Scientists, including from India, find ingenious way to cut smog

at 4:57 pm
stubble burning
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New Delhi (NVI): Every year, a choking smog descends on northwest India as the region’s farmers burn their fields following the rice harvest – a phenomenon that has helped make New Delhi one of the world’s most polluted cities.

Now, a group of scientists from India and other countries have come up with a method that would allow farmers to sow their winter crop, usually wheat, without burning off the stubble left behind after the rice harvest, World Economic Forum says citing a study.

Researchers tested 10 alternatives to burning, finding the biggest profits could be achieved with a machine called the Happy Seeder, WEF said.

According to a study by a group of scientists from India and other countries, the new method would allow farmers to produce more food, boost profits by up to 20%, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%.

A greenhouse gas (GHG) is a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. Greenhouse gases cause the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.

“Our analysis suggests that it is possible to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions in a way that is profitable to farmers and scalable,” according to the study.

“Analysis strongly suggests that India has an opportunity, through coordinated public and private actions, to reduce burning, increase incomes, and transition to more sustainable agriculture while addressing the urgent problem of seasonal air pollution,” study said.

The Happy Seeder is already being used on about 800,000 hectares of farmland used to grow wheat in winter and rice in summer – but that represents a tiny proportion of the 4 million hectares in northwest India known as the country’s breadbasket.

“The plan next year is to reach close to 2 million hectares. We’re hopeful,” said co-author M.L. Jat, principal scientist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

With a Happy Seeder costing $2,000, cost remains a major barrier, but farmers can hire a contractor to plant their crops with the machine, Jat said.

The study’s authors are urging the government and private sector to promote the machine’s use through subsidies.

Every year, farmers in northwest India burn an estimated 23 million tonnes of rice straw to clear the land quickly and cheaply in time to grow wheat, the study said.

If piled on top of each other, the amount would cover 1.1 times the distance to the moon.

India officially restricts the use of crop burning, but the practice persists and bans are rarely enforced.

The resulting seasonal smog disrupts transportation and threatens public health, said the paper, published hours after a major U.N. report called for big changes to farming to curtail global warming.