Time Bomb Ticking

Time Bomb Ticking

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According to the Policy Brief on crop residue burning by National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) entitled Innovative Viable Solution to Rice Residue Burning in Rice-Wheat Cropping System through Concurrent Use of Super Straw Management System-fitted Combines and Turbo Happy Seeder (October, 2017) (please click here to access): 

• Estimates indicate that up to 80 percent of rice residues are burnt by farmers in Punjab. In other North Western states also, rice burning is practiced in a sizeable area. It is estimated that in NW states of India about 23 million tonnes of rice residues are burnt annually. Collection and storage of such a huge quantity of residue is neither practically feasible nor economical.

• The NASA satellite images of early November 2016 (peak period of rice residue burning) depicts the burning hot spots across south Asia and shows that the intensity of rice residue burning in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is very high.

• The major pollutants emitted by crop residue burning - CO2, CO, CH4, N2O, NOx, SO2, black carbon, non-methyl hydrocarbons (NMHC), volatile organic compounds (VOC) and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), contribute enormously to global warming.

• It is estimated that one tonne rice residue on burning releases 13 kg particulate matter, 60 kg CO, 1460 kg CO2, 3.5 kg NOx, 0.2 kg SO2. The black carbon emitted during residue burning warms the lower atmosphere and it is the second most important contributor to global warming after CO2.

• Apart from the damage caused by air pollution, burning of rice residue also results in loss of soil organic matter and plant nutrients and adversely affects soil health. About 90 percent of N and S and 15-20 percent of P and K contained in rice residue are lost during burning. Burning of 23 million tonnes of rice residues in NW India leads to a loss of about 9.2 million tonnes of C equivalent (CO2-equivalent of about 34 million tonnes) per year and a loss of about 1.4×105 t of N (equivalent to Rs 200 crores) annually. In addition, in-field burning of crop residues also destroys the beneficial micro-flora and fauna of soil causing adverse impact on soil health.

• Increase in the concentration of PM2.5 and PM10 during the large scale burning of rice residues is a major health hazard. For example, the children are more sensitive to air pollution (smog), as rice residue burning poses some unrecoverable influence on their pulmonary functions.

• The emission of high levels of PM2.5 and PM10 in the air causes chronic diseases like cardiopulmonary disorders irrecoverable lung capacity or asthma in human population of NW India. The survey and economic evaluation showed a clear increase in medical and health-related expenditure and workdays lost during the rice residue-burning period (September–November) each year in Punjab.

• These health-related expenditures tend to be higher for children, older people and farm workers who are directly exposed to rice residue burning. The human health costs from rice residue burning in rural areas of Punjab are estimated at Rs. 7.61 crores annually. The costs would be much higher if expenses on averting activities, productivity loss due to illness, monetary value of discomfort, etc., are also included.

• The practices in current use, for utilizing rice residue, include livestock fodder, livestock bedding, in-situ incorporation, composting, generating electricity, mushroom cultivation, roof thatching, biogas (anaerobic digestion), furnace fuel, biofuel, and paper and pulp board manufacturing. Presently these options together utilize less than 15 percent of the total rice residue produced in NW India. Of the various available options, electricity generation, production of bio-oil and on-farm utilization of rice residue are the major practices in current use.

• Generation of electricity is an attractive option but, at present, only seven-biomass energy plants have been installed in Punjab and six more are in the pipeline. However, these biomass energy plants together can consume only about 10 percent of the rice residues in the state. A 12 MW rice residue power plant requires 1.20 lakh tons of residues in a year which needs a large dumping ground. In addition, these biomass energy plants produce large amount of ash and there is a serious challenge for its disposal. For the time being, it is dumped in landfills or depressions created by brick kilns.

• Technologies to produce bio-oil (pyrolysis) and gasification are still under research and development to make them economically viable. Most of the furnaces in the Punjab use 25-30 percent of rice residue mixed with 70-75 percent of other biomass and the present utilization of rice straw is only 0.5 million tonnes annually. Limited utilization of this technology is primarily due to high silica content in rice straw, which causes clinker formation in the boilers.

• In North West India, super straw management system (SMS)-fitted combines are used for harvesting rice in 70-90 percent of the area under rice-wheat cropping system (RWCS), leaving huge quantities of residues and stubbles on the field. Efficient and economic management of 8-10 t/ha rice residues and seeding of wheat crop on time is a daunting task for the farmers, due to the availability of a short window of about 15 days to complete these operations.

• The cost of each super straw management systems (SMS) attachment is approximately Rs. 1.2 lakh, and the cost of Turbo Happy Seeder is about Rs. 1.3 lakh. These costs can easily be recovered by the custom hiring service providers, through marginal increase in the charges for custom hiring.

• Concurrent use of SMS-fitted combines and turbo happy seeder for wheat sowing has distinct production, economic, environmental and societal advantages, some of which are: (a) Increase in average yield of wheat by 2-4 percent compared to conventional till wheat; (b) Economical cost of production, through savings in the cost of labour, fuel, chemicals, etc.; Saves about 20 liters of fuel per hectare due to sowing of wheat in a single operation. A total saving – 20×4.3 Mha = 86 million liters of diesel fuel per season; (c) Increase in nutrient use efficiency, by continuous recycling of residues using Turbo Happy Seeder for over 3-4 years results in producing same yield with 30-40 kg per ha less nitrogen use and hence significantly higher (10-15 percent) nutrient use efficiency; (d) Produces more crop per drop of water, by saving up to 1.0 million liters of water per hectare due to elimination of pre-sowing irrigation. Moreover, residue mulch reduces evaporation loss equivalent to about 45 mm (0.45 million liter) during the wheat season; (e) Reduces risk of biotic and abiotic stresses, by reducing weed growth, crop lodging, karnal bunt infestation and termite attack. Wheat yields were nearly 16 percent more than farmers who followed conventional practices, when heavy rains fell late in the wheat season at grain filling stage in 2014-15; (f) Improves soil health, by improving soil organic matter over time, which enhances soil health, productivity potential and soil biodiversity etc.

• It is estimated that to cover 50 percent (5 million ha) of the total acreage under RWCS in India, about 60000 Turbo Happy Seeders and 30000 super SMS fitted combines will be required; at present, there are only about 3000 Turbo Happy Seeders and 1000 super SMS fitted combines are available.

Rural Expert

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