Hire to douse fire

Farmers will not make huge capital investments on implements that would contain stubble-burning. As these equipments are used only once a year, they would prefer to hire on rent instead of owning these, says Vikram Ahuja

The government has been unable to curb stubble-burning despite farmers at some places having  been challaned for burning the paddy residue. One of the reasons is economic. Farmers are unable to afford the expensive machinery that enables them to use paddy stubble for financially beneficial uses. Time constraint is the other reason. Farmers get a very short window between the harvesting of paddy and the planting of wheat. Hence, they find the burning of paddy stubble to be the easiest and fastest option to prepare the fields for the next crop.

Lack of awareness among farmers about the ills of burning paddy stubble is not the challenge. Now, several farmers are aware of the productive use of paddy stubble. They know the use of rakers and balers to make bales of paddy stubble that can be sold to biomass plants, to gaushalas for animal fodder, and to cardboard-making industries. Alternatively, farmers can sow wheat in the standing paddy stubble. If the paddy stubble is not burnt, the soil is far more nourished, and provides more nutrients to the next crop. Several awareness initiatives have demonstrated the use of equipment like 'Happy Seeder', 'Mulcher' and 'Reversible Plough' in sowing the next crop in standing paddy stubble. 

The unavailability of the required machinery at the farm level, however, forces farmers to burn the stubble before preparing the field for the wheat crop. A report published in The Tribune on October 7 pointed at the "high-capital expenditure" on buying such equipment. The average size of landholdings in the state is three acres. Farmers are being encouraged by the state to buy equipment, which they will put to use for only a few hours in the  whole year. This is the crux of the problem. 

Then, what is the solution? The 'pay-for-use' or 'the library' model is the answer to the problem. It would work like Uber or Ola. As an economist would say, convert fixed cost into a variable cost. Instead of purchasing the equipment, the farmer takes the required machinery on rent from the farm equipment library of the village. Owing to the huge demand, each village would require more than one equipment. The service providers would maintain daily time-tables for round-the-clock booking during the season. They would hire village youth to operate the machine for in-situ management of paddy stubble. The enterprising villagers running the equipment libraries would not restrict their inventory to machines that deal with paddy crop stubble. They couldstock the latest farming equipment that is needed by farmers around the year.

Imagine the benefits of these libraries. The youth would get employment within the village. The Uber or Ola model in farming equipment would increase income at the village level, and galvanise the rural economy. Individual farmers would not be required to buy costly farming equipment. The farmer would be needed to pay only for the service. This will also reduce the government's subsidy bill and the public money could be put to good use. A tractor that runs for less than 1,000 hours in a year, or any farming equipment that is used for less than 200 hours in a year, is not economically viable, even if subsidised. The situation is worse if farmers take loans to buy under-utilised equipment. 

—  The writer is trustee, JBNR Trust

Culprit states

Punjab
Haryana
Uttar Pradesh

Monetary assistance

Rs 1,151.80 cr central assistance
To Punjab, Haryana, UP and Delhi 
In two years, 2018-19 and 2019-20 

Active fire incidents

Sep 27 - Nov 15, 2016 78,772 
Sep 27 - Nov 15, 2017 42,337 
(Source: Lok Sabha)

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