What is thatch burning and what is its impact on the environment?

Stubble burning is a common agricultural practice around the world and a major cause of air pollution. Read on to find out what stubble burning means and its impact on the environment.

Stubble burning is back in the headlines after reports of increased pollution in northern India. Stubble burning is an old and outdated practice prevalent in the rice and wheat belt states of India: Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It is the main cause of air pollution in the region, especially in the capital, New Delhi.

State governments are actively working to reduce and eventually eliminate stubble burning, but there is a long way to go. On that note, we bring you this comprehensive guide to stubble burning, its meaning, environmental impact, and alternatives.

What is thatch and why is it burned?

Stubble is the straw residue left after harvesting paddy, wheat and some other grain crops. It stays on the ground and takes a long time to break down. Thatch makes it difficult to plant seeds for the next crop and disrupts the growth cycle.

Additionally, it is inedible to humans and a poor source of fodder for animals. Thatch also has other uses, but it is expensive and most farmers cannot afford it. Thus, stubble is a nuisance to farmers, and the only viable option left to them is to burn it.

Does stubble burning have any benefits?

Stubble burning has certain advantages for farmers. It helps eliminate weeds, pests and rodents in the field. It can also reduce nitrogen buildup. However, the biggest benefit and reason behind stubble burning is economics.

Collecting stubble, transporting it and selling it is simply not worth the time, effort or money for farmers. They are already struggling with a low-income profession like farming, and adding more expenses to it is the last thing they need. Stubble burning is the quickest way to clear the field before the next planting cycle.

What is the impact of stubble burning on the environment?

Stubble burning has several harmful effects on the environment. It produces toxic gases that not only make it difficult for residents to breathe, but also contribute significantly to global warming.

Burning thatch emits pollutants like carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which produces smog. Stubble burning is the leading cause of air pollution in many parts of the world, including New Delhi.

Stubble burning also affects soil quality. The carbon added by stubble burning and the heat it produces reduce soil fertility and increase erosion.

There is also a risk of uncontrollable fire spreading when burning stubble. Many farmers have even lost their lives there.

What are the alternatives to stubble burning?

Thatch can be used for many other purposes instead of being burned. Thatch can be processed to create biofuel or particle board. It can also be used for livestock feed after treatment, compost manure, roofing, packaging and paper.

Fast-decomposing bio-enzymes are also prevalent in some countries, which rapidly degrade stubble into manure and improve soil composition. One of these low-cost microbial bioenzymes, the Pusa decomposer, has also been developed for the Indian agricultural industry.

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