Government think-tank Niti Aayog will soon come out with a policy roadmap to promote alternative use of crop residue, which farmers continue to burn in the fields despite a ban in some states to curb air pollution.
The advisory body has floated an expression of interest inviting research institutions to conduct a study on mass production of manure/fertiliser from agricultural biomass. Based on this study, a policy roadmap will be laid out for alternative use of crop residue, officials said.
“The gravity of the situation demands that an appropriate policy should be evolved to promote alternative uses of crop residue to prevent on-farm burning; working on modalities for potential of economic utilisation of agricultural biomass waste in India targeting to convert manure to support farming sector,” one of the officials said.
Agricultural straw is mostly used as fodder for cattle or for making cardboard in areas where farmers harvest their crop by hand. But where the task is being done by machines, most of it remains in the fields, making removal by any method other than open field burning an expensive proposition. The air in several Indian cities, including the national capital region, is toxic, mostly due to vehicle and industrial emissions, and dust from growthfuelled construction work. Since soot from burning crop stubble gets blown to neighbouring cities and worsens the air quality there, the practice has been banned in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. But farmers often violate this curb, saying they cannot afford any other means of removal. According to a government estimate, over 500 million tonnes (MT) of agricultural straw are produced every year in the country, and with increased production of rice and wheat, residue generation has jumped.
Cereal crops (rice, wheat, maize and millets) account for 70% of the total crop residue, or 362 million tonnes. Of this, 34% comes from rice and 22% from wheat crops, most of which is burnt on-farm.
The amount of surplus crop residue available in India is estimated between 84 million tonnes and 141 million tonnes a year. Globally, biomass production from agriculture is pegged at 140 billion metric tonnes.
Burning of crop residue/rice straw causes severe pollution of land and water on local as well as regional and global levels. It is estimated that burning of paddy straw results in annual nutrient loss of 3.85 million tonnes of organic carbon, 59,000 tonnes of nitrogen, 20,000 tonnes of phosphorus, and 34,000 tonnes of potassium.