What is Stubble burning and its causes

Photo by 2011CIAT/NeilPalmer

With the onset of winter in northern India, as the temperature drops so drops the visibility and the air quality, especially in the area around Delhi, Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and eastern Rajasthan. This air menace is primarily the result of stubble burning which is practiced in these regions on a large scale giving rise to a whole host of problems that further cascade into the issues related to agriculture, economy, health, soil degradation, etcetera. This is one event that is adversely impacting every aspect of life, directly or indirectly, the situation gets worse to the extent that government has to shut down schools and impose several restrictions on the movement of people. Air pollution is the visible part that gets most of the attention, but the extent of damage stubble burning is causing to agriculture and soil is much worse and will only be seen over a long span.

What is stubble burning?

Stubble burning is the practice of setting fire to the leftover straw and stubble in agricultural fields after the crop has been harvested. It is a common practice in parts of Northern India, particularly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh as a way to quickly and cheaply clear the fields for the next planting season.

Modern machines used for harvesting crops leave a foot-long residue of crop stalks on the ground. To prepare fields for the next sowing this residue needs to be removed, it can be done by machines or labor which is expensive, or else the farmer can simply set this highly flammable husk on fire which is easy, cheap, and costs only one rupee matchbox. This burning of crop stalks left on the field after the harvest is called stubble burning.

Why is stubble burning?

Three main factors lead to widescale crop residue burning (CRB) in the northern states of India.

Rice-Wheat cropping system

With the advent of the green revolution in India, the farmers of northwest India especially Punjab and Haryana were encouraged to adopt the Rice-Wheat cropping system ( also known as RWCS). Farmers predominantly used to grow wheat, but with the introduction of rice into the cropping cycle, the harvesting schedule of the crop got packed, leaving very little window between harvesting and sowing of the crops. With very little time to prepare land for the next crop, farmers found refuse in stubble burning- a cheap and easy way to get rid of crop residue.

Mechanization of agriculture

The introduction of machines has transformed agriculture from a labor-intensive activity to capital intensive activity. However, it may sound absurd, but the mechanization of agriculture is one of the causes of stubble burning. The modern combines used for harvesting leave a foot-long crop residue in the ground, this crop residue can be taken out either by labor or machines, both of which are expensive. Farmers prefer burning the residue rather than spending money on costly machines and labor, which cost them nothing but hugely impact the environment.

Groundwater Legislation

Punjab and Haryana governments introduced groundwater legislation in 2009 to protect the groundwater from depletion, this was done by pushing the rice planting closer to the monsoon, to reduce farmers' dependency on the groundwater for irrigation. However, this also shifted harvesting of rice closer to the onset of winter, when the weather conditions are stagnant, and hence the pollution caused by stubble burning lingers on in the atmosphere. The push in the harvesting time also shortened the window for farmers to prepare the land for the next crop and so they rely on burning the crop residue as an easy and quick method.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form