Can rice residues be turned into wealth?
Institutional support, monetary and proper implementation of laws along with policy framework can solve this issue, says a state-of-the-art review in crop residue burning in India
A controlled burn on long-term conservation agriculture trials (Image: CIMMYT)

Sustainable management of surplus paddy residue in the Indo-Gangetic plain is a back-breaking task for farmers due to lack of viable options. Eventually, farmers prefer to incinerate it mindlessly. Sustainable residue management is important because paddy straws are rich in nutrients and can be translated into value added products.

The paper by Asik Dutta et al ‘A state-of-the-art review in crop residue burning in India: Previous knowledge, present circumstances and future strategies’ tries to find the fundamental causes behind this illicit practice and mark the harmful effects of residue burning on ecosystem. It also deciphers in depth strategies, environmental laws, socio-economic policy frameworks and future thrusts which would offer multifaceted avenues for the sustainable management of crop residues.

Residue burning is highly pernicious for the environment and human health. In India, national green tribunal (NGT) strictly oppose this practise of crop residue burning particularly in North-Western India and both central and state government implemented various policies to help the farmers with eco-friendly straw management approaches.

The major factors are labour shortage at critical time of field operation, very short span or window for preparation of the field for the next crop, lack of processing facilities and large-scale use of combine harvester for harvesting of paddy. Although, other minor factors also play crucial roles and aggravate the situation further.

Both public and private organisations are trying to find out in- situ (adaptation of conservation agriculture and use of Happy Turbo Seeder (HTS) and ex-situ management options (livestock feed, production of biofuels and biochar, electricity generation, mushroom farming, preparation of compost and packaging materials) to fix the issue.

Losses of essential nutrients from the soil and in the residue, along with emission of potential greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the major repercussions of this mal-practice. Adaption and commercialization of resource conservation technologies like conservation agriculture with low silica content in rice varieties are excellent opportunities to look after. Value addition by preparation of compost, mushroom production, biogas/oil generation, and producing energy in the power plants are new avenues to convert this waste into wealth.

The major setback of poor implementation is lack of attention from the policy makers and public authorities. Although, in the recent years different organisations are coming forward to solve the issue and hope that combined approaches from multiple disciplines could come able to cope up the problem soon.

Respective state and central government along with different private organisations are working hand in hand to spread awareness and control stubble burning. Fostering the current technologies through policy interventions and organising training camps in the village level with monetary incentives are the important strategies to look for.

Future thrust

  • Suggestions to follow for residue utilisation and pollution reduction:
  • Adaptations of resource conservation technologies like zero tillage, residue retention, avoid mono-cropping and advocate integrated input management.
  • Conventional rice wheat system should be discouraged while intercropping with legume, inclusion of summer mung bean in the fallow are the options for sustainable intensification and getting additional return.
  • Development of proper package of practice (nutrient budgeting, weed management and irrigation scheduling) specifically for conservation agriculture-based systems are the need of the hour.
  • Promotion and commercialisation of Happy Turbo Seeder and Straw Management System technology for smooth sowing. Among all the major technologies, turbo seeder is one of the promising technologies to counter the challenge of residue burning. So, technological dissemination in the rural areas with need based spatio-temporal modification in the prevalent technology is the key to success.
  • Development of more modern hand held and field specific machines which are easy to operate and commercially viable for the farming community.

Development and fostering custom hiring system and rent based machinery utilisation pattern in the farming community. Most of the small and marginal farmers are unable to bear the cost of modern machinery. So, if there is creation of some rent-based system that would create employment opportunities along with solve residue collection problem. Co-operative mode for using machinery is also another viable option.

  • Setting up training and demonstration campaign by different public and private organisations for creating awareness and feasibility of happy turbo seeder in the rural areas. This improves basic skills and information regarding Happy Turbo Seeder operation.
  • Promoting schemes to encourage farmers to grow basmati rice and start breeding programme to develop variety low in Si content.
  • Develop modern composting technique from rice straw and trying to find new opportunities for using rice residue in domestic sector.
  • Biogas and power generation plant (5–10% co-firing with coal) should be set up in association with private partners to produce more green energy and curb GHG emission into atmosphere.
  • Restrict unlimited access of water and electricity in the agriculture sector.

Monetary support is another option for spreading the usefulness of stubble burning. Monetary support can be given in two ways (a) Incentivizing the farmers who will stay away from burning (b) Giving financial help to the farmers so, they can afford Happy Turbo Seeder and other heavy machinery important for sowing and residue management.

  • Imposing strict laws and regulations in the areas highly prone to crop stubble burning.
  • Strictly regulating firing incidents in the fields through regular visit and take on-spot action those who disobeys the rules and regulations.
  • Setting air-quality monitoring lab in the field and checking the air quality level in regular interval.
  • Extension activities and setting up of filed day in association with local farming group to educate them about the ill-effects of residue burning and good points about residue incorporation in the field.


Every year, centre as well as state governments are spending billions of rupees to find a permanent solution against this hitch. Multi-faceted factors (operational, socio-economic and technical) are behind this. Diverse on-farm and off-farm the benefits can change the picture. Apart from on-farm utilisation in conservation agriculture-based systems; the surplus residue can be efficiently employed for production of biofuel, biogas, biochar and electricity, growing mushroom, pulp and paper board industry and in domestic purposes.

Imposing strict laws and legal action without fulfilling the need of the farming community is ineffectual. In this review, along with different descriptive measures, policy issues and future research niches are distinctly discussed. Disseminating these technologies in the rural areas with full-fledged government support could stop the issue in the north-western states.

The full paper can be accessed here

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