Crop residue burning rapidly intensified pan-India and grew six-seven times in past seven decades, from 18 million tonnes to 116 million tonnes between 1950-51 and 2017-18, as national food security policies focussed on increasing production of cereal crops to secure adequate national supplies. Majority of crop residue burning in India is associated with cereal crops with rice-wheat together owning the maximum share 84% of this.
Mechanisation of farming and prevalence of rice-wheat monoculture in food bowl of India- Punjab and Haryana are key reasons why crop residue burning flourished in this region and became a predominant practice. Burning post-harvest remains even gained popularity as a major method to get rid any pests from previous crop in the field while field is prepared for next crop. But this scenario rapidly has changed in last few years, due to concerted efforts of multiple agencies on ground, to tackle crop residue burning.
The Central Sector Scheme launched by the Government of India (GoI) in 2018 and initiatives from multiple agencies paved way for better awareness and availability of tools in these agrarian states. Within the rural areas intervened by CII and evaluated till agricultural year 2020-21, adoption of burning-free sustainable practices was found to be much higher, ranging 23-35% across geographies, in later years compared to merely 3-5% in 2017.
Today greater number farmers realise that it is desirable to curb burning from the perspective of safeguarding their families who are affected the most from health impacts of resulting air pollution. But farmers across intervened Northwest (NW) Region need practical solutions to existing challenges on ground around the availability and affordability of tools, training and advisory to change their practices.
The Crop Residue Management interventions under CII Cleaner Air Better Life (CII CABL), involved three years of extensive work in crop residue burning hotspots of Punjab & Haryana where rice is a dominant crop grown on 97% of the agricultural area.
Recognised by UNDP SDG Action Award and Global Development Network, the CII CABL programme has created successful model for community-scale and sustained adoption (more than 80% farmers adopting burning-free methods) of sustainable agricultural practices across 7 districts of two agrarian states.
Intervened farmers were provided all the know-how, technical training from PAU Scientists, farm advisory support by team of field staff and needed farm equipment at tool banks managed by the farmer groups. Farmers used multiple tool combinations on ground to tackle crop residue and these combinations are evolving with introduction of various new tools in the market which are essentially upgradation to existing tools for managing crop residue more effectively.
Cleaner Air Better Life’s Crop Residue Management (CRM) Programme started with the pilot intervention in 19 villages (in the districts of Patiala and Ludhiana in Punjab) in the year 2018 following the release of CII-NITI Action Plan for Biomass Management.
The CRM program has so far grown from 19 villages in 2018-19 to 105 villages in 2019-203 to 172 villages in 2020-21. Haryana also became a part of CRM Programme in 2019 and new areas of Barnala, Sirsa, Fatehabad and Rohtak districts were intervened in this year in addition to expansions to villages in the previously intervened areas of Patiala and Ludhiana districts.
As a result of CRM interventions till agriculture year 2020-21 across 172 villages of Punjab and Haryana (with total intervened area in these geographies equivalent to 1,57,924 acre or 63,936.84 hectare of agricultural land covering 27,863 farmers) the adoption of sustainable practices across 172 villages improved from 51% farmland under complete burning in baseline year 2019 to 13% in year 2020.
Overall, adoption sustainable practice grew by 77.5% in 2020. In terms of agricultural area and farmers, sustainable agricultural practices were adopted on 87% farming area and by 85% farmers, limiting the conventional method of complete and open burning of rice straw to 13% of area and 15% of farmers in the year 2020.
In the 70 new villages which were intervened for the first time in 2020-21, the baseline survey indicated that 77% of the total generated rice straw was being burnt in previous year, that is 2019. As a result of field interventions, overall burning came down to 13% of total rice straw produced in these areas. Programme interventions in these new areas resulted in steep increase from 23% to 87% in the adoption of Improved Crop Residue Management Practices from 2019-20 to 2020-21.
Additionally, 61 new villages were intervened by CII in the latest agricultural year 2021-22 replicating the work in total 226 villages and creating model rural clusters across 10 districts in Punjab and Haryana.
CII’s field initiative encouraged large-scale behaviour change among farmers to shift from conventional practice of crop residue burning to managing the residual straw in an environment friendly manner.
For more, read the CII report ‘Crop Residue Management: Impacts and Learnings from the Field.’