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Stop Burning of Hay Straw will uplift the Rural Economy

By N. Munal Meitei

In absence of viable industries, agriculture is the main occupation in Manipur. Agriculture shares the major part of our state’s domestic product and provides employment up to 22.13% (2011 census) of the total work force. About 80% of the state total populations are engaged in agriculture and allied activity. Out of 22,327 sq.km geographical area of the state, only 12.98% is used for cultivation and 52% of it is confined in the valley and the rest in the hills. The total cultivated area of about 289500 ha, which is about 82% of the gross cropped areas is utilize for paddy cultivation. The people living in the hills also practice Jhum cultivation.
In Manipur, harvesting normally started during mid-October to November-end and now the peak season starts on. A rough estimate based on the grain to straw ratio showed from Punjab and Haryana, with rice production of 24.1 million tons during 2011-13 it generated about 35.6 million tons of straw. In Manipur, the average rice yield is as high as 3.2 to 3.6 tons per ha or pari and thus the subsequent hay stubble production is about 5.7 tons per ha. Therefore, our state produced 13,53,123 tons of hay stubble annually.
In the past few years we have seen that almost all the hay stubbles are burnt down just after harvesting in our state. Such were not done in the past. People used to collect all the hay straw and stacked in their homesteads for fodder and other purposes. But now rearing of cattle are almost nil. While properly disbursing the hay straw over the field for better decomposition, it takes more labour and wages. People also have less knowledge on the environment impact from stubble burning. Thus, burning in heap up at the harvesting site itself is commonly carried out as the easiest and cheapest method for the cultivators.
One very wrong perception among the cultivators is the hay stubble infected by aphid (wahik) should be burnt as a precautionary measure. This is a wrong conception because haystraw has nothing to do with the wahik infestation on the current year crop and the next year crop. In aphid’s life cycle, they can’t hide up in the hay stubble up to the next year.
On the 27th October, this year’s Diwali night, many areas in Delhi recorded an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 999, beyond which reading is not possible, but the national prescribed limit is 60. With people celebrating Diwali with crackers and fireworks, toxic fumes once again made the capital city a gas chamber. Truly, this was not due to the Diwali alone but was the continuous stubble burning in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana over the past few days. The average AQI of the capital region has shoot up 484 which as per CPCB, beyond 400 is ‘severe’ and the current situation is “severe plus category” that can affect even the healthy people and seriously impacted those with chronic diseases. Thus, the schools in Delhi and NCR were closed up to the 5th November and enforcement of odd-even scheme for vehicular traffic is also in bid to curb the air pollution. As per the wind direction, the next victims will be the cities in U.P. and Bihar.
National Green Tribunal directs all state governments to take up for coercive and punitive action to the violators of stubble burning. The penalties are; farmers with below 2 acres land while on burning have to pay Rs. 2500, 2 to 5 acres for Rs. 5000 and more than 5 acres for Rs. 15000/- as the environmental compensation. But the sad part is the farmers still burnt the field and prefer to pay the fines because paying fines save them than to keep the NGT norms and also there is less time gap for starting the next Rabi crops. Therefore, it is important to diagnose and address the fundamental problems that force the farmers to burn the paddy straw on the field without obeying the NGT guidelines in the national interest.
How to uplift the rural economy
While on stubble burning, the loss of nutrients per ha amounts to 339 kg Nitrogen, 6 kg Phosphorous, 140 kg Potassium and 11 kg Sulphur and many more soil beneficial nutrients. Therefore, with this rate, the total loss of nutrients in Manipur would be around 80.50 million tons N2, 1.42 million tons P, 33.22 million tons K and 2.61 million tons of Sulphur per annum. It is a big loss of valuable nutrients and we could save them if we stop burning of hay straw.
The amount of greenhouse gases emitted, when 1 ton of hay straw is burnt are 2 kg of SO2, 60kg CO, 4-7 kg CH4, 1460 kg of CO2, 3 kg particulate matters, and 199 kg of ash. These are the pollutants that hamper the climate which have hindered us in our agriculture this year. At the same time, if we could allow them to decompose without burning somewhere at a corner of the paddy field, preferably at the most elevated part of the field, then the soil could get back 125- 136 kg nitrogen, 2.28-3.8 kg phosphorus, 53-56 kg potassium and 3.8-4.56 kg sulphur from the hay straw of 1 acre paddy field. While comparing the loss of food grain from the area occupied by the hay straw and the quantity of nutrient supplied back from the hay straw, it is a huge economic gain. Thus, the total nutrients saving in Manipur would be around 113.6 million tons of NPKS per annum.
Burning also takes a tool on beneficial micro-organisms and other small creatures such as earthworms which help to enrich the soil.
M.S. Swaminathan, the father of green revolution in India, said stubble can be used to make cardboard, paper and other products. Paddy straw enriched with urea and molasses is a wonderful animal feed as is successfully practicing in Myanmar. Now, the state government may decide to establish the industries which utilize the hay stubble for various purposes, like producing ethanol, paper and packaging material, including manufacturing of boards, rough paper and fodder. 
The other method involves use of hay straw for biomass energy plants to generate electricity. In Punjab, seven such plants have been built and six more are in the pipeline. In Manipur also, we need to go for such electricity generating plants. It will surely reduce the social impacts and also will minimize the local unemployment problems.
Rearing of goat is another option, because goat preferred the hay straw and can digest without a problem. The goat meat and milk are costlier and has high demand in market. Goat reproduces 3 to 6 kids at a time and the maturity is much faster than other calves. The goats are hardier and less prone to diseases also. Therefore we may encourage large scale goat farming in our state.
To tackle straw burning, we may use Seeders machines which can putt the straw back into the earth to enhance the soil nutrients. Rice harvested with machines has better crushed and are easy to put inside the soil. The soil health is our future life. While burning the heap up stubble near to the trees along the roadside after harvesting also kill the valuable plants.
Hay straws are very useful moisture retention blankets which when properly uses can enhance the germination and plant growth. While using the decompose hay straw in the field, ploughing of the soil is easier and takes less time and cost.
Mushroom cultivation also known as Protein cultivation on hay straw is one of the most prospective ecofriendly practices both to fight the malnutrition and environmental pollution due to stubble burning in Manipur. Rice straw contains 41% cellulose, 14% lignin, 0.8% nitrogen, 0.25% P2O5, 0.3% K2O, 6% SiO2 and with pH 6.9.
Since mushroom being one of the most preferred foods in Manipur, its cultivation is a profitable agro-industrial activity. It could have greater economic and social impact in our state by generating income and employment for both women and youth, particularly in rural areas. The stubble residue after mushroom cultivation can also be used in agricultural field.
In a sample study, the total cost for construction of a controlled environment mushroom production center is about Rs. 48,000 while the total selling cost of the harvested mushroom is found to be Rs.13,900 as compared to the production cost of Rs. 9,950 and thus, making a profit of Rs. 3,950. In the subsequent productions, the profit realized would be higher. There are also many high yielding mushroom verities in the market now and if we go for them, then more profits could be fetched. 
Therefore let’s not burn the stubble but utilize it to uplift our rural economy and to save the environment for the sake of our future generation.

***The writer can be reached at Email:- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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