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Beyond Blaming Farmers, A Stubble Burning Solution by IIT Ropar

By: Shamita Harsh

Tired of blaming farmers for burning stubble and the subsequent pollution that chokes northern parts of India? A group of researchers at IIT Ropar bring a stubble removal machine that can probably help pave the way for a more sustainable solution for the harvest season’s menace- stubble burning. 

“So this crop residue is a big problem. This is creating a lot of environmental problems and health hazards to the people of India.” comments Prof. Harpreet Singh, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Ropar. He is one of the Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PI) at the Stubble Removing Machine Project designed by IIT Ropar in Punjab. The reason why there is a need to have a solution in the first place is the huge amount of crop residue being left unattended on the fields. 

There is about 500 million tonnes of crop residue in India and nowhere to go, out of which 92 million tonnes is being burnt in fields every year, according to Ministry of New & Renewable Energy – Government of India 

Dr Prabir Sarkar the Principal Investigator (PI) of the project at IIT Ropar states the various harms of stubble burning, “When the farmers burn stubble in the land in one acre of land, it creates about 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 120 kgs of carbon monoxide, 66 kgs of particulate matter along with other emissions. Burning of stubble also makes us lose good nutrients in the soil.” 

The Associate Professor working in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Roparlead his team from village to village trying to gauge the reason behind the farmer’s choice for burning huge amounts of stubble. Born out of their research was a stubble burning solution- a stubble reduction machine. The machine took three months to develop. 

IIT Ropar bring a stubble removal machine

“Farmers are even ready to wait for two days after the harvesting is done. Many of them are even willing to pay Rs. 500- Rs. 1000 per acre for cleaning the stubble.” says Dr Prabir Sarkar.

Evidently, rice cultivation produces a lot of crop residue or stubble. While wheat stubble can be used as fodder, rice stubble can’t because of its high silicon content. With no other options available, farmers resort to burning it.

“One of the major bottlenecks is the collection of this residue from the fields in an efficient and timely manner. That’s where this machine comes in and is designed to collect the residue very efficiently and in a timely manner.” says Prof. Harpreet

Only one person is required to operate this machine which can be booked through an Android app by the farmers ahead of the harvest season. Costing around ₹3 lakh, the team working in the Department of Mechanical Engineering is ready to share the technology with private industries for large-scale manufacturing, provided the government asks it to do so.

farmer-friendly machine

Dr Prabir explains the functionalities of the farmer-friendly machine, “You have to mount it on a tractor trolley, the machine can then chop off the stubble, up to a few centimeters from the ground. Automatically, it loads the residue into the trolley without any manpower. This saves labour cost and cuts down diesel expenses, which are the two main concerns of state farmers who indulge in stubble burning. Once removed from the field, the stubble can then be managed easily. The residue can be repurposed for manure, crafts and making boats.”

He has one single plea to make to the farmers, their community and anyone listening- “Lots of things are possible for the stubble, we don’t need to burn it. Please let’s just stop burning stubble.”

Could we see a second farming revolution in India, one that solves stubble burning? 

(The first-ever International Day for Clean Air and Blue Skies is on 7th September 2020. We’re collecting voices on issues such as air pollution, stubble burning, vehicular emissions, cycling from all parts of India. This is your chance to share your story with us!)

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 

Shamita Harsh

Shamita Harsh

Shamita Harsh is a Digital Video Producer. Her previous stints include the role of an Academic Associate at Indian Institute of Mass Communication and producing multimedia reports as a Video Creator at The Indian Express. When she isn’t training budding journalists, she prefers to spend her time behind the camera, telling stories.

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