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Crop diversification, short-duration paddy to help curb stubble burning: NRAA

Promoting crop diversification and shifting to a short duration paddy crop in Punjab can help reduce the stubble burning problem and its impact on air pollution in the national capital, National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) CEO Ashok Dalwai said on Tuesday.

Paddy can be grown in other parts of the country but not wheat which requires winter, he said, adding the state government should educate farmers to shift to non-paddy crops by providing some incentive.

Delhi-NCR has been engulfed in air pollution since the Diwali festival on October 27.

"One solution is to grow short-duration paddy varieties. If we are able to harvest by September, then farmers will get a longer window to undertake proper harvesting and prepare the land for wheat sowing," Dalwai told PTI.

At present, the window for paddy harvesting is around 20-25 days, putting pressure on farmers to get rid of the crop residue and prepare the land for sowing wheat. On top of it, they are facing a labour shortage, he said.

Since Punjab has low groundwater levels and paddy being a water-guzzling crop, Dalwai said, "It is better we shift from paddy cultivation and grow more water-efficient crops like oilseeds and maize. That would solve the problem."

He also said short-duration varieties of non-paddy crops should be encouraged as the concern for farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is to prepare the land for winter wheat.

Dalwai, also chairman of the Committee on Doubling of Farmers' Income, further said: "We can easily shift from paddy in wheat-growing states as paddy can be grown in many other areas in the country.

"Whereas wheat cannot be grown everywhere as winter is required. So, wheat cannot be compromised. That has to be here. So, we can look at an alternative for paddy in north India."

Stating that the country has many short-duration paddy varieties, Dalwai said, "We need to promote them. One needs to look at yields level to encourage farmers to shift. This is not something impossible to do. We can always test these varieties and do it."

He also suggested the state governments can provide an incentive to shift to other crops.

"In Haryana, compensation was given in seven districts for economic loss if any between paddy and non-paddy crop. Those kinds of compensation will promote farmers to take up other crops," he said and added that farmers would grow those crops where returns are better.

He also said there should be "holistic and eco-system friendly approach" to the problem of stubble burning.

Asked if farmers are ready to shift from paddy crop, All India Bhartiya Kisan Union Coordinator Yudhvir Singh said farmers will take time to switch to other crops but the government should promote crop diversification by providing some incentive.

However to address the current problem, the Centre should take the paddy stubble from Punjab and distribute it as animal feed to 3 lakh stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh, he suggested.

"There is a shortage of fodder in the country. The government can take this stubble for free and give it for 3 lakh stray cattle in Uttar Pradesh. This problem will be solved," Singh said.

He also said that wheat stubble is used as animal feed in north India but not paddy crop residue.