When his son got married last year, Gurbachan Singh told the bride’s parents that there would be no baraat. He did not want to impose on his future in-laws the huge cost of entertaining the boy’s side.
But Gurbachan did have one condition: Satnam Singh, the father of the bride, had to stop burning paddy stubble. And Satnam had instantly accepted.
“It had to start from my family if I was to persuade others,” says Gurbachan. His bargain with Satnam achieved two things — a non-wasteful wedding, and another farmer on his side against stubble burning.
Gurbachan (57) stopped burning stubble in the 40 acres that he farms with his brother Gurdev almost two decades ago in Burj Deva Singh village. This was long before stubble burning was recognised as one of the prime causes of the smog that blankets Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in October and November.
According to an Indian Council for Agricultural Research study, stubble burning directly impacts air quality in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) and increases carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70% and carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide by 7% and 2.1%.
Instead of burning crop residue, Gurbachan has persuaded at least 40 farmers in the village to put it good use in the fields and his efforts have made him the poster boy for the Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s anti-stubble burning campaign in the district.
Pointing to his fertiliser-free lush green paddy fields ready for harvest, Gurbachan says his own farms are proof of his convictions. For two years now, he says, the soil quality has improved so much that he has completely stopped using fertilizers and insecticide.
“After I noticed the benefits on Gurbachan’s fields, I stopped burning the crop waste about two years ago. Now, I am gradually decreasing the use of urea. It has to be a gradual withdrawal. It works like drug de-addiction,” says Burj farmer, Hardev Singh. He explains that farming without crop burning each year phases out urea by half a bag and that three bags of urea per acre are used on fields set on fire before sowing.
The Krishi Vigyan Kendra has chosen two villages in Tarn Taran that accounted for the most cases of stubble burning in 2017 for a pilot project to make them 100 per crop fire free, and Gurbachan has been given a big role in this. The two villages — Booh Havelian and Jauneke — are just 2.5 km and 3 km from his village.
KVK district official Balwinder Kumar says that of a total 1,400 acres in both villages, farmers burnt stubble in more than 1,200 acres last year.
“The thick layer of smog caused many problems. We were not able to send our children to school and when it rained eventually, the fields were full of black mud. The farming machines and equipment were covered in a thick layer of soot,” says Booh Havelian farmer Nirmal Singh.
“We have had him (Gurbachan) address three training camps for farmers. First, he addressed 25 farmers, then 75 and then 2,000 farmers in a Kisan Mela last month. And he is striking a chord,” says Kumar. “Kisaan nu kisaan di gal jaldi samajh aundi hai (A farmer understands a farmer better).” Gurbachan also stars in a short documentary made by the KVK to educate farmers against paddy stubble burning. A devout Sikh, he invokes Guru Nanak’s message of Pavan Guru, Pani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahat (Air the teacher, Water the father and Earth the great mother), to motivate others to stop stubble burning.
He also tells farmers that “if you don’t burn stubble, you will save on fertilizers and insecticides costs and the yield will increase”. From the first crop sown without burning stubble, he tells farmers, they will be able to save at least Rs 5,000 per acre on input costs.
According to Gurbachan, Sikh preachers talk about the teachings of Sikh gurus, but there is hardly any mention about the farming done by Guru Nanak. He says he stopped burning stubble in 2000 because he got “Guruji’s message”.
“It just dawned on me one day and I stopped. I would say Guruji blessed me to spread the message. I started with a zero tillage machine, which involved a lot of labour, and continued with it till 2007. Then, I switched to new technology — Happy Seeder,” says Gurbachan.
Kumar took soil samples at Gurbachan’s fields last year. “The average organic matter in his fields and other fields where no stubble burning was done for 4-5 years was 0.8 per cent. This translates into a very high fertility rate. This could be achieved gradually over the years only after he totally stopped burning crop residue. Generally, in the fields where stubble burning takes place, the organic matter is around 0.2 to 0.3 per cent, which is very low,” says Kumar.
In the coming days, scientists and officials will help farmers in Booh Havelian and Jauneke sow wheat and other crops without burning the crop residue.
The KVK, Kumar says, is giving farmers in the two villages the required equipment free of charge. “We have three Happy Seeders, one Mulcher, two Reversible Mould Board plough machines and other equipment that we provide to the farmers,” says Kumar.
A Happy Seeder is used to sow the wheat without clearing the stubble. The Super Straw Manager ensures that loose straw thrown by the Combine is also cut and spread evenly on the field. A Mulcher and Reversible MB ploughing machine are mainly used for sowing vegetable crops like peas and potatoes and helps replenish the soil with nutrients by cutting the crop residue into small pieces and burying it in the soil.
After his son in 2017, it is Gurbachan’s daughter’s turn to get married this year. His gift to his son-in-law — a Happy Seeder.