The Indo-Gangetic plains of India are extremely fertile and provide food security to around 40 percent of the country’s population. The Northwest states of Punjab and Haryana are the highest producers of paddy (rice) and wheat, essential food crops for the people of India.
However, some current farming practices are causing harm to the environment, nearby communities and threatening the long-term suitability of farming itself; and TNC through its work with the farmers in the region hopes to find solutions to address these issues.
The burning issue at hand
About 80 percent of agriculture in Northwest India uses a paddy-wheat crop rotation and traditionally been burning paddy residue for clearing field between the paddy harvest and wheat planting. Crop residue burning is still the most common method adopted by the farmers in Punjab for preparing their fields for sowing wheat. The combine harvesters, used for harvesting paddy crops, leave behind crop residue (or stubble) in the field. Due to the short window to prepare the land for planting wheat – only three to four weeks – of all the options available, many farmers see burning the paddy stubble as the most viable solution for preparing their fields.
Although a convenient option, burning crop residue brings with it several issues. Having about two million farmers, all together burning 12 million tonnes of paddy residue, creates the most noticeable effect of smoke pollution in the air, resulting in a blanket of haze in the Northern region and the nation’s capital in the months of October and November. Crop residue burning not only causes human health concerns, but it also emits harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and raises soil temperatures. The increase in soil temperature drives further water use in an already water stressed region and affects the health of the soil due to a loss of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, and organic carbon) and beneficial micro-organisms.
Promoting Regenerative And No-burn Agriculture (PRANA) is a four-year project focused in the state of Punjab in Northwest India that aims to deliver the following outcomes:
- Eliminating burning of one million hectares of cropland
- Getting at least 250,000 farmers to adopt a no-burn cropping system
- Preventing at least six million tonnes of CO2e from entering the atmosphere
- Saving 500 billion litres of water from enhanced soil health and agronomy
- Piloting financial instruments that incentivize farmers to adopt no-burn practices
PRANA will cluster its efforts and activities in five key focus areas:
- Build farmers’ knowledge and capacities in crop residue management solutions.
- Lower risk perception and increase motivation to try no-burn crop residue management solutions.
- Improve equitable access to no-burn crop residue management solutions.
- Seek additional long-term income streams for farmers based on environmental contributions.
- Policy engagement for conducive policies and an enabling environment.
The way forward
PRANA seeks to help farmers adopt better ways to manage the crop residue, preferably using no-till and regenerative agriculture practices in addition to no-burn, improving soil structure and increasing soil carbon. Maintaining the soil’s organic carbon is important to the chemical composition and biological productivity of the land, including fertility and nutrient holding capacity. Implementing management practices such as crop residue retention can influence soil aggregation, soil stability and soil carbon sequestration.
Overall, PRANA is technology agnostic. Nonetheless, given available evidence that the use of the Happy Seeder lowers energy and water consumed while at the same time improves soil health, during the first year PRANA will pay particular attention to promoting this technology. In parallel, PRANA will hold technology demonstration trials involving this and other technologies such as the Super Seeder, PUSA Decomposer and others to assess these solutions as part of the PRANA portfolio.
The Happy Seeder, an innovative no-burn and no-till crop management solution, is promoted by research institutions and government for managing paddy residue. The key aspect of this technology is that it allows farmers to plant wheat directly into the paddy stubble. After harvesting with a combine harvester with a Super Management System (SMS) attached to it, the Happy Seeder, mounted on a tractor, cuts and lifts the paddy straw, sow’s wheat into the soil and deposits the straw over the sown area as mulch. The straw mulch naturally decomposes over time, improving soil fertility. A study conducted and published in SCIENCE by TNC and various other research institutions demonstrated that farmers using the Happy Seeder reported cost savings, improved productivity and improved soil health resulting in increased farmer net profit, in some cases by up to US$164 per hectare per year, a 15 percent increase.
Subsidies are provided by the government to individual farmers and cooperatives/custom hiring centres to the tune of 50 and 80 percent respectively for the purchase of Happy Seeders and other crop residue management machines to encourage more farmers to adopt a better way to manage crop residue.
We aim to come up with protocols that ensure a win-win for environment & farmers. Presently, Happy Seeder is the most scalable solution which singly resolves the twin challenges of addressing air pollution & improving soil health.
Eliminating constraints in the supply of Happy Seeders
Often small and marginal farmers are reluctant to use a Happy Seeder as they find purchasing the machine an expensive option and face difficulties in renting the machines. PRANA seeks to address these constraints by supporting service providers to create a viable business model of renting out Happy Seeder machines as a livelihood option.
Creating space for policy engagement
PRANA aims to cultivate an environment that reduces instances of stubble burning in Punjab. Partnering with government institutions, PRANA will support the government’s increased willingness for crop transition and will apply nature-based solutions to ecosystem impact.
To bring about greater changes within the agricultural community, small steps need to be backed up by appropriate systemic changes and one of PRANA’s objectives is to positively influence these systemic changes by providing scientifically backed solutions.
Although stubble burning is a very common practice that has been prevalent for generations in Northwest Indian agriculture, now is the time for change so that more and more farmers can gain confidence in new crop residue management solutions. Farmers experienced in the use of Happy Seeders are sharing their success with other farmers. The agricultural community is increasingly a beacon to bring about positive change in India once again.
Collaborate with us for promoting innovative solutions for crop residue management
We express our sincerest gratitude to our lead donor – Bezos Earth Fund – for their generous gift which has enabled the creation of PRANA that will aid in the global efforts to tackle climate change. Our goal is to arrive by 2025 at the tipping point of eliminating crop residue burning across Northwest India and this contribution is giving us a fighting chance to realise this goal.
If you’d like to know more about PRANA, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.