Lesson learnt, Madhya Pradesh village shuns stubble burning

Lesson learnt, Madhya Pradesh village shuns stubble burning

Lesson learnt, Madhya Pradesh village shuns stubble burning

After a massive fire triggered by stubble leads to loss of life and property in 2019, Panjara Kalan village adopts early ploughing to prepare the field for the next crop cycle   

Narmadapuram, Madhya Pradesh: As the wheat harvest season (March-April) ends, small fires billowing black smoke become a common sight across farmlands in north and central India. The concern of rising particulate matter draws everyone’s attention and the administration sounds alerts and issues orders discouraging stubble burning, but in vain.

First Information Reports (FIRs) are registered and forgotten and the same cycle repeats everywhere, except in Panjara Kalan village where farmers have jointly decided to not burn stubble to get the farm ready for the next sowing season.

Located in Narmadapuram district of Madhya Pradesh, wisdom dawned on Panjara Kalan by accident. In April 2019, a massive fire triggered by stubble burning engulfed thousands of acres of farmland spread over 30 villages. Four persons, including three from Panjara Kalan, died and 25 others suffered injuries.

The fire destroyed crops ready for harvest, motor pumps and agricultural equipment. Farm animals were charred to death. The intensity of the blaze was such that even 50 fire tenders could not extinguish it. Soon after the incident, the village residents decided to never set farm residue on fire. It has been four years and the farmers have kept their promise.

“Milch animals chew on stubble. The leftovers get mixed with soil when we plough the fields. This practice enhances the fertility of topsoil as decomposing stubble increases nutrient value,” says Jaiprakash Patel, a farmer and former member of Krishi Upaj Mandi.

He says farmers were aware of the ill effects of stubble burning before as well, but did not pay much attention since it helped prepare the land for the next planting season without any extensive manual labour or expensive machinery.

While the Green Revolution led to significant increase in crop yields and food production, it also led to the introduction of new crop varieties with shorter growing cycles. That meant farmers had less time to clear and prepare the fields for the next crop. Thus, stubble burning emerged as a quick and cost-effective method to dispose of crop residue.

Moong crop in the farms of Panjara Kalan (Photo - Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)

Knowing this well, the district administration always tried to deter farmers by reminding them about the FIRs. But nobody bothered about it. According to farmers, proof of stubble burning is needed to present the challan before court. The government in Punjab uses satellite imaging to track farm fires, but there is no such mechanism in Madhya Pradesh, so there is no accurate system to monitor it in the state. This can be gauged from the fact that the number of FIRs registered for stubble burning is negligible.

Farmers are the real force behind Panjara Kalan’s decision to stop the practice. Neither the gram panchayat nor any private organisation played a role in it. The fields anyway have to be ploughed before the next crop is launched, hence no extra cost is involved. The only difference is they do it early now and it will require a little more effort to plough than when it was done after burning the stubble.

According to a report of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 21,157 incidents of stubble burning were reported from January to June this year. April recorded the highest at 16,101, as this is the month when farmers harvest wheat crop and clean their fields for sowing moong crop.

According to figures from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Madhya Pradesh Farmer Welfare and Agriculture Development Department, 49,482 cases were reported in 2020, with 28,855 reported from January to May alone. In the first five months of 2021, as many as 26,515 cases were reported. From July 2022 to June 2023, 33,122 cases were reported.

Under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, and as per the instructions of the National Green Tribunal, burning of residues in the fields after harvesting crops, especially paddy and wheat, has been banned in the state. If a farmer burns stubble, it is considered to be a violation of Section 19(1) of the Act.

The violator will have to pay environmental compensation or fine amount as per the notification provision for burning weeds or crop residue. Small farmers with less than two acres of land will have to pay a fine of Rs 2,500 per incident. Those with two to five acres will have to pay Rs 5,000 per violation. Farmers having more than five acres will have to pay a fine of Rs 15,000 per incident.

RN Sikarwar, Sub-Divisional Agricultural Extension Officer, Narmadapuram block, is happy with the way farmers have raised awareness among themselves. “There was a time when farmers needed to be told repeatedly to not set stubble afire. Even then such incidents did not stop. This effort made in Panjara Kalan will bring more positive results in the coming days,” he says.

What Vinod Parsai, Rural Agricultural Extension Officer of Narmadapuram block, found most inspiring was that nearby villages have adopted the Panjara Kala model. “Barodya Khurd, Nimsadiya, Jasalpur, Raipur, Bandrabhan, Raisalpur, Jomwada, Rajodia, Horiyapipar, Kulamdi, Pathodi and Pawarkheda have followed suit. The agriculture department has also been motivating farmers not to set the fields on fire. We conducted kisan khet pathshalas at the panchayat level by involving farmers.”

Sanjeev Verma, Senior Agricultural Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Pawarkheda tells 101Reporters that farmers have worked collectively to prevent fire, and it is time they stepped up their efforts to produce manure from stubble. “The straw mixed with soil from deep ploughing will be converted into manure when it rains. If farmers could use biodigester, stubble will turn into manure within a month's time. In any case, fire should not be lit as it not only affects our health but also reduces production during the next crop cycle,” he says.

Panjara Kalan youth Abhishek Barele says the no-fire decision has saved the trees in the village, too. "The trees on the edge of the fields caught fire or their leaves wilted when stubble burning was prevalent here," he says. 

Sanjay Dewan, a farmer leader of the area, highlights the gains made. Stubble burning releases a significant amount of smoke, particulate matter, and gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and other volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. These pollutants lead to poor air quality and respiratory health issues.

“The release of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane, contributes to global warming and climate change. Stubble burning also removes organic matter from the fields. It can cause soil erosion and reduce its ability to retain moisture, thus influencing agricultural productivity and long-term soil health. It also destroys habitats of beneficial insects, birds and small mammals,” Dewan explains.

Besides keeping the promise of not burning stubble, the villagers also have equipped themselves to firefight in case of a calamity. Farmers complain that electric sparks from overhead power lines sometimes trigger fire when it falls on dry husk during the post-harvest season. “We have decided to approach the Madhya Pradesh Madhya Kshetra Vidyut Vitaran Company to find a solution,” says Dilip Kumar, a farmer.

“We have a desi fire brigade in place. We installed a motor on a public tank to pump water and can spray it to a certain distance. It kind of works like a fire tender,” says Jaiprakash.

In case of a fire, it is controlled with the help of this tanker and pressure pump (Photo - Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)

“The villagers collected around Rs 40,000 to set up a desi fire unit. All farmers have the mobile numbers of sarpanch and secretary, who can be contacted in case of a fire,” says farmer Neelendra Patel.

Panjara Kalan sarpanch Raju Choure says if the panchayat’s financial condition is good, it will try to buy a low-cost fire brigade in future.  

Edited by Tanya Shrivastava

Cover photo - A farmer extinguishing the fire with water pump (Photo - Pooja Yadav, 101Reporters)



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