ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Crop Residue Burning

A Case for On-farm Usage of Crop Residue

A response to “Crop Residue Burning: Solutions Marred by Policy Confusion” (Sucha Singh Gill, EPW, 8 September 2018) discusses how in situ utilisation of crop residue is not only the best option, but also a feasible one, evident in the practices of organic farmers of even Haryana and Punjab, where residue burning is the most prevalent. Off-farm usage of crop residue may be better than burning as it addresses the issue of air pollution, but it is only the second-best option as it leads to soil fertility depletion.

The article Crop Residue Burning: Solutions Marred by Policy Confusion (EPW, 8 September 2018) by Sucha Singh Gill focuses on comparisons between various off-farm usages of crop residue, particularly paddy straw. It brushes aside on-farm usage of straw as unviable without doing a detailed analysis. Courts, governments, and the society have woken up to the hazards of crop residue burning because the practice has reached such proportions that it is causing large-scale air pollution. Gill also mainly focuses on pollution caused by crop residue burning. But, is the air pollution caused by crop residue burning the main hazard associated with the practice? Going by the fact that crop residue burning has been ignored till the air pollution issue became serious, it would appear to be so, but that is not true.

The main problem with crop residue burning is that it is damaging to the soil and, hence, to farming and farmers themselves. By burning crop residue, not only do the nutrients that could be recycled and restored to the soil go waste, the subsoil microbial life is also killed off. Subsoil microbial life is the real basis of soil fertility and a spoonful of topsoil could have millions of microorganisms of various kinds. While these microorganisms are so tiny that they are not visible to the naked eye, it was reported in the early 1960s that their weight in the top one foot of soil on one acre of land could go up to 1,000 pounds (~450 kg) (Carson 1962: 43). One does not know the latest figure because constant chemicalisation of farming has been killing off this microbial life continuously, as reflected in the declining organic carbon content of soil. Given increasing reliance on external inputs, intrinsic soil healthincluding soil biology and soil physicshas been neglected. But, this neglect has been at a huge cost to the farm economy.

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Published On : 23rd Nov, 2018

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