SMP-18011 Alternatives to straw burning in Punjab and Haryana, India

New Delhi is one of the most air polluted cities in the world. The poor air quality in Northern India comes at high economic and social costs. By some estimates biomass burning, including seasonal burning of crop residue in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh, contributes 20% of the annual average particulate matter in the urban air shed of the region. Punjab and Haryana are most important as agricultural producing area and contributes significantly to the national food security supplies, especially for wheat and rice. As today most of the ca 20 million tons of rice straw is burnt to clear the land in a time frame of 25 days as wheat has to be sown. While banning crop burning appears to be the straightforward solution, and one that has appealed to the courts, it is far from being easily implementable.

Due to a high silica content rice straw is unsuitable as cattle feed and decomposes too slow in the soil. Without cost effective alternatives to harvest and dispose the crop residue in time to sow for the next season, burning the residue is still the most viable option for many farmers, even if it significantly worsens the local and regional air quality. Straw burning is part of a whole agricultural system that needs reform as groundwater is overexploited due to irrigation and aquifer levels are drastically declining in both states (World Bank pers. comm.). Two of the recognized interventions needed are: 1. Promotion of technology for crop residue management 2. Reduce the rice-wheat rotation system to include more diversification in crops (High Value Agricultural produce, and less water requiring crops), which should add more value and make it easier to avoid the need for fast land clearing that promotes rice straw burning. Alternative applications for rice straw could avoid field burning if viable delivery and conversion chains could be setup. The need to reduce straw burning can stimulate reforming agriculture by adding high earning horticultural crops.

This project aims to contribute to diminish pollution problems in northern India due to rice straw burning. The project will evaluate the potential of rice straw value addition by conversion to new marketable products, provides new jobs and rural economic activity. The precondition is that the alternative use will be profitable to farmers and thereby avoid the need for field burning. The project will thereby also identify opportunities for Dutch (technology providers) and Indian cooperation of companies to set-up these alternative production chains.