Touted as an alternative to stubble burning in Delhi and now in Punjab by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is in power in both states, the Pusa biodecomposer, though promising, is no magic bullet for farmers who have used it in the national capital for the past two years.
Krishan Dabas, 42, a farmer in Northwest Delhi’s Ladpur village, was in a hurry to get a part of his field ready for the upcoming mustard crop on Monday. In addition to the mustard, he has around 10 acres of paddy. He got the biodecomposer sprayed in 2020 and 2021, but is unlikely to apply for it this year.
“The decomposer takes time to work, around 20-25 days, and the farmer cannot wait. If the crop is harvested around the end of October and we wait, the wheat crop will be delayed and that can result in losses. This is what farmers in Punjab will also say. The problem is the same everywhere,” he said.
K Annapurna, former head of the Microbiology division at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said it can take between 20-25 days for around 80% decomposition of the stubble, which will allow the farmers to sow for the next crop.
“There wasn’t much benefit from it. Last year, they came here on their own (officials from the block). Then we got it done. If they come again this year, we will cooperate. But I have not applied,” Dabas said. He will, instead, get workers to clear the land.
Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai had acknowledged the issue earlier this week, when he said: “It is being sprayed in Punjab on a pilot basis. The time gap is small between harvest and sowing, and scientists are saying that unless the time taken for the decomposer to work is reduced, farmers may not use it on a large scale. It can take around 15-20 days. Now scientists are trying to work on reducing this time period.”
Dabas added that for him, the solution does not lie in the decomposer, but in the government collecting the straw for use and giving the farmer something in return. The cutting of the crop and clearing the land can take Rs 4,000-5,000 per acre, with workers mostly coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
In Narela’s Hiranki village, Umesh Singh, whose field was the first to be sprayed in 2020, wants to get his crop harvested by hand this year, so that the straw that is cleared can then be sold. He is yet to apply for the spraying of the decomposer. “The straw is being bought now for packaging. It is bought locally and then supplied to Azadpur mandi or near Lal Qila for crockery packaging. The sale has picked up this year, so if labour is available and the weather permits, we will cut and sell the straw. There aren’t too many machines in Delhi that help deal with the straw,” Singh said.
If the harvest is done with the combine harvester, the straw cannot be sold, he explained. He was satisfied with the decomposer’s results on around 20 acres last year. It took around 20-22 days for it to decompose fully.
Parveen Sehrawat, 45, who grows paddy on 45 acres in Daryapur village, will not use the decomposer this year either, after having tried it last year. “It takes a long time to work… minimum 20 days. We cannot leave the land for that long, since another crop can be grown. There is a machine in the village now that somebody has bought. It harvests the crop and cuts the straw in such a way that the straw can be used as fodder for cattle or sold at the Ghogha Dairy for Rs 5,000 per acre. With the machine, the decomposer won’t be needed,” he said. “If we don’t think it is useful, how will it be useful in Punjab?”
Among those who have applied to get the decomposer sprayed for the third consecutive year are Sahdev Mann, 57, in Holambi Khurd and Devinder Mann, 45, from Nayabans. “There is a difference when the decomposer is sprayed, but it is no magic bullet. It takes time,” Sahdev said. “What takes 30 days to turn to compost might take 20 to 25 days when the decomposer is sprayed.” Without the decomposer, he would use water and the plough to clear the field and turn the stubble into compost that can be mixed with the soil in about a month, he said. Mann’s 35 acres of paddy will be harvested in the first week of November. “If labour is available to cut the crop by hand and if the straw can be sold, I may not need the decomposer,” he said.