How to get farmers to not burn crop residue

Synopsis: Steps to be taken to push famers away from resorting to stubble burning

Introduction

Farmers across northern India burn stubble to clear fields for the winter wheat sowing season. It is both a health and an environmental hazard that repeats every year. A 2018 Lancet study reported this as the number one reason for premature deaths in India.

Why farmers across northern India resort to stubble burning?

One, Short interval for field clearing and sowing of winter crops.

Two, financially strapped farmers often can’t afford other methods of crop residue management.

Despite government interventions why farmers continue the practice of stubble burning?

First, farmers perceive the alternatives to burning as too expensive, even though the central government has subsidised equipment for crop residue management. For them, the subsidies have not changed the calculus that moving away from burning hurts their bottom line.

Second, farmers state a preference for ex-situ management equipment such as balers over in-situ machinery such as the Happy Seeder and the Super SMS. They prefer to remove the paddy stubble from the field rather than working it into the field.

Third, pertains to the best format of cash transfers. It was critical to offer some of the payment upfront. Cash rewards worked only if a portion of the payment was given at the beginning. Partial upfront payment builds trust. Without it, farmers do not trust that they will get the promised payment afterwards. It also gives farmers some financial cushion given they need to pay for the equipment rental.

What is the way forward?

First, the government could restart conditional cash payments. Our study shows that this strategy can work, if the policy is designed correctly.

Second, the government can subsidise ex-situ equipment such as biogas plants. This could reduce the net cost of ex-situ management because farmers can sell the crop residue also it encourages innovation.

Lastly, the rewards farmers are offered need to cover their costs of managing stubble without burning. Based on studies, as, a subsidy of about Rs 2,500 per acre should be able to achieve a marked reduction in burning.

Source: This post is based on the article “How to get farmers to not burn crop residue” published in “Indian Express” on 12th October 2021.

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