Every husk counts

There is considerable debate going on at present among states, political parties and professionals about the methods of avoiding the burning of stubble. It is also attracting attention at the legal level. In order to help farmers move away from this practice which is caused by the need to prepare the rice field for sowing wheat on time, it is necessary to create an economic state. Market driven alternatives should be demonstrated. There is no policy so far for bio-mass utilisation. The Rice Bio-park established by MSSRF on behalf of the Government of India in Myanmar is a good example of how farmers can have options in an ecologically safe use of the straw, the bran, husk and other parts of the plant. Money spent to prevent farmers from burning can be utilised better to demonstrate the value of community owned and managed bio-parks. This will also help to achieve a doubling of farmers’ income during the next five years.

There is very little attention to bio-mass. For example, if we have a production of 250 million tonnes for grains, rice, wheat or maize, the plants also produce 500 million tonnes of bio-mass. There is at present no bio-mass management strategy based on the triple goals of sustainable management, efficient use and equitable sharing of benefits. We can establish rice bio-parks. We can also establish pulses bio-park and other similar parks designed to add value to every part of the plant.

The other aspects of environmental management of natural resources based on the principles of ecology, economics, employment and energy, also need urgent attention. Fortunately, prime minister Modi has been stressing on the use of soil health cards, water conservation and economic use.

Water security at the level of each block can be achieved through integrated attention to rainwater, groundwater, surface water, recycled wastes and sea water. Sea water constitutes 97 per cent of the world water resource. Yet in all discussions there is very little debate on the use of sea water. The Kerala government has set up an Institute for Below Sea Level Farming based on the sea and rain water.

MSSRF has initiated a programme in Tamil Nadu for promoting sea water farming for coastal area prosperity. To facilitate the choice of appropriate trees a Genetic Garden of Halophytes has been established at Vedaranyam.

In the case of biodiversity attention has to be paid not only to crop biodiversity but also to animal and fish biodiversity. There has to be equal emphasis on efficient microorganisms. Biodiversity is the feedstock for the creation of new strains through breeding. Fortunately, there is a National Biodiversity Board which is promoting conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits.

The other aspects of environmental management relate to climate risk management. By taking to sea water and below sea level farming we can face the problems arising from climate change induced sea level rise. The important components of climate change include average temperature, changes in precipitation, frequent weather aberrations and sea level rise. An Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan will have to be put in place.

All the above will require a considerable number of trained persons well-versed in the art and science of environmental management. We need a large number of community biodiversity conservers and climate risk managers.

The Paris agreement on climate will be reviewed shortly. There is one view that we need not be so rigorous in climate management which will involve the promotion of renewable energy. Already the average temperature is going up. This will have very serious consequence for Indian agriculture. For example, a rise in mean temperature of about 2 degree of temperature may lead to a loss of 6 -7 million tonnes of wheat. This is because there will be decreased duration of the crop. Therefore, there is no time to relax. Fortunately situations like those arising from stubble burning have aroused consciousness of the need for attending to the environmental impact of natural resource management. We should promote a concept of ‘Do Ecology’ which shows how to achieve development without environmental destruction. Let us promote during 2018 a “national do ecology movement,” as an ecological response to stubble burning.
(The writer is an agricultural scientist who led India’s Green Revolution)

Columnist: 
M S Swaminathan