An Express series | Stubble management: College in Doraha shows the way to stamp out fields of fire

Farmer Gurdeep Singh of village Madpur was surprised when a team from a local college started coming to their village and started educating them about the harmful effects of burning paddy stubble. This was way back in 2018. He wondered the team members were not any agricultural experts, then what brought them here? He felt they should be teaching in their college, ideally. But gradually he realised that they were for their (farmers’) own good as well as for the entire environment of the state. He joined their meetings. Today Gurdeep, a small farmer who takes land on lease for farming, has made his field free from stubble burning, thanks to the machines provided by the college team.

Owning 4.5 acres of his own, Gurdeep does paddy sowing on 10 acres of land. Now he is also part of the college team and motivates several farmers to take its help and guidance for stubble management.

He says that now around 90% of paddy fields in his village have become free from stubble burning. Farmer Gurvinder Singh, of Khattran village, who sows paddy on 40 acres, including 4-acre of his own, says that ever since the college team started visiting their village, he stopped burning stubble “because the team members provide us machines” and this has improved the quality of his land. Gurvinder says that he, along with a college team, is inspiring other farmers in his village to take a leaf out of his book and the effort hasn’t gone to waste. Today nearly 60% of stubble burning has come down.

A post-graduate in history, Gurvinder – along with his friends – has been raising awareness about the harmful effects of burning, but on the ground, he says, farmers need sufficient machines to manage it.

The college under discussion here is Guru Nanak National College Doraha, which, through its extension cell, has been actively working in the field of stubble management for the past four years by supplying machines to the farmers and changing their perception of managing stubble instead of burning it.

Dr Loveleen Bains, an English lecturer and dean of the extension cell of the college, while talking to The Indian Express said that when she took the charge of the extension cell, she wanted to do something concrete for the welfare of the society, rather than just taking out awareness rallies. And she chose this “burning issue”, as post-harvesting the entire fields in the state are set on fire.

Bains said that the then principal of the college, Dr Narinder Singh Sidhu, the general secretary of the college management committee, Harpratap Singh Brar, and the finance secretary (president, Borlaug Framers’ Association for South Asia), Pavittar Pal Singh Pangli, decided to visit several villages around the college. “And we all went door-to-door to establish a rapport with farmers, who were initially not ready to buy our idea.”

“For the realisation of this plan, the college through its extension cell in collaboration with the department of sociology initially surveyed 61 villages of Doraha, Samrala, Macchiwara, Sahnewal, Khanna, and Payal blocks in Ludhiana district in September 2018. Based on this groundwork, the college then thought of providing a practical solution to the problem of stubble burning,” Bains said. Apart from organising rallies, ‘nukkad nataks’, lectures by experts in the villages, the extension cell decided to supply machines on the ground, she added.

“We held talks with the Department of Agriculture and then we got two Happy Seeders issued by GST commissionerate Ludhiana through Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Samrala which we took to farmers to make them well-versed with the new technology. As Happy Seeder sows wheat in the standing stubble, farmers are not required to clear it by burning,” Bains said, adding that they gave adequate demonstrations to the farmers about these machines.

The college initially identified four villages – Sultanpur, Lopon, Mehdoodan and Khaira of Samrala block – to keep them from stubble burning during 2018 wheat sowing season. “The cell succeeded in providing a demonstration on 204 acres of land with Happy Seeders in these four villages as well as three more villages – Chak, Balala and Pangalian. In the next sowing season (2019), the Punjab Agriculture Department recognised our efforts and we got eight more machines, including Happy Seeders, Mulchars and Roto Drills,” said Bains, who was also honoured with the Environment Excellence Award at IIT Ropar on World Environment Day by Punjab former CM Captain Amarinder Singh.

Then the college purchased three machines of its own, including a Happy Seeder, zero till and MB Plough, on subsidy provided by the government under the crop residue management (CRM) scheme, and now the number of machines with the college stands at 28.

“In 2019-20 and 2020-21, the college worked in 23 and 35 villages respectively and adopted 12 villages, including Ghulal, Bijlipur, Neelon, Madpur, Lopon, Khattran, Balala, Mehdoodan, Khaira, Lal Kalan, Kubba and Chak, in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Foundation and others,” the general secretary of the college management committee said, adding that in 2021, around 6,500 acres of land were sown with the help of machines provided by the college in 12 adopted villages.

In the past four years, 13, 671 acres of land were brought under crop residue management scheme with the active support of the Punjab Agriculture Department and CII Foundation by assisting 770 farmers with six mulchers, three MB Ploughs, eight rotavators, five Happy Seeders, five Super Seeders and one Smart Seeder. The cell addresses the farmers’ need for machinery, said Bains.

Apart from this, the college has raised awareness about this environmental menace in 76 villages and helped around 2,000 farmers by managing their stubble.

Dr Nirlep Kaur, the officiating principal, said that Bains, along with several students of the college and field associate prof Harpreet Singh, has been working hard in the fields to change the mindset of the farmers. She added that if the educational institutes of the state start adopting even one or two villages for stubble management, then there would be a sea change across the state.

Another farmer of Madpur village Gursewak Singh who grows paddy on 45 acres, including four acres of his own and remaining on rent, said that he also gets machines from the college to manage the stubble. “Like me, several farmers want to shun stubble burning, but they do not get machines in time and then they burn it because they have to sow wheat in time,” he added.

Ghulal village’s Arshadeep Singh, who owns 5 acres of land and has 30 acres more on rent, said that he got associated with the college four years ago and now he is not burning paddy straw, and using Happy Seeder and Super Seeder for sowing wheat without clearing the stubble from the fields.

He said that around 60% of farmers in their village have stopped burning stubble ever since the college team entered their life.