Chandigarh,29.10.19-Stubble burning is a common practice in Punjab and Haryana villages, degrading air quality in the villages, cities and the national capital. This is the season when the farmers of Punjab and northern parts of Haryana resort to massive burning of rice stubble to quickly get their fields ready for the next crop: wheat. Siloani village in Raikot block, Ludhiana is one among them, where stubble burning in 2018 was recorded at 92% of the total farm land area.

The challenge of stubble burning is huge. “I cannot adopt alternate technology and not burn stubble. I have an annual income of Rs. 1.5 lakhs which doesn’t suffice to purchase machines. While I understand burning isn’t good for pollution and my children, it seems the only cost-effective option”, says a farmer from Siloani village.

This year, as CII started engaging with 15000 farmers in 100 villages, covering 1,00,000 acres of farm area across 6 districts in Punjab and Haryana, efforts were to help farmers adopt zero stubble burning. According to CII impact report 2018, improved biomass management i.e. in-situ management is not only environment friendly but are also cost effective to farmers. The learnings in the CII report come from the pilot intervention in 2018 in 19 villages of Patiala and Ludhiana districts, Punjab. The farmers who adopted zero stubble burning approach benefited with good yield, reduced cost on weedicide & labour, and water conservation.

CII has been working with diverse stakeholders, including agricultural universities, experts, corporates, district administration and farmer groups to resolve the issue of stubble burning. CII is helping farmer cooperatives and farmer producer organizations procure machines like Happy Seeder, Mulcher, Zero Till, MB Plough etc on Government subsidy and providing financial assistance to bridge the demand gap. The efforts go beyond providing in-situ machines to farmers, and include provides technical handholding of farmers, along with massive awareness drives. CII, with support Punjab Agricultural University, Haryana Agriculture University, Hisar, District Agriculture Offices of Department of Agriculture and farmer Welfare and Krishi Vigyan Kendras, is organizing in-field trainings and has created a pool of master trainers in all adopted villages.

These trainers, farmer groups and village level volunteers play a critical role in spreading positive messaging and proactively engaging with farmers. The CII initiative has created a pool of local influencers, as the panchayat members, school students, progressive farmers and local administration advocate for zero stubble burning, participate in awareness drives, and encourage & support farmers in adopting alternate technology. As farmers begin to see the positive aspects of not burning crop residues, more and more advocates join in igniting a community driven action on zero stubble burning approach.

With support of CII, every village has a volunteer group which is ensuring that in-situ farm machineries are being distributed and rented on nominal costs among farmers, a majority with small and marginal land holdings. Potential ex-situ straw management models are also being piloted and research is conducted with an aim to develop a road map for straw value chain. Of the 10,000 acres of land harvested until today, more than 90% is stubble burning free.

While the journey of achieving similar targets in 1,00,000 arces of farmland is long, the collaborative and community driven approach is charting progress. It is CII’s endeavour to facilitate industry participation in solving the issue of crop residue burning. Many leading companies, such as BPCL, Birlasoft, ONGC, Royal Enfield, CLP India, PTC India, Cummins, ReNew Power and industry body, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) have contributed in this initiative through CSR and employee engagement. Students, youth and corporate volunteers are joining CII in this movement by participating in village rallies, nukkad nataks, door to door interaction with farmers and providing all possible support to enable zero stubble burning. Field volunteer groups like GBDSGNS Foundation, Raikot and Doctors for You have joined hands with CII in helping farmers adopt sustainable farming practices.

Samit Deb, Chief People Officer, Birlasoft says, "At Birlasoft, we believe that there is more to being part of the community than just running a business. Knowing the harmful effects of stubble burning and how it hampers our environment, we have furthered ‘Shodhan’ initiative with CII Foundation to help solve the situation of crop burning. Stepping into the third phase of the program, we hope to counter the improper management of crop residue and at the same time educate and benefit the farmers."