Govt pushes for Happy Seeder sale to reduce smog

Stubble burning

With less than two months to go for the stubble burning season, which engulfs north-west India with a thick pollution haze, the Centre plans to hard sell nearly 20,000 innovative farm implements that can reduce the practice of torching the agricultural fields to a large extent.

This would be in addition to another 19,000 such tools sold last year, bringing down the level of stubble burning in Haryana by more than 40%. But the impact was too little to be seen in Punjab and only marginal in west Uttar Pradesh.

While indigenous implements like Happy Seeder, Zero till and Straw Management System can significantly reduce stubble burning at the end of the paddy harvesting season in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, they were not popular with the farmers till 2017.

Following a severe spell of air pollution in 2017 that turned Delhi virtually into a gas chamber, the central government swung into action and put a sizable amount of money on the table to push for such tools into farming.

“The government allocated Rs 1,152 crore out of which Rs 565 crore was spent last year and Rs 588 crore has been released this year. We provide 80% subsidy to that custom hiring centres that purchase such machines and make them available to the farmers at a price. Also, 50% subsidy is given to individual farmers,” Trilochan Mahapatra, director-general of Indian Council of Agriculture Research said here on Tuesday.

Propelled by a tractor, the Happy Seeder cuts and lifts rice straw sows wheat directly into the soil and deposits the cut straw as mulch over the sown area.

Each year farmers burn down nearly 23 million tonnes of paddy residue, heavily polluting the air in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and nearby areas. Happy Seeder reduces dust pollution (PM-2.5) by more than 98% and greenhouse gas emission by about 80%.

Evaluating the environmental impact and economic viability of alternate no-burn farming practices in India, an international team of researchers last week reported that a shift to the Happy Seeder systems that sows new crops while recycling previous leftovers as mulch, could lead to a nearly 10% increase in farmer profits on average while reducing agricultural greenhouse emissions by 64-79%.

“Happy Seeder-based system on an average are 10% more profitable than the most profitable burning option (with zero-till seeders) and 20% more profitable than the most common burn system (with conventional seeders),” they reported in the journal Science.

“Its like the Uber service. Farmers can call up the custom hiring centres and someone will come with the machine and do the sowing at a price. The savings is mainly on account of fertiliser and labour cost,” said M L Jat, principal scientist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and one of the authors of the paper.

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