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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Agricultural waste burning in northern India : economic analysis and farmers' perspectives Bhatt, Rudri


Rice farmers in Northern India burn the rice “stubble” left in the fields after a harvest in order to clear land for the next sowing season. During several weeks in the burning season residents of the Indo-Gangetic Plain are exposed to levels of fine particulate matter that are ~100x greater than the annual WHO standard. Despite a ban on Agricultural Waste Burning (AWB), 9.96 million metric tons of rice residue was burnt in Punjab in 2018. Several ‘active management’ alternatives to AWB that include in-situ and ex-situ rice residue management are available to rice farmers. However, financial, logistical and institutional challenges make their adoption and impact inadequate. This work focuses on the alternatives to AWB in the Punjab, particularly on (i) farmers’ perspectives on available active management practices and challenges in adopting them (ii) the cost of residue management and how it influences practice (iii) role of government incentives. We expand on existing cost analyses of residue management processes by conducting semi-structured interviews with farmers and key experts to better understand how operational factors and cascading impacts may affect the profitability of different alternatives. These considerations include: timing of government subsidies, fixed bonus incentives, timely availability of required machinery, and pest implications. Our results show that given timely government incentives of a fixed bonus and subsidy on machinery, the cost of rice residue management through active residue management practices are comparable with residue burn. However, due to a short time window between cropping cycles, and wariness among farmers on the timely arrival of government subsidy, status quo of residue burn is more convenient and cost-effective for farmers in Punjab. Farmers also highlight concerns of groundwater depletion in Punjab that residue management does not address, and highlight the need for crop diversification to address both issues of air quality and depleting groundwater. These findings point to the importance of addressing AWB as more than simply a problem of residue management, but instead as part of a landscape of issues, including rice production in Punjab for national food security, mechanization, depleting groundwater, and short time duration for rice harvest.

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