In Punjab’s paddy fields: Where the seeders are glad however the farmers usually are not

In Punjab’s paddy fields: Where the seeders are glad however the farmers usually are not


A snapshot of Punjab’s stubble-burning season, and what farmers on the bottom give it some thought

Evening was approaching; a yellow full moon hung over the Patiala street as a cool breeze swept throughout the land. All day we had been flanked by inexperienced paddy fields, prepared for harvest. But issues have been about to alter. As the darkness descended, we noticed at a distance, pyre-like fires. We sped up solely to find that the fires prolonged throughout swathes of open land, a panorama that was an open oven billowing twisted columns of smoke.

This was it, the parali zone, and the flames we have been taking a look at have been not less than an enormous a part of the rationale for the winter season’s excessive air pollution in north India. Carefully, I walked into the burning stays of 1 harvested paddy crop, hoping to seek out the farmer who had completed this.

There was no person house; the smoke doesn’t agree with most individuals, and farmers who face fines for stubble-burning at the moment are understandably weary of nosey strangers.

Other fields have been lit up too and the freeway was just about cloaked in smoke. It was like standing in a crematorium, bathed in smoke and resigned to it.

It was in rural Ludhiana the subsequent morning that we met Raspinder Singh at Sherpur Kalan. We sat round luggage of freshly harvested ragi, Raspinder’s blue kurta offering a cheery distinction to the earthy environment. “Paddy came to our fields only in the 1970s. Before we grew cotton, bajra, wheat, etc. The government encouraged us to grow a crop that largely we don’t eat,” he stated.

Raspinder’s terse abstract stands true for many of Punjab. Sherpur Kalan, and Punjab, modified to paddy; at this time over 80 p.c of villagers develop the crop and find yourself burning the stubble.

The authorities’s resolution to this rising drawback is agri-machinery, together with the Happy and Super Seeders. These straw administration machineries are backed by coverage makers in addition to agricultural establishments, with subsidies and rental schemes meant to incentivize farmers. Crop diversification and paddy straw biomass-based options like making briquettes for thermal energy crops have additionally completed the rounds.

Many in Punjab agree that by burning straw we’re losing a treasured useful resource, disrupting pure cycles and growing inputs prices too every year. Image courtesy: Indra Shekhar Singh

It’s not a really glad story for the Happy Seeders; many farmers who may afford these Rs 1.5 lakh machines have additionally made the shift away from paddy whereas the poorer ones simply can’t afford them.

Said Harinder Singh, a paddy farmer, “Diesel is nearing Rs 100 per litre and we can’t bear to run Happy-Seeder or Super-Seeders as they consume 10 litres+ per hour. I can’t even borrow a happy seeder, because that adds over Rs 1,500 to my per acre cost, and takes a lot more time,” he stated.

The solar was nicely up after we caught up with two harvester house owners busy mulching a paddy area. “It now takes Rs 2,500 per acre additionally to mulch the straw alone. And small farmers in the area can’t afford that. Our operation has really suffered,” stated Tajinder Singh, a 50-year-old harvester proprietor. Just then, puffs of milky smoke drifted upwards. Tajinder smiled at us; we felt like conspirators.

His accomplice, Gurbir Singh, spoke up, “With an average of 10 acres covered a day, two or three straw management machines per village are not enough to control the stubble problem. In a week’s time, most of this area will be up in flames.”

Most areas in Punjab are in a race in opposition to time, to reap, promote and sow the subsequent crop. But how a lot time actually? We stopped at a rural mandi in Moga. Despite a below-average paddy season, the mandi was filled with migrants from Jharkhand to Uttar Pradesh, sorting, drying, packing tonnes of paddy. “For a good wheat crop, wheat needs to be sowed before 15 November. For potato farmers even earlier. Many of these farmers spend their Diwali nights at the mandi and then race back to sow wheat,” Sukhjinder Singh Khosa advised us on the mandi.

“Instead of agri-machinery companies, farmers should be given Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) as price support against rising fuel and input costs. No farmer in Punjab wants to burn stubble,” Khosa stated.

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Another two days of chasing smoke alerts and strolling by means of charred fields received us the identical solutions: No farmer needs to burn paddy straw, however virtually none can afford alternate options. That birthed a complete new query: why would a state willingly destroy its soil, water and setting to develop paddy it doesn’t eat? What is the paddy financial system all about?

“The state and Central government only have one solution – agri machinery. But they forget that machines caused this problem. The combine harvester is also at the root of the problem,” stated veteran economist from Punjab, professor Ranjit Singh Ghuman. We spoke for hours on the paddy financial system and its penalties.

In Punjabs paddy fields Where the seeders are happy but the farmers are not

Today over 80 p.c of villagers in Punjab develop the crop and find yourself burning the stubble. Image courtesy: Indra Shekhar Singh

“Punjab is exporting water, not paddy alone. With billions of litres of water exported each year, many regions are now water scarce. Under the government’s direction paddy went from nine percent to over 85 percent of the Kharif crop area. The government cannot suddenly abandon paddy farmers now. Punjab has already paid a heavy ecological price for feeding India. Farmers have suffered too,” the professor defined.

But if the paddy farmers usually are not taking advantage of this mannequin, the place does the cash path lead? Professor Ghuman has a prepared reply: “Machinery manufacturers, the bureaucracy, and to some extent, agri-scientists are responsible for this decision. They have become a pressure group to influence the stubble-burning policy; that is why other alternatives are not being promoted.”

In the Far East a few years in the past, pure farming guru Masanobu Fukuoka had commented on paddy straw in One Straw Revolution. “Straw connects everything,” he stated, “with fertility, germination, with weeds, with keeping away sparrows and water management.” Hand chopping and mulching straw have been very important to the Fukuoka methodology. Many in Punjab agree that by burning straw we’re losing a treasured useful resource, disrupting pure cycles and growing inputs prices too every year.

But is pure/regenerative mannequin viable? Can different farmers within the area shift away from chemical farming?

Surrounded by thousand acres of paddy, Raja Sanga, a middle-aged natural small farmer, exhibits his open secret. His six-acre acre farm has wholesome stands of sugarcane and inexperienced turmeric. Yellowish paddy straw was mulched throughout the sphere and inter-planted with sugarcane, garlic, turmeric and inexperienced fennel seed. Picking up some paddy straw, Raja started, “Paddy straw is my fertilizer. My yields are comparable to any chemical farmer, plus inter-cropping helps get better incomes for my small farm.”

Straw mulching – mainly shredding the straw and mixing it again into the fields  –  through the years has turned the soil of Sanga’s farm darkish and thick, the envy of native farmers. “Once you work with nature, she helps you back. People are burning straw without realising its benefits. Industrial agriculture has destroyed our Punjab, and stubble-burning is another symptom,” he stated.

In Punjabs paddy fields Where the seeders are happy but the farmers are not

The freeway, just about cloaked in smoke, was like standing in a crematorium, bathed in smoke and resigned to it. Image courtesy: Indra Shekhar Singh

Sanga advised us concerning the Kheti Virasat Mission, and the way farmers throughout the state are reverting to natural farming. They have moved away from stubble-burning, and actually assist by decomposing extra paddy stubble on their farms.

“If the government can even provide half the needed support to organic farmers, the water, nutrition and stubble problem can be solved. Our policies should work with nature, not against her,” stated Sanga.

With Sanga’s phrases as an epitaph and prognosis, we took to the freeway. Evening had fallen, and Punjab’s paddy fields have been alight once more.

Indra Shekhar Singh is an impartial agri-policy analyst and former director – Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India. He tweets at @Indrassingh

 



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