Clean Tech

The ‘Happy Seeder’ in search of helping hands

Preethi Mehra | Updated on: Aug 28, 2018

A tractor-mounted turbo ‘Happy Seeder’

A campaign and fundraiser are trying to persuade farmers in Haryana and Punjab to opt for technology instead of using the polluting method of crop stubble burning in the sowing season this winter

October-November are the cruellest months for people living in the National Capital Region. A heavy smog slowly drifts in and hangs in through the winter, sending particulate matter (PM) levels soaring to a hazardous degree. Hospitals are crowded with patients complaining of respiratory complications.

In a climatic emergency of sorts, citizens are advised to wear masks when they venture out of their homes. Schools are shut for weeks till the smog slowly dissipates and an odd-even vehicle policy has to be put in place.

Every year, the Delhi government protests to neighbouring States — Haryana and Punjab — to put an end to stubble burning, one of the crucial contributing factors to winter pollution. Last year, it contributed to 60 per cent of Delhi’s smog.

The stubble is burnt by farmers ahead of the sowing season. They say they have no option but to set fire to the remnants of the previous harvest before they can start the seeding process afresh, even though it results in copious amount of smoke being emitted into the atmosphere.

But a new technology that was tested last year holds out hope. Called Happy Seeder, the tractor-mounted device has the capability to cut and lift the previous crop (in this case the rice straw) and sow a new (wheat) crop in its place. It also deposits the straw over the sown area as mulch.

The downside

While the Happy Seeder demonstrated its efficacy on the fields last year and several farmers who saw it function were enthusiastic about using it, they found its price prohibitive. Costing ₹1.70 lakh and to be used for only two months in a year, it was not seen as a worthy investment.

So, to make it viable for farmers and to expand the technology as widely as possible so that the same levels of pollution are not repeated this year, three organisations — Haryana-based Grameen Yuvti Vikash Mandal (GYVM), Delhi-based Ecociate Consultants and Communique Marketing Solutions — have come together to work with farmers in the Pundri block of Kaithal in Haryana.

Using various strategies, including a massive campaign among Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and crowdfunding for five Happy Seeder machines, they aim to make at least 1,000 acres of land crop residual burning-free.

Under their campaign, christened ‘No Burn Farm’, they will offer a renting model involving the FPOs. “We have been trying to convince the farmers that the problem of smog does not only impact the city dwellers. The village children, pregnant women and elderly are also seriously impacted,” says Saroj Kumar Mohanta, Director and Practice Head - Business Model Innovation at Ecociate.

He points towards the startling statistics. An acre of paddy field produces around 2.5 tonnes of stubble which, on burning, releases 7.5 kg of particulate matter, 150 kg of carbon monoxide, 3,650 kg of carbon dioxide, 498 kg of ash and 5 kg of sulphur dioxide.

This is corroborated by several research organisations, including the World Health Organisation, that say the higher presence of these pollutants triggers or worsens chronic diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, and have long-term adverse impact on people’s health. The TERI air quality report commissioned by the Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises and presented this month too shows that biomass burning contributes significantly to air quality deterioration.

The No Burn Farm campaign is also trying to communicate to farmers that crop burning is not the best method to remove stubble and has negative implications for the food system. For one, the nutrients present in the stubble are wasted in burning and farmers have to spend on chemical fertilisers to maintain soil quality. Burning leads to the ground temperature rising and the soil drying up, necessitating additional water for irrigation. And last, but not the least, livestock is impacted by crop burning, with milk yields reducing up to 50 per cent during the two months. This results in less earnings through selling milk.

The initiative began with identifying the farmers to be targeted and developing a technology platform for them to book the Happy Seeder machine. In due course, an extensive behaviour change campaign for adaptation of the technology is under way. Simultaneously, the organisations have started crowdfunding for procurement of Happy Seeders and hope to hand-hold the farmers as they sow their crop in November. In December, they hope to present their impact reports, images and videos to share with donors and others. The trio is also inviting citizens to personally visit the beneficiary farmers and project sites to see how their contribution is making a difference on the ground.

Published on August 28, 2018
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