Stand near a field of Ludhiana’s Manki village, and the smoky horizon will immediately catch your attention. While the capital breathes in toxic air especially during winters, one of the main reasons for the deplorable air pollution levels is attributed to the stubble burning by farmers of Haryana and Punjab.
But if you ask any farmer in Punjab why they continue to burn stubble despite the pollution it causes, and you get a helpless response. “Farmers don’t derive any pleasure out of stubble burning. They do it because they see no other alternative. People keep saying that the air pollution in Delhi is our doing, but the smoke chokes people here too for almost two hours, before it reaches Delhi. We don’t do it because we like it. We do it because we have to,” says Jitender Singh, a farmer from Manki village.
Farmers need to clear every inch of the acres of land they possess before the next harvest and for every acre, they have to shell out nearly Rs 7,000. But two farmers from Samrala may be able to put an end to the problem of stubble burning once and for all. Sukhbir Dhaliwal and Kamaljeet Singh’s crop residue management company, Farm2energy, takes crop residue and turns it into a sustainable source of energy – biocoal. They provide this service to farmers in Manki and surrounding villages completely free of cost.
The two farmers started the company in 2016 with their own money, after crowdsourcing the rest required for essentials from acquaintances. “We realised that 90% of the task is to collect the stubble and that can only be done by people on the field. It should be done by those with a good knowledge of farming or else it shouldn’t be done by anyone else. We started the R&D (research & development) for this to figure out how we can collect faster. We have a 30-day window for collection. Only then would we be able to make use of it. So we directed our resources into this,” Dhaliwal told InUth.
Concerned about the environmental hazards of stubble burning, the duo realised that a huge amount of energy is wasted every year by burning the crop waste. Dhaliwal says, “Basically, we are destroying energy. We routinely produce a lot of energy in our fields every year, but we destroy it by burning. By just burning the stubble without making use of it, the problem of pollution arises that increases the risk of ailments. We realised that the people collecting the stubble were using incorrect machines. We decided to mechanise the whole process but we faced a lot of hurdles because we were unable to get any funding since there was no (govt) policy. So we used our own money to start the initiative.”
Not only paddy, but Farm2energy also turns residue of sugarcane and corn stubble into biocoal. This year, they aim to clear 20,000 acres of fields. Realising the business potential of the initiative, the company recently sent biocoal samples for use in a thermal plant in Europe. They are now trying to bid for National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).
Not only is this initiative ecofriendly, but biocoal can also be used for domestic and industrial purposes across the world. “Now, we’ve come to know that the central government has released tenders for CNG. First of all, the stubble needs to go into a digester. Then after adding bacteria, it’ll turn into methane and then it is turned into CNG. The govt has already has allowed a few companies to participate in the bidding and we’re also going to be a part of it,” Dhaliwal says.
Farmers like Jitender see no other alternative to dispose off stubble other than burning it. For those who till the land, Farm2energy comes as a boon. “Due to their initiative, there have been very few fires and the pollution has been checked to a certain extent. A few days ago, officials told us that we were not the ones who had set fire to the stubble but that was possible only due to Farm2energy. If they hadn’t found a solution, we would have set fire to the stubble because there is no other solution,” says another farmer Gajinder Singh.