Pictures released by NASA some months ago,showing large-scale smoke emerging from the fields of Punjab due to burning of straw,have alarmed environmentalists with the National Green Tribunal issuing a notice to the state government.
Agriculture experts say theres a potential solution to the problem: a technique called direct seeding of rice. DSR,practised on a small scale in the state since 2006,can prevent large-scale burning after every harvest season if it is popularised strongly enough by the government.
The traditional method involves planting seeds in a nursery and later transplanting the saplings to the main cultivation area,while DST involves sowing the seeds directly in the fields,and around 10 to 15 days earlier than they would have been sown under the prevalent method.
In the traditional method,clearing of wheat stubble is a must before paddy cultivation and farmers prefer to burn it. Under the DSR technique,there is no need to clear the stubble,prepare a paddy nursery,or even puddling of the field before sowing. The technique can save not only fields from burning but also 40 per cent on water consumption and Rs 5,000 per hectare on cultivation cost,which would be a huge saving for Punjab where between 27 and 28 lakh hectares has been dedicated to the water-intensive paddy crop every year.
The state,which is looking at diversification from paddy,has so far been producing around 20 million tonnes paddy straw and 18 million tonnes wheat straw every year. Some wheat straw is used for cattle feed,and 50 per cent is burnt. Paddy straw is not preferred as cattle feed and 80 per cent of that is burnt.
Punjab has no proper management technique for stubble after harvesting and hardly any action is taken against the violators who burn it despite prohibitory orders. Burning of straw not only kills microbes in the soil but also causes air pollution. We have been creating awareness among farmers not to burn straw, says Dr P S Rangi,consultant,Punjab State Farmers Commission.
DSR is done through a direct seeding machine,which can sow seeds uniformly at a specified gap and at a uniform depth,and which is available with the agriculture department at a cost of Rs 40,000. We have proposed to purchase 200 such machines as at the moment there are only 40 or 50 in the state, says joint director,farm machinery,Dr D R Kataria.
Senior agriculture officer Dr Balwinder Singh Sohal,who advocates direct seeding,says,Our DSR experiments have produced better results than the prevalent method in terms of paddy yield,water saving,soil protection. It saves 40 per cent on water consumption and leads to 100 per cent recharging of rainwater. This method can save cultivation cost by Rs 5,000 per hectare and if one calculates the cost across 27 lakh hectares,it comes to Rs 1,350 crore.
Deputy director of the Agriculture Technological Management Agency Dr Naresh Gulati says the direct seeding method has the additional benefit of reducing emission of greenhouse gases such as methane,and improves the soil.
Though experiments with DSR had been going on in Punjab for long,it was adopted by farmers on a small scale in 2006; only 12 farmers,together cultivating 20 acres,came forward to take it up. Now more than 1,000 farmers have adopted it and this year we plan to bring 30,000 acres of land under it, says joint director,agriculture,Dr Gurdial Singh.
The Punjab Agricultural University and Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation are trying to popularise DSR. In fact,many farmers who were initially reluctant have started adopting it.
Farmer Rajinder Singh Sahota of Harri village near Ludhiana says he cultivated paddy with direct seeding on 15 acres last year. I have motivated 15 others to do the same,including Tanvir Singh of Guru Gardh village who is doing this on seven acres of land.