Crop residue burning in the North-western states of India (especially Punjab and Haryana) has become a serious issue for public health, environment, and soil productivity. In November 2016, the National Capital Region (NCR) suffered the worst case of air pollution in recent years leading to over 1800 primary schools being ordered to close temporarily. In response to this, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) partnered with NITI Aayog to bring diverse stakeholders onto a common platform and design action plans for tackling air pollution in Delhi NCR. A study on crop residue burning by CII and NITI Aayog observed that the adoption of sustainable practices has been low due to a lack of awareness and a lack of positive evidence. Crop residue burning is seen as the convenient, cost-effective, and time-saving solution to remove excessive biomass production and unused straw left uncut. This is because there is a perceived lack of viable alternatives and the value chain of procurement and commercial utilisation of straw is underdeveloped, with few industrial units that procure straw. A multi-pronged strategy is required to tackle the stubble-burning problem through awareness building of farmers, upscaling of technology, financial support, rewards, and recognition.
The Crop Residue Management Initiative is part of the Cleaner Air Better Life Initiative, launched by the CII in 2018, to promote sustainable agricultural practices and reduce the conventional method of open crop residue burning in northern India. Apraava Energy in partnership with CII Foundation initiated this project in 2019, rolling it out across 6 villages of Rohtak, Sirsa and Fatehabad districts of Haryana. The initiative aims to encourage farmers to engage in both in-situ and ex-situ sustainable agricultural practices for post-harvest management of straw. Key interventions include community behaviour change, community tool banks, and community-based monitoring and counselling. The initiative has been successful in scaling from 6 villages to cover about 34 villages across 4 districts by 2020, conversing over 52,710 acres of farmland and 11,435 farmers.
The community behaviour change initiative engages village youths as volunteers through door-to-door campaigning, technical training, and farm demonstrations to bring villages together in clusters, build a collective appreciation of the issue, and motivate farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices and stop open crop residue burning. Community Tool Banks for sustainable farming are managed by farmer producer organisations, making it easier for farmers as they do not have to individually buy this equipment. This shared economy model reduces the investment needed from each farmer and has helped marginal farmers to adopt improved methods of biomass management and supporting farmers with machinery. Community-based counselling is an integral part of the project’s success as once farmers, committee members, and volunteers are counselled about the benefits of this technology and they will be convinced of its benefits and be willing to use it on their farms. The initiative aims to bring a holistic change in agricultural practices to improve the situation of crop residue burning and promote sustainable agriculture practices across the region, thereby reducing air pollution and its associated health hazards.
An impact assessment survey was conducted extensively in April and May 2021 with the support of village-level volunteers and farmer groups and have observed success in several areas.
- 89% of the intervention area remains stubble burning free: 89% of the intervention area adopted sustainable crop residue management practices.
- Enhanced water-use efficiency: Pre-sowing irrigation water requirement is eliminated with avoided burning. Also, maintenance of soil moisture by the mulch layer further enhances water-use efficiency in subsequent crops due to enhanced water-retaining capacities of soil.
- More wheat yields: Average yield of wheat increased by an average of one quintal with sustainable practices adopted as compared to burning of rice straw.
- Farm Machinery: The seven most prominent machinery combinations were identified and used by farmers at different stages of crop cultivation. Among them, soil incorporation using a super seeder after a Combine harvester is the most preferred option (36% of farmers) followed by Rotavator (22%)
- Better air quality perception among the villagers: Almost 100% of the farmers in the intervention villages agreed that the air quality was either the same or better as compared to 2020-21.
Apart from improving local and regional air quality, the elimination of stubble burning after rice paddy harvest has also contributed to other far-reaching impacts across various intersectionalities. These impacts include enhancing general mobility and higher attendance at school and work, facilitating outdoor activities, and improving people’s perception of air quality. Most importantly, the project has benefited the environment and health. Burning crop residues has significant impacts on air quality and health. Fine particulate matter emissions (2.5 μm or PM2.5) are the most critical as they can penetrate peoples’ lungs and enter the bloodstream. They absorb sun rays and alter temperature and precipitation patterns, and have the potential to cause acidification when deposited in water bodies and soil. Furthermore, they can travel across large distances within days, causing environmental and health impacts at local, regional, and global scales.
|Straw managed from being burnt||117280 tonnes|
|Avoided Air Quality Impacts*||Fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)||498.7 tonnes|
|Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)||607.1 tonnes|
|Ammonia (NH3)||355.6 tonnes|
|Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx)||169.1 tonnes|
|Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)||25.2 tonnes|
|Avoided Global Warming Impacts*||Carbon Dioxide (CO2)||105.8 kilotonnes|
|Methane (CH4)||832.6 tonnes|
|Black Carbon (BC)||55.5 tonnes|
* Source: CII-CESD analysis based on emission factors from Shrestha et al (2012)
This project has safeguarded the environment and health of many individuals by preventing the emissions of air pollutants. As shown in the table above, the project successfully reduced the emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and secondary aerosols (VOCs, NH3, NOx, and SO2), which also minimised secondary particle pollution in the region. Additionally, the project has been effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, and BC) including an estimated reduction of 105.8 kilotonnes of CO2. In particular, 832.6 tonnes of methane and 55.5 tonnes of black carbon have also been avoided – both of which contribute to climate change. Overall, this project has made a significant contribution to protecting the environment and promoting public health by reducing harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the long run, this process causes an increase in the soil’s organic carbon and this helps to substitute chemical fertilisers which will in turn reduce the overall farm input costs. Since the use of this technology does away with burning, the requirement for pre-sowing irrigation is eliminated. Also, maintenance of soil moisture by the mulch layer further leads to enhanced water-use efficiency in subsequent crops due to enhanced water-retaining capacities of soil. Use of these methods also shows a yield increase, reduction in diesel consumption – all this making farming more sustainable and climate resilient, and adding to additional Carbon Mitigation & Sequestration potential.
 Data collection and impact report for 2022 has yet to be published.