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  • Collecting and baling straw, rather than burning it, can help fix northern India’s severe air pollution problems

    Published on November 13, 2019

    New Delhi: The critical issues surrounding air pollution in northern India and New Delhi in recent weeks have shed further light on the need for immediate action to preserve air quality. Initiatives led by New Holland Agriculture and its parent Company, CNH Industrial, are demonstrating that straw management techniques could help solve some of the severe air pollution problems afflicting large parts of the country.

    Straw management can also provide farmers with additional revenue by making paddy straw saleable as animal fodder or as fuel for environmentally-friendly biomass power plants.

    Setting fire to crop residues creates a thick blanket of smog which drifts with the wind and is poisoned by a mix of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide. In Delhi, this November, levels of toxic particles reached more than ten times safe limits. Some of this pollution comes from industry and vehicles, but most of it from burning paddy straw. It is a vast problem because Indian farms create more than 620 million tons of crop residue every year and more than 90% of the nation’s paddy straw is burnt in fields.

    The widespread practice of crop burning has the additional disadvantage of preventing nutrients from crop residues naturally enriching the soil. To compensate for this, farmers use chemical fertilizers, which increases cultivation costs and causes further environmental damage when agrochemicals evaporate into the air or leak into groundwater reservoirs.

    Crop burning has intensified in recent years because there is so little time available between harvesting one crop and sowing the next. Taking a different approach to straw management, however, could allow this fast crop-turnaround to be achieved at the same time as eradicating the need for crop burning. This is being demonstrated by two pioneering straw management campaigns in Punjab and Haryana, and both made possible by New Holland Agriculture supplying farmers with specialist machinery and training.