Indian agriculture has focused primarily on maximising crop output levels over the last six decades or so, with limited or negligible attention to post-harvest management. As a result, development of efficient value chains for agricultural commodities remains muted, while that for by-products and crop residue is nearly non-existent. Furthermore, with increased pressure on the land to produce more crops in a year, it has become a practice to treat crop residue as waste and burn it for quick disposal.
Consequently, it has become one of the ‘burning’ issues of the current policy discussions, since it is not only leading to loss of valuable biomass, but also contributing to a significant rise in green house gas (GHG) emissions and pollution. According to data from FAOSTAT, crop residue burning in India contributed to about 23 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2020. On average, India produces about 650 million tonnes of crop residue per year according to a Working Paper published by NITI Aayog in July 2023.
In this context, it is pertinent to note that about 10 kg of agricultural residue can generate one kg of compressed bio-gas, as per a report, ‘Greening Indian’s Energy Mix with Compressed Biogas (CBG)’, by the Centre for Science and Environment. Thus, crop residue can be efficiently used for producing clean renewable energy instead of wasting it by burning. Towards this, there is an urgent need for necessary policy measures to promote circular agriculture that may not only help in reducing emissions, but also fetch additional income to farmers by creating value chain for crop residues.
Indian agriculture has traditionally been circular with efficient on-farm management of crop residue for restoration of soil organic nutrients and off-farm management by turning it into fodder, thatches, mulches, organic manure, etc. However, with increasing intensive crop production practices, farmers are not finding on-farm residue management as an economical option and opting to burn the residue. Under such a scenario, circular agriculture can be promoted in two ways with appropriate incentives.
Crop Residue Management
First, on-farm management of crop residues by incentivising individual farmers with schemes like Green Credit Programme (GCP). Second is off-farm management, either at farmer or village level through cooperatives or at commercial level by creating a value chain for crop residue as feedstock for biogas production.
Globally, commercial production of bio-CNG or compressed biogas (CBG) is picking up as one of the clean and renewable energy sources for energy. In India, several schemes were announced to promote biogas production over the past 40 years or so but, the progress has remained muted. Nevertheless, the latest initiative of allocating ₹10,000 crore in Budget 2023-24 to install 500 new bio-CNG plants under GOBARdhan scheme can be a potential step towards creating viable value chain for crop residue as feedstock.
In addition, Waste to Energy (WTE) Programme is also operational with about 90 WTE projects under implementation till March 2023. In order to be successful, such initiatives require effective implementation, creating widespread awareness and facilitating adequate flow of finance.
Hence, there is an urgent need to promote circular agriculture for efficient use of crop residues towards reducing emissions and enhancing renewable energy production, while providing economically profitable alternatives that may fetch additional income for farmers. Moreover, establishment of biogas plants in rural areas can generate significant non-farm rural employment opportunities.
A Amarender Reddy is Joint Director, School of Crop Health Policy Support Research, ICAR-National Institute of Biotic Stress Management, Raipur
Tulsi Lingareddy is a consultant economist, financial markets and sustainable agriculture.
The article was first published in The Hindu Businessline as Don’t waste crop residue on November 7, 2023.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja , a researcher at IMPRI.
Read more at IMPRI: