- Like in the winters of the previous years, this year too the smog is smothering Delhi and the surrounding areas in north India.
- Burning of agricultural residue by farmers is considered as one of the major contributors to the smog.
- Three entrepreneurs offer hope with technologies that can turn crop fibre into reusable, biodegradable material.
- If farmers can earn an income from selling crop biomass, they may stop burning stubble after harvest.
Nidhi Arora a software professional who works in Delhi dreads winters. She suffered a serious bout of asthma in 2017 due to the dense smog in Delhi. The air quality of the city plunged to lowest levels making it a gas chamber and doctors in Delhi declared a public health emergency.
The smog was attributed to the burning of agro-waste by farmers in north India. Every year around 15-20 million tonnes of crop stubble (mainly rice straw) is burnt in Punjab-Haryana. Agricultural burning produces large amounts of smoke in a short period of time. During the peak crop burning season in Punjab the air pollution in Delhi is 20 times higher than the threshold for safe air as defined by the World Health Organization.
The burning of agricultural crop residue results in emission of greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O, CH4), air pollutants (CO, NH3, SO2, NMHC, volatile organic compounds), particulate matter and smoke affecting the air quality and is a health hazard, leading to diseases beyond affecting respiratory health.
In this situation, a concrete solution to safely dispose this waste is the need of the hour. And this need has given rise to innovations where entrepreneurs are working on technologies to find a more sustainable way to deal with the agricultural waste and aiming to give farmers a financial incentive to sell their crop waste which would perhaps encourage them not burn stubble anymore.