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Need to Develop Feasible Technology Options to Bring Prosperity to Tribal Communities in the Central Indian Tribal Belt

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Farmer working in his field

According to an independent study released by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), more than 674 million Indian citizens are likely to breathe air with high concentrations of PM2.5 in 2030, even if India were to comply with its existing pollution control policies and regulations.

The study shows that only about 833 million citizens (about half of India’s estimated population in 2030) would be living in areas that meet India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in 2030. Failure to implement existing policies and regulations could increase these numbers significantly. (Agriculture World, July 2019). 

As expected this year also the smog in Delhi has gained attention in the month of November. The Worst air quality has been attributed to Diwali and also towards the burning of rice stubble in the nearby states. Reports from PAU Report reveal the fact that stubble burning smoke is not travelling 300-400km to choke Delhi, rather the farmers are harming their own children and brethren by setting their fields on fire. The PAU report was submitted by climate change and agriculture meteorology department head Dr Prabhjyot Kaur Sidhu, which studied how far stubble burning was. The varsity’s wind analysis report was also analyzed for further details on these. 

Rahul Banerjee, an Indore based social activist who works with Bhil Adivasis and Dalits explains about The Rotavator that became popular initially in Punjab for disposing of the rice stubble that is being burnt when the Government banned straw burning and provided subsidies to farmers to buy this and other machines that could provide an alternative to straw burning. But the charges to run these machines are exorbitant and to properly use this machine the field must first be ploughed once. So the total cost of plowing and rotavating comes out to Rs 3000 per acre. Also, the germination of the next crop sown in rotavated lands is a bit tardy sometimes. 

 These rotavators have even been used by Dalits and Adivasis in Dewas District in Madhya Pradesh while they were popularized in other states to keep up their production in the face of falling demand in Punjab. Many have bought them with the subsidy provided by the Government. Adivasis have stopped burning and has also got around the problem of tardy germination by first sowing the wheat and gram seeds dry and then irrigating the farm. This results in very good germination and also lesser weed growth. So the Adivasi marginal farmers have stopped burning the agricultural waste biomass from the Kharif season harvest and are instead mulching it into the soil. 

They have very small farms of two or three acres at the most and so the cost of renting this machine is not much as compared to what they spend now is worthwhile to them in terms of greater mulching instead of burning the residue, says Banerjee. What we see is technology reaching the interior places and getting accepted with gusto but the bigger farmers in Madhya Pradesh still burn the crop residue though like their counterparts in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. How do we prevent them from burning? 

The cost of ploughing the field by oxen gets uneconomical and so machines have come up which is cheaper and fast. The unavailability of labourers, lesser earnings, no price stabilization, wage increase are all attributed to having gone up. The prices received by the farmers for their products in the market are not remunerative and in most cases are not able to provide even minimum wage earnings to the farmers for their own household labour let alone allow them to pay for outside labour 

Unfortunately, neither the people nor the governments are sensitive to this economic crunch that farmers face. Isn’t it logical to think that it’s the moral responsibility of the Government and the Urban people who would want farmers not to burn the rice stubble then they should pay them to plough and rotavate it into the soil or use some other suitable way to dispose of it instead, asks  Banerjee!  

There are many case studies and reports which show us the effective technologies being undertaken internationally. There needs to be small-scale, feasible biomass-to-energy projects and some appropriate policy support to make them cost-competitive sources of secure, alternative energy for remote rural tribal communities that can provide greater tribal sovereignty and economic opportunities too. 

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