Simran longingly looks in all directions seeking to find the lilting voice emerging from the wheat fields, running gracefully like a gazelle looking out for her Raj as he stands in the middle of the golden expanse, swaying in the breeze ready to be yielded. That’s perhaps one of the most memorable scenes from India’s blockbuster Hindi movie Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, embedding a glossy picture of agricultural scenes in the audience’s memory. Pause and rewind to face another facet of real life and not reel.
Beyond these glowing fields are layers of realities, that need close examining. These include numerous challenges facing farmers: economic ups and downs, the constant struggle to discard hazardous practices and introducing new sustainable agricultural methods and of course, understanding environmentally conscious agriculture, while keeping holistic agricultural sustainability as the top priority.
Environmental depletion and air pollution are are among the most dire issues facing humanity. The problems keep growing as time passes by and as do their harmful effects. Pollution is a major cause of premature mortality globally and the problem is particularly acute in rapidly developing countries like India.
However, these threats can be stemmed by creating a detailed plan that can alter the scenario as has been the case with broad changes initiated by Government of India.
Sonalika Social Development Society-A is a CSR wing of Sonalika Group, that collaborates with agricultural research institutes like CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre), BISA (Borlaug Institute for South Asia) along with concerned departments and stakeholders supporting the progressive shift. With all stakeholders working together, change has made its way to the villages of Punjab, Haryana, NCR and Western UP.
For decades, rice stubbles have been burnt to clear fields and prepare for wheat sowing, owing to compulsions of the the minimal shift time of 15-20 days in the rice-wheat cycle in north-west India. Dr M.L. Jat, the principal scientist and systems agronomist for CIMMYT, contextualises the practice, “Earlier when rice harvesting was manual, crop residues were taken out from fields and farmers benefited from selling them. Later when agriculture included more mechanical operations for harvesting with the increase in the production to the tune of millions of tons, crop residue became a hazard in terms of disposal that would involve, huge money, labour and logistics.”
The easiest answer to getting rid of rice crop residue would be to burn them in bulk not realising that it would be posing a serious threat to the entire biosystem from soil nutrition to human health and eventually reduce the quality of life. With soil health deteriorating over years, it results in lower crop yields and has a negative impact on the income of the farmer, increases dependence on fertilizers, requires large volume of water for irrigation, putting economic pressure on the farmer.
Sonalika Social Development Society, a CSR wing of Sonalika Group, along with CIMMYT, BISA, CGIAR Research programmes on Wheat Agri-Food Systems, Climate Change Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS), and their collaborating partners with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), state agricultural universities, state governments, etc. decided to contribute to a paradigm shift in the standard rice-wheat agricultural practice of India’s granary bowl.
As Dr Lopamudra Priyadarshini, CSR Head of Sonalika Tractors, sums it up, “Our biggest responsibility as a manufacturers of agri machinery has always been towards the farmers’ welfare and environment. We have taken this firm step and decided to do every bit to work in tandem with conservation or climate-smart agricultural solutions. CIMMYT and BISA are our nodal research institutions who were already delving into the development of pro-sustainable residue management methods and documenting the field notes and with a successful outcome in the past. From our working, at the grassroots level, we understand that intervention has to be both technological and social.”
To spearhead the campaign of sustainable crop residue management practices, Sonalika Social Development Society has adopted and supporting 25 villages in Haryana through CIMMYT, BISA for no-burn farming. Parallelly CIMMYT, ICAR, state agricultural universities, as well as central government had been working on methods to make zero-tillage and zero-burning initiatives a total success. Direct seeding with Happy Seeder allows rice-wheat farmers to reduce cost, manage soil and water resources, cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, while stopping the burning crop residue completely. New crop residue management systems are driven towards a profitable, zero burn conservation agriculture or, in other words, climate smart agricultural systems of the future.
In-situ management of residues makes the soil nutrient rich enabling it to produce better crop yields. As Dr Jat puts it, “Change came in the form of Zero Till seeding with Happy Seeder. This tractor mounted implement allows no-till and no-burn, sowing of wheat into fields mulched with rice crop residue. Along with Super Straw Management System (SMS), a necessary complementary spreader mechanism attached to combine harvesters, crop residue management would work to the optimum benefit of farmers and environment both.”
With research in place and the government’s proactive commitment to address climate change nationally as well as at the global level, making it with the agenda being rooted in the Paris Agreement, there are policies already initiated and implemented in Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and NCR with the mission of zero crop residue burning.
Director of ICAR’s Agriculture Technology Application Research Institute (ATARI), Dr Rajbir Singh, whose institute is one of the key organizations involved in this mission, says, “We realise the importance of making progress in small steps but in a holistic way. The need to start on climate smart agriculture in Punjab and Haryana were obvious as the scale of crop residue there is enormous. With a massive grant from the central government and a mission of two years, there is no looking back. We are continuously working with the community to impart awareness about air pollution via crop residue burning. We are also training the farmers to drive the new climate-smart agriculture devices.”
Echoing Dr Rajbir Singh, Dr Jat affirms, “Now that the effective technologies and investments are available, we need stakeholders, including farmers, agricultural machinery manufacturers, service providers, capacity builders to all come together keeping in mind a fast-paced action plan in which awareness and capacity development would be the basic building block.
So, we have started capacity building programmes for the operators of the machines, with the detailed demonstration at the village level. It’s all for farmers and their well being, which will impact the larger picture as well.” Excitement reflects on Dr Lopamudras face, as she continues, “So the engagement definitely has to be a multi-stakeholder, community based approach. The efforts of this education and awareness have to be continuous, persistent, tangible and relevant in terms of environmental and public health with a long term goal to make the farmer aware about technological advance farming and moreover sustainable farming.With a 2 year mission of making it Zero Burning, the government is functioning on the fast track mode.
Dr B.S. Sidhu, Commissioner Agriculture, Government of Punjab, shares the goal, “Its a massive task, but we are determined to go ahead and fulfil it. The Govt is for making these machines accessible and available to the farmers with substantial subsidy component, give them the training to develop essential skills to operate these machines and encourage manufacturers. We are also planning to sensitize the farmers through campaigns technically called IEC (Information Education Communication) which are in the format of talk shows in radio and TV channels, jingles, public hoardings, bus slogans and more. Our aim would be to change the mindset of the farmer.”
There is a similar sentiment in what Dr Sidhu’s Haryana counterpart Dr Suresh Gehlawat, Additional Director, Agriculture, Government of Haryana, shares, “It’s simple that any change will happen with people’s involvement. We need to facilitate the process. We need to recycle the paddy stubble into the fields itself. In other words fully implement the In-Situ method in 12 lakh hectares of land spread across 4,500 villages of Haryana. Protection of environment would be then in place with tremendous progress in combating air pollution.”
The situation looks promising, full of enthusiasm and energy. With all the cogs of the wheel working for hand in hand zero burning and climate-smart agriculture solutions seem to be falling into place. The future as expected would be truly green with a shift in the mindset of the farmers and the community at large.
Sonalika Social Development Society, CIMMYT & BISA along with partnering organisations are confident of the gigantic leap of faith already set in motion. “For the farmers, by the farmers, with the farmers: that is the future, a future where we all would protect the earth, it’s resources, leading to the economic growth of the farmers, changing methods, minds, doubling income, impacting the big picture and yes India then can proudly abide to its promise at the Paris Climate Agreement,” says Lopamudra Priyadarshini, as she signs off.
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