22 Oct 2021
Unhappy farmers and unpopular seeder machines are leading to continued stubble burning – suggests CEEW study
Farmers in Punjab may not be using seeder machines to their full potential and therefore stubble burning continues to be a vicious yearly phenomenon in the state. Not only has the popularity of Happy seeder machines decreased among the farmers but also a rise in fuel prices has led to the  increase in their operational […]

Farmers in Punjab may not be using seeder machines to their full potential and therefore stubble burning continues to be a vicious yearly phenomenon in the state. Not only has the popularity of Happy seeder machines decreased among the farmers but also a rise in fuel prices has led to the  increase in their operational costs, suggested the findings of Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a top not-for-profit independent policy research institution of the country in it’s recent study.

The study was conducted by interviewing stakeholders such as officials from the Department of Agriculture, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, operators of Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) and representatives from farm unions across 17 districts to capture varying perspectives on the issue. As per the CEEW report, the study also aims to support the Punjab government in identifying pitfalls in the existing policy landscape and ensuring timely access to crop residue management options to farmers.

Crop residue management has been a major issue in Punjab which has been said to be the reason for degradation of air quality in the Delhi and NCR regions. Over the years, several solutions have been prescribed by not only the state government but major research institutions in the country. 

Happy seeder and super seeder machines have been found to be the most convenient solution for the same. Punjab government has also stated that the use of such machines not only manages the crop residue i.e. stubble in case of paddy farming but also increases the crop production. 

What is a Happy Seeder?

Happy Seeder (HS) or Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) is a tractor-operated machine developed by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in collaboration with Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), for in-situ management of paddy stubble (straw).

As per a report by The Indian Express, after harvesting the paddy field using a combined harvester fitted with Super-SMS (Straw Management System) equipment, which chops and evenly spreads the stubble in the field, farmers can directly sow wheat seeds using Happy Seeder with the stubble’s organic value adding to the soil, says PAU.

Happy Seeders and Super seeder machines have been seen as a method to discontinue stubble burning slowly and gradually. However, the machine has not become popular enough in the area due to various reasons.

As per the CEEW research, “If deployed at full capacity, existing in-situ crop residue management machines like happy seeders & super seeders can manage up to 66% of the total area under non-basmati paddy, in 2021. But their adoption is limited and utilisation remains inefficient.”

In the state Sangrur district has the maximum number of happy and super seeders, followed by Muktsar, Bathinda, and Mansa, the report mentions. 

Moreover, the report mentions that Punjab has seen a dramatic increase in the deployment of in-situ crop residue management. By 2020, Punjab had established 19,834 Custom Hiring Centres and deployed 76,626 crop residue management (CRM) machines, including 13,316 happy seeders and 17,697 super seeders.

The report suggests various reason for less popularity of the seeder machines:

  • The rental/custom hiring model of machines is picking pace but logistical challenges and behavioural issues are keeping it from reaching its full potential.
  • Farmers rely on local networks to access the rental model and lack awareness about the union government’s FARMS app for online rentals.
  • The rising fuel prices have increased the operational cost of the happy and super seeders by 8 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. This can dampen the popularity of these machines. 

The other reasons:

Other reasons mentioned in the report for continued stubble burning in the state include, less diversified farming in the area. The report states that paddy continues to dominate Punjab’s Kharif crop mix despite years of effort to diversify crops.

“Against the state’s 2021 diversification target of 3.25 lakh hectares under cotton, 5.37 lakh hectares under basmati, and 1.50 lakh hectares under maize, the state could only achieve 3.04 lakh hectares for cotton, 4.85 lakh hectares for basmati, and 1.26 lakh hectares for maize,” said the report. 

Presently, the area under paddy cultivation in Punjab during the Kharif season in 2021 is 30.66 lakh hectares, which is only 2.6 per cent lower than 31.49 lakh hectares in 2020.

Area under the age-old late-maturing PUSA 44 variety, which has a high straw load of paddy, has declined considerably. However, it is still a dominant variety at least in the districts where burning is frequent and could be another major reason for continuous stubble burning.

Key Recommendations of the report:

  • Ensure that crop residue management (CRM) machines that are to be provided this year are handed over well before the commencement of the residue burning season.
  • Engage with relevant stakeholders to popularise the custom hiring centre (CHC) model and dispel the misconceptions about the use and impact of options such as the happy seeder.
  • Use social networking platforms such as text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, and others to share the details of the CHCs at the block level to increase their reach beyond their immediate social networks. 
  • Provide financial assistance to farmers, who use CRM machines, in order to compensate for the increase in operational cost of these machines vis-à-vis the rising fuel prices.
  • Study the effectiveness of the PUSA decomposer extensively in Punjab. Farmers should be made aware of its efficacy both in terms of managing crop residue and reducing costs.
  • Ensure that all the existing ex-situ end-users are operating at their maximum capacity. In addition, the government must ensure that the plants that were or are to be commissioned this year initiate biomass procurement and storage well in advance.

Stubble burning has been a cause of concern for not only the residents of Delhi NCR but also the governments over the years. Misconceptions about the innovations such as seeder machines lead to continuing the process of stubble burning. The government and farmers both need to gear up to implement solutions suggested by various agencies before it is too late.

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