Clean & Green Solutions for Rice Straw Management

Rice, a dietary staple for more than half of the global population, plays a vital role in nourishing billions. Nevertheless, rice cultivation presents a significant environmental dilemma: the management of rice straw. Burning crop residues remains a significant contributor to air pollution in rural areas, with far-reaching consequences for soil health, agricultural diversity, and long-term farming productivity. The Central Sector Scheme dedicated to Crop Residue Management (CRM) has yielded tangible results on the ground by enhancing access to necessary tools and raising farmers' awareness about the cost-effective potential of in-situ management for addressing rice straw- related issues.

Balancing In-Situ and Ex-Situ Management
While the progress made through in-situ management practices, particularly straw incorporation and mulching, in previous years must be sustained, there is an immediate and pressing need to establish supply chains for ex-situ management. This becomes crucial to address roughly one-third of the biomass in the region, potentially amounting to 13 million tonnes per year. This necessity arises from various contextual factors, such as the prevalence of rice-vegetable-wheat cropping systems where in-situ management proves fuel-intensive and cost-ineffective. Additionally, field-level conditions may pose obstacles to regular mulching or straw incorporation.

Clean & Green Solutions

Focusing on actionable solutions that are already working on the ground or have the potential to do so, we have identified five areas of action:

  1. Farm-level interventions for mulching and straw incorporation: One of the simplest and most eco-friendly approaches is to incorporate rice straw directly into the soil. This process involves chopping the straw into small pieces and mixing it with the topsoil. By doing so, the straw decomposes gradually, enriching the soil with organic matter, improving its structure, and enhancing its water retention capacity. This practice also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, making it a cost-effective solution.

  2. Biomass collection and aggregation: Biomass aggregation is essential for reliable supply chains for year-round availability of feedstock and at the same time, they can alleviate burning by evacuating the straw in areas wherever farmers’ uptake of in-situ management remains low and economic opportunities already exist, or they can be created with crop residue as feedstock.

  3. Co-firing biomass for thermal power: Out of all conversion technologies available, co-firing in existing thermal power plants is the most cost-effective solution. It has gained traction in recent years due to the Government of India’s guideline for 10% co-firing in thermal power stations and a dedicated national mission on this topic. It needs to be promoted and scaled further in thermal power and process heat applications based on the climate offsets from using a sustainable source of energy.

  4. Pulping and packaging products: Pulping enables biomass pulp to be processed locally and further marketed to enterprises who subsequently mould the pulp into several products, including packaging and paperboards, which replace single-use plastics in numerous applications. It is worth noting that such pulp feedstock is currently being imported in India for moulding into final products, including disposables, cutlery, packaging boards, etc.
  1. Crop residue-based construction elements: Green bricks and indoor construction panels are two key actionable applications within the construction sector. These may need support in terms of market linkages, product standards/certification, and promotion of carbon-neutral or carbon negative products for use in construction, which is traditionally seen as a carbon- intensive sector with the high embodied energy of construction materials.

Behaviour Change and Building Rural Partnerships
Farmers trust fellow farmers the most when it comes to the adoption of new agricultural practices. Leveraging this, behaviour change efforts can be initiated through the sharing of experiences and motivation by progressive farmers, highlighting the benefits of proper rice straw management on soil health, rural air quality improvement, crop resilience, and higher crop productivity.

Technology-neutral platforms such as CII Cleaner Air Better Life can provide diverse stakeholders, including start-ups, rural enterprises, user industries, and financiers, with an opportunity to understand the farmers' perspective and share their insights, proposals, and learnings related to addressing the issue using technology, business models, or financial solutions. At CII Cleaner Air Better Life, we aim to foster peer learning and encourage partnerships for the development of high-impact and actionable solutions on the ground.

Workshop Series on Clean & Green Solutions for Rice Straw Management
CII is organizing a series of workshops on the subject in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture. The workshops will actively engage rural populations and facilitate collaborations between rural communities, solution providers, and user industries. B2B sessions will explore possible collaborations between rural communities and industries, paving the way for better understanding and implementation of crop residue management solutions across the region.

Upcoming Workshops
The series will begin with one national-level and two regional-level workshops (one each in Punjab & Haryana) in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India. These workshops will target a diverse audience, including farmers, and provide awareness, capacity building, and training-cum-demonstration on in-situ agricultural tools. The participation of farmers from hotspot districts, with actual demonstrations of farm tools, will be organized with support from State Agriculture Universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendra.

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September 27, 2023
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