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Collaborative Action to Tackle Air Pollution

11 Sep 2020

Air quality in the Delhi-NCR region worsens dramatically during the post monsoon season every year. Its sources include vehicular and industrial emissions, dust and emissions from burning of garbage dumps. Seasonal pollution abetting activities such as farm stubble burning in adjoining states is also a major contributor.

In such a situation, it becomes imperative for the industry and society-at-large to collaborate and work to help tackle the air pollution crisis while promoting economic growth prospects and building livelihoods.

The CII initiative with the farmer community in Punjab and Haryana offers some encouraging evidence and presents a model for way forward. By introducing circular economy principles in farming, in 2019, supported by the initiative, 105 villages in Punjab and Haryana became free of open field stubble burning by 93%. Local air pollution reduced significantly. Over 20,000 farmers participated and benefited through improved farming outcomes and numerous other associated ecosystem services.

The Issue of Burning Crop Residue Burning of stubble is a widespread and deeply entrenched farming practice in the North Western India. An estimated 39 million tonnes of farm biomass is burnt in the region every year (as per CII and NITI Aayog estimates 2018). Open field burning is perceived as a quick and cost-effective way of preparing the fields in the limited time window between rice harvesting and wheat sowing cycles. This deteriorates air quality across the entire Indo-Gangetic region, damages soil health and farm ecology in the long haul, thereby putting a dent in farmers’ net return.

CII Crop Residue Management (CRM) Project: A Multi-stakeholder CSR Initiative

Implemented under the umbrella of the Cleaner Air, Better Life Initiative, the Crop Residue Management initiative is catalysing behaviour change among farmers towards adoption of suitable technologies for improved crop residue management. The issue was studied in detail by CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development (CESD) in partnership with NITI Aayog. A pilot project was initiated by CII Foundation in 2018 in 19 villages of Punjab covering 16,000 acres of farmland, which presented encouraging results, with 80% farmers adopting the new technologies and 75% of the farmland becoming stubble burning free in the programme villages. In 2019, the initiative widened its scope covering 147 villages across 6 districts of Punjab (Ludhiana, Patiala, and Barnala) and Haryana (Sirsa, Fatehabad, and Rohtak). Out of this, 105 villages were adopted completely (involving 1,03,500 acres farmland, and 20,000 farmers) with the objective of making them stubble burning free, whereas in 42 villages, demonstration of improved straw management practice was undertaken involving select progressive farmers (186 farmers, 2,820 acres farmland).

Volunteerism and Behaviour Change 

CII Foundation worked closely with the farmers and farmer co-operatives, engaged local stakeholders through door-to-door campaigns, street plays, village meetings, rallies, etc. Village Gurudwaras played key role in spreading awareness in the community and school children participated in awareness drives in large numbers. 12,400 children were involved in these awareness drives and 100 community volunteers were trained and engaged. Nigrani Committees (participatory monitoring mechanism involving the village level volunteers) were developed before the stubble burning season. The volunteers visited every farmer and offered them technical support.

Catalysing Technology Adoption for Transformation 

Under the project, farmers were encouraged to use in situ machines in farming. Several such tools including Happy Seeder, Mulcher, Zero-Till Drill, etc are manufactured by local small industries but their adoption is low, limited mostly to large farmers.

Purchase of such machineries was also subsidized under Government schemes in last two years, but a significant machinery gap still exists. Promoting ’shared economy model’ of machinery ownership and use, 22 Farmer Co-Operative Societies, 3 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO), and 1 Custom Hiring Centre (CHC) were supported. Moreover, financial support and viability gap funding were provided to the groups to meet the ‘critical machinery gap’ that would enable them to offer machinery services especially to small and marginal farmers at a nominal rent. The rent collected is used for repair and maintenance of the machines.

To enable seamless transition to the new technologies, the farmers were provided with technical trainings. 460 trainings events were conducted by scientists from Agricultural Universities, District Agriculture Department officials, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, (KVKs) and other experts.

The project machinery support, trainings and farm advisory benefited a large section of small, and marginal farmers. Moreover, realizing that the entire village was joining hands for the noble cause, farmers owning machines also joined the bandwagon, took lead, became the early adopters and role models for others.

Engaging the Citizens

Bringing together several stakeholders and enabling a #Karwaan4SwachhHawa, several corporate volunteers and the general citizenry were engaged through awareness drives, field visits, media and stakeholder interactions.

Research and Policy Advocacy

CII is conducting in-depth research on technology, policy and financial issues on the ex situ side, and networking with start-ups and industry players to catalyse commercial projects and investments for enhancing the straw value chain. CII is also working towards bringing together diverse stakeholders on a regular basis to discuss relevant policy issues and engaging with Government to provide recommendations from time to time for enhancing policy reforms.

Partnerships

The initiative has been rolled out with multi-stakeholder partnerships channelizing the collective expertise and resources of Government, Industry, and Academia. The initiative has been implemented with technical support from Punjab Agricultural University – Ludhiana, Krishi Vigyan Kendras in Punjab and Haryana, Guru Nanak National College – Ludhiana, Punjab Pollution Control Board, and Agriculture Departments of Punjab and Haryana. Voluntary organizations such as GBDSGNS Foundation and Doctors For You also played a key role in community mobilisation and awareness building. Many industry players financially supported the initiative through CSR, including BPCL, Birlasoft, CLP India Ltd, Royal Enfield, PTC Financial Services, GAIL, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), ONGC, Renew Power, Hi-Tech Group, Rau’ Study Circle and Cummins.

Project Impact

Stubble burning drastically dropped in the adopted villages by 75% in 2018 in 19 villages and 93% in 2019 in 105 villages. In 2019, complete burning of straw was witnessed in only 7% area under paddy (6,728 acres) compared to over 85% area in the previous season. In the remaining 93% area under paddy, farmers adopted improved straw management practices.

25,000 tonnes and 150,000 tonnes of biomass was saved from burning and recycled back in the soil as a result of the project in 2018 and 2019 respectively, preventing a significant volume of harmful pollutants being released into the air, and adding nutrients in soil, thereby bringing a wide range of ecosystem service benefits. Irrigation requirements were reduced by 40% and time required in field preparation reduced by about a week. Incidence of the common weed Phalaris minor reduced significantly, thus reducing weedicide cost by 40-70%. In general, cost of farming reduced, and yield remained healthy. Check in stubble burning resulted in lesser air pollution locally and led to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. In the long term, addition of biomass in soil will lead to better nutrient immobilisation and enhance organic matter content in the soil thus enhancing the yield potential. It will also lead to enhanced carbon sequestration and reduce land degradation. (Impact Study – 2018 project and initial impact data of 2019 project).

The Way Forward

CII aims to scale up the initiative multi-fold over the next few years by involving more industry players for wider reach. In 2020-21, the programme will be expanded to more stubble burning hotspot districts. Additional sustainability interventions such as water conservation, farm biodiversity, organic farming, landscape development, etc will also be taken up to further enhance eco-restoration, and building farmers’ livelihood. Linking farmers with Carbon Markets is also being explored to establish ways to incentivize farmers in the long run for adopting alternate sustainable practices. Working in a collaborative mode, CII aims to play a catalytic role for solving the farm stubble burning problem which will be a critical step for tackling air pollution in Delhi-NCR and the country.

CII invites partnership and support from corporates for further expansion of the initiative across Punjab, Haryana, UP, and Rajasthan.

To explore partnership opportunities, please contact Chandrakant Pradhan, Lead – Climate Change Resilience, CII Foundation at chandrakant.pradhan@cii.in

The article first appeared in the August 2020 issue of CII Communique. Click here to read the full issue.

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