Workshop on rice-straw burning in India
In December 2016 MUSTS researchers organised a workshop with farmers, activists and policy makers on the issue of rice-straw burning in Punjab, India. This burning of rice straw does not only cause enormous air pollution and damage to farmers’ health, but also depletes the soil from nutrients and wastes valuable biomass.
The following is from the press release:
Straw burning is a much more serious problem than just being seen as adding to air pollution. The impact on soil health is a major concern, especially in states like Punjab and Haryana which are already reeling under the fallout of intensive agriculture, concluded an international conference that ended here today.
“This conference organised as part of a Maastricht University research project on Responsible Research and Innovation has been exploring all facets to the issue of straw-burning. We are also dialoguing with all important stakeholders so that a comprehensive understanding of the issue could emerge, and also a multiplicity of sustainable solutions. It is clear that farmers, state and central governments, regulators, scientists of different disciplines, technology providers, social businesses and others have an important role to play here, to resolve the problem. One of the main things that emerged was that given that soil health has to be revived too, the problem of straw burning can be converted into an opportunity for ensuring that biomass goes back in direct and indirect ways to get back to reviving soil life”, said Prof Wiebe Bijker, professor of science, technology and society studies in Maastricht University, The Netherlands.
The Seminar was jointly organised by Maastricht University with Kheti Virasat Mission and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad. It brought together more than 40 participants including farmers (including organic farmers and representatives of large farmer unions), academics, scientists, bankers, social entrepreneurs and others.
Devinder Sharma, noted agriculture policy analyst said, “The problem of straw burning is indeed a serious one and is related to monocultures and mechanisation that came with Green Revolution. However, it is clear that criminalising farmers and depending mainly on punitive action is not going to solve the problem. Governments have a responsibility of engaging farmers in serious dialogue in understanding and resolving the problem”. Kavitha Kuruganti of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) added: “We also need the governments to invest on several pilots since some grassroots solutions are seen to be emerging, both in terms of farm level practices and community level bio-gas plants etc. Special incentives are required for cultivation of pulses, oilseeds and similar other crops on a per acre basis”.
Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission, one of the organisers, added: “we find that none of the organic farmers in Punjab and Haryana indulge in straw burning and promotion of organic farming itself is a sustainable solution to the problem. MNREGS should be used and innovative pilots like Food Security Army as set up in Kerala can be deployed here”.
It was also decided to hold a dialogue with leaders of farmer unions from Punjab to find a solution and also to engage the farmer organisations in educating fellow farmers on sustainable practices that do not lead to stubble burning. Participants also visited a Bahalwar Pur village in Patiala district on Monday to have a dialogue with farmers about the problem of stubble burning and the consequences emanating.
The recommendations emerging from this international seminar would be presented to the Punjab State Pollution Control Board as well as the State Government.
Wiebe Bijker, Govert Valkenburg, Annapurna Mamidipudi, Poonam Pandey, Rachna Arora and Ragna Zeiss investigate alternatives for this burning of rice straw in the Responsible production of biogas in India project.