Alarmed by Delhi air pollution, farmers quit stubble burning

By Times Of India on 04 Dec 2017 | read
GUWAHATI: Last winter, Kandarpa Das (name changed), a farmer in Barpeta's Patacharkuchi village, about 95 km from here, angered other members of the farming community when he set on fire stubble on his 2.5-acre paddy field to prepare his land for the next crop. The blaze spreads of ash that it burnt harvested paddy on other fields.

But this harvest season, awareness has dawned on Das and his fellow farmers.

When they heard how largescale stubble-burning in Haryana, Punjab and other states was causing air pollution in Delhi, they decided they would not burn the stubble but allow it to decompose.

With the state aspiring to become self-reliant in agri-production through multiple cropping, experts said in the coming days stubble-burning is going to emerge as a major challenge.

Professor of soil science at the Assam Agricultural University in Jorhat, Binoy Kumar Medhi said the carbon content in the char takes several years to get released in the soil. "But farmers resort to burning the stubble as a short-term option to ready their farmland for the next crop. In Assam, stubble-burning is done on a small scale, but the practice may escalate as there would be pressure for increasing production because of the rise in population," said Medhi.

Last year, stubble was burnt in several parts of the state but not to the extent it is done in the north. Agriculture department officials said stubble-burning is less than 2% of the state's total 40.99 lakh hectare crop area the state. Medhi, however, said the overwhelming majority of farmers in the state still allow the stubble to decompose after harvest, which in turn enriches the soil with nutrients and increases fertility. "As very little stubble is burnt in the state, we have not experienced the extent of air pollution that the north is experiencing. Our crop intensity is about 147% whereas in these states it is over 250%," Medhi said.

An agriculture official said the state's 'significant' green-cover and wetlands act as a viable 'carbon sink', thereby controlling air pollution due to stubble-burning. Even for other northeastern states where jhum (slash-and-burn) cultivation is practised by clearing a portion of the forest and then setting the vegetation on fire, experts said, the areas brought under jhum cultivation are very small compared to the crop land in plain areas.