Setting a trend for their contemporaries to adopt again, a handful of farmers of Haryana are opting traditional manual methods of harvesting that is enabling them to protect the environment by minimising burning of crop residue, a major cause of air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region.
This is also helping the farmers earn additional income.
Farmers of Shekhpur Khalsa, Gudha, Degampur, Kutana, Munak and other villages in Karnal district are not burning the wheat and paddy stubble. The reason -- they are manually harvesting it and selling it to other farmers for use as fodder.
In this way, each farmer is earning Rs 5,000 per acre from selling paddy straw, say agricultural experts.
The manual harvesting is helping meeting the demand for dry fodder.
The credit for promoting the traditional method of harvesting over the mechanical one goes to the ngo Haryana Gian Vigyan Samiti President Rajinder Singh, who is advocating adapting scientific method for crop residue management.
"After the harvesting by using mechanical means, we used to burn crop residue in order to prepare the fields for the next cultivation," Hardev Singh, a farmer in a village 15 km from Karnal town, told IANS.
"Now we are manually harvesting the crop that is enabling us to sell the stubble to the farmers for the fodder. We are earning Rs 5,000 per acre from the straw," he added.
According to him, there are other options like selling the stubble to paper industries or for ethanol production but there is no such unit in the vicinity.
This non-governmental organisation (NGO) has been educating farmers for adopting manual harvesting of paddy and wheat stubble for three years.
Singh has been demanding the linking of manual harvesting of stubble with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to ensure local employment and minimizing the prevalent practice of stubble burning.
Through cooperatives, farmers have also established paddy straw selling centres. Farmers from neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are buying the stubble for fodder.
Burning of crop residue, a common practice by Punjab and Haryana growers, leads to an estimated economic loss of over $30 billion annually, besides being a leading risk factor for acute respiratory infection, especially among children, a study at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and its partner institutes said earlier this year.
Action has been initiated against 2,923 Punjab farmers in 20,729 cases of stubble burning till November 1, which marks a 10-20 per cent decline in the number of such cases this year as against 2018, the state government said on Sunday.
After around 49,000 cases of stubble burning were reported last year, this year the state government has so far received reports of 20,729 cases, with more than 70 per cent of the paddy already been harvested.
NASA satellite images showed vast swathes of the northern plains, covering Punjab and Haryana under a smoky haze.
Because of the haze, visibility has reduced substantially in most parts of Punjab and Haryana.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has directed authorities to apprise the farmers about options for the management of crop residue to conserve the environment.
Thirty-four per cent decline of field fires have been registered in Haryana till October 22 compared to the corresponding period in last year.
Last year, crop residue burning was reported on 57,000 hectares, compared to only about 38,000 hectares this year.
Khattar has directed officers of the Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare Department to visit top 10 villages of the state where the maximum crop residue burning have been reported to ascertain the reason behind the activity.
He has announced a cash incentive of Rs 1,000 to those who provide information about the stubble burning, promising that the identity of the informant would be kept secret, apart from exploring possibilities of utilization of residue in sugar mills for power generation.