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HomeCulture & SocietyA happy solution to forest fires in North India

A happy solution to forest fires in North India

Happy Seeder

By Ridhima Gupta  & E. Somanathan

It is believed that much of the pollution in Delhi in November every year originates in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana where farmers burn their fields to dispose of crop residue. This column discusses a simple, practical and cost-effective solution to deal with the problem.

Happy Seeder

Burning crops, one of the main reasons for Delhi’s pollution | Picture Courtesy : The Staffing Stream

Over the past week, Delhi has remained under the grip of dense smog. This year’s pollution levels are the highest ever measured in two decades.

Newspapers reported that much of this pollution originated in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana where farmers burn their fields to dispose crop residue. But they were short on providing solutions to deal with the problem of burning of agricultural fields.

There is, in fact, a simple, practical, and cost-effective way to eliminate most of the smog that envelopes Delhi and the entire northwest of the country every November. At this time of the year, farmers in the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh harvest the rice crop by combine harvesters. This machine leaves rice straw strewn all over the fields. Because farmers do not value the rice straw as animal-feed or for non-feed use, they dispose of the residue by burning it. The straws clogs the seeder machines that plant the next crop, which is wheat, so farmers need to dispose of the residue before attempting to plant wheat.

A ‘happy’ solution

But, a simple solution exists. A machine called the ‘Happy Seeder’ has been developed in the last few years that can plant the wheat seed without getting jammed by the rice straw. The Happy Seeder is a tractor-mounted machine that cuts and lifts rice straw, sows wheat into the bare soil, and deposits the straw over the sown area as mulch.

Does the machine affect yields? Is it cost-effective? Will farmers adopt it? To answer these questions, one of us (Gupta) surveyed 92 farmers in the year 2010 that used Happy Seeder in some plots, while using the conventional machine on their other plots. This allows a comparison between the cost, yield and profit from using Happy Seeder versus the old method for the same farmers. To see if the Happy Seeder is productive, we note that the average yield of wheat on plots that used the machine was 43.3 quintals/hectare (ha) while the average yield on conventional plots was almost the same at 43.8 quintals/hectare.

Happy Seeder

The Happy Seeder in action | Picture Courtesy: Dasmesh Group

Is the Happy Seeder cost-effective? The average cost of preparing the field for sowing wheat using the Happy Seeder was Rs. 6,225/ha while it was Rs. 7,288/ha using conventional methods. Thus, farmers save, on average, Rs. 1,000/ha by cultivating plots with Happy Seeder. This is not surprising as Happy Seeder is a zero tillage technology.

Thus, farmers save, on average, Rs. 1,000/ha by cultivating plots with Happy Seeder.

Per-hectare profit, on average, from wheat when the Happy Seeder is used is Rs. 40,548, about Rs. 500/ha more than the Rs. 40,024/ha profit on conventionally tilled plots. Thus, the Happy Seeder is profitable, but the gain in average profit is small and so while some farmers will see a small profit gain, others may see a small profit decline when they switch to using the new machine. Some farmers will probably adopt the Happy Seeder on their own, but without major government support we cannot expect use of the machine to spread rapidly.

What can the government do?

Banning burning, or appeals by government officials, has been mostly ineffective in districts of Punjab and Haryana. It has failed mainly because farmers don’t know of any cost-effective alternative, and they are politically too powerful to be forced to do something that would reduce their incomes from farming.

Banning burning, or appeals by government officials, has been mostly ineffective in districts of Punjab and Haryana.

Our research shows that Happy Seeder is a viable alternative to conventional tillage. What is needed for its rapid adoption is a major government push to publicise and popularise the Happy Seeder. Currently the Happy Seeder machine costs about Rs. 1.3 lakh with a subsidy of 33%. We propose that the subsidy on Happy Seeder machine be raised to 50% because it would then be significantly more profitable than the conventional practice. The active rental markets for agricultural machines in northwest India imply that take-up can be very quick once a significant number of farmers own the machines. But we need to act now otherwise we will be coughing and choking every November.


Ridhima is a post-doctoral fellowin Economics at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad with primary researchinterests including environmental economics and agricultural economics.
E. Somanathan received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard in 1995 and taught at Emory University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor before joining the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi where he is a Professor in the Planning Unit.
This article was originally published in Ideas for India
Featured Image Source: Pixabay
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