Crop Residue Management Program
New Delhi: Crop Residue Management – Every winter, a heavy pollution cloud covers the National Capital Region of India, home to millions of people. And every winter, the conversation turns to the custom of farmers in the neighbouring northern provinces, who burn the freshly harvested rice stubbles to prepare the field for planting wheat during the Rabi season.
ITC Limited, a multi-business conglomerate, has been working on a comprehensive farm-based initiative in the Punjabi region of Kapurthala that has continuously shown a beneficial impact, benefiting all parties involved.
ITC launched this farm-based programme in Kapurthala District in 2018 as a component of its social investment intervention known as “ITC Mission Sunhera Kal” with the aim of increasing farmer incomes while also assisting in the efficient management of crop residue with minimal negative environmental effects. Since the intervention’s debut in 46 villages covering 18,760 acres, it has expanded to 4 blocks of the district, encompassing over 465 villages covering 1,83 lakh acres, and has benefited more than 15,900 farmers.
By assisting in the tracking and supervision of stubble burning methods, this technology will enhance and streamline the programme even further. Identifying regions where stubble burning is performed and those where it is not, creating a thorough map based on the information, and taking additional corrective action are the objectives.
“The intervention has successfully shown up to a 25% increase in farmers’ revenue. Through the use of direct seeding for rice and zero tillage sowing for wheat, respectively, this climate smart approach has also resulted in up to 25% water savings in paddy and wheat crops. Due to the initiative, 89.7% of the targeted area had no stubble burning. ITC has set a goal to cover 2 lakh acres of paddy land for its crop residue management programme in the current year 2022–2023.”
The practice of burning crop waste as a phenomena didn’t emerge until the 1990s, when farmers began using combine harvesters instead of hand harvesters to harvest their rice crops, which always left a 15–30 cm stubble on the ground. The practice of burning stubble was developed because there was only a three-week window between the harvest of rice and the sowing of wheat, making it nearly impossible for the stalk to break down naturally.
Farmers have been hesitant to convert to alternate methods out of concern that any delay in sowing wheat will lower its output.
The majority of farmers still burn their stubble in spite of incentives and fine threats. A different strategy was necessary for the effort. ITC made the decision to collaborate with all stakeholders in order to address the problem holistically after empowering 4 million farmers over the course of its decades-long involvement in Indian agriculture.
After conducting a thorough investigation on the ground, ITC discovered that farmers were hesitant to switch to more environmentally friendly practices, mainly because they believed that burning the stalks was the quickest and least expensive way to start the following crop season and that any alternative would disrupt their way of life.
Crop Residue Management
ITC was eager to make a difference and resolve this pressing issue that was harming both the environment and people’s quality of life in an equitable and sustainable manner. ITC believed that the program’s success lay in persuading farmers of its concrete economic benefits rather than focusing only on the environmental challenges. This belief was supported by its work with a large number of stakeholders and farmer-beneficiaries across the country for its groundbreaking sustainability interventions spanning water stewardship, forestry, biodiversity, climate smart and sustainable agriculture.
Following the Company’s extensive consultation with numerous top farmers, scientists, NGOs, and government organizations, it was discovered that farmers would only switch to alternative practises if the solution provided them with greater value than stubble burning in terms of increased yield and productivity.
After completing the feasibility study, ITC started an integrated programme with three goals: increasing farmer incomes, extending the window between paddy harvest and wheat sowing, and effectively utilizing crop residue. Gaining the trust and confidence of farmers required year-round interaction rather than just during the rice harvest.
To address the issue, two crucial technologies were introduced. In order to improve soil moisture and nutrients, ITC first introduced a Super Straw Management System that reduces harvested straw to less than 5 centimetres, or roughly one-third the size of previous stubbles. The residue is then spread on fields. The Happy Seeder equipment was also introduced, allowing rows of wheat to be planted on the blanket of rice stubble.
Resources and information acquired through the new practices were used to create a smart Package of Practices for the use of seed, water, and nutrients while enhancing weather resistance. The outcomes were incredibly positive. In addition to using less water, the direct seeding method for rice lengthened the interval between rice harvest and wheat sowing by 15 days.
Wheat varieties with short growing seasons and higher yields significantly reduced the burden. Farmers were fortunate to avoid having to turn to stubble burning thanks to the combination of the expanded time window and economic benefits.