.44 thousand tonne PM2.5, 2.3 thousand  tonne gaseous pollutants, which are also precursors to fine or ultrafine particles, 0.3 million tonnes GHGs and 160.7 tonnes Black Carbon.

  CII’s Crop Residue Management initiative has successfully demonstrated that viable alternatives to crop residue burning can have a significant impact and can be scaled up with time and increased stakeholder engagement. CII is now poised to expand the programme in existing districts and enter new districts to help improve the quality of air in the region.