With Pusa Decomposer, IARI Hopes to Offer Organic Solution To Stubble Burning Problem

The decomposer will reduce the time that stubble takes to degrade from three months to 25 days.

New Delhi: The ‘Pusa Decomposer’ developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi as a solution to the problem of crop burning, that every year causes a major environmental and health problem in North India, will also provide a quick means of crop rotation and help farmers retain the nutrients from crop residue in their fields, scientists working on the project have claimed. The IARI has also tied up with eight companies to ramp up the production of the decomposer capsules for mass consumption from next year.

Talking to The Wire, IARI director Ashok Kumar Singh said the Pusa Decomposer will reduce pollution and also help farmers by enriching the soil. “It is capable of dealing with all kinds of bio-mass,” he said, adding that the biggest advantage of this technology is that it prevents burning of crop residue.

“When farmers burn the residue, not only does it lead to air pollution, it also burns the top layer off the soil and deprives the fields of much-needed nutrients. When we use this bio-decomposer, we also retain a portion of the stalk and the roots, which get decomposed in the fields themselves and add to the nutrition in the soil. This tech would help retain several tonnes of nutritious residue in the form of compost per every hectare of land,” he added.

The IARI’s alternative is to provide a decomposer, which should be fermented for nearly a week. Itrd contains strains from fungi, which assist in producing enzymes essential to quicken the decomposition of bio-mass. The solution, for preparing which other organic inputs like jaggery and chickpea flour are also used, is then sprayed over the fields. It reduces the decomposition time of shredded and watered paddy straw from around three months to just 25 days.

‘Officials trained in Delhi; farmer groups engaged in other states’

Asked about the response to Pusa Decomposer from various states, the IARI director said the Delhi Government has supported the scheme and would be using it over 700 hectares of land. “We have already trained Delhi Government officials.” Incidentally, on Tuesday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the site in South West Delhi where the solution that would be sprayed across these fields is being prepared.

Singh said IARI scientists have also been working closely with farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. “There are 50 farmer groups with whom we have worked in Haryana. We would be promoting the use of the decomposer among them. Similarly in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, we have been working with a non-government organisation and would be using this decomposer over 150 hectares. In Punjab, we have offered the technology to the government and are also working closely with the Punjab Agricultural University to promote its use.”

In all, Singh said IARI is trying to use the Pusa Decomposer over around 12,000 hectares of land in the four states. Acknowledging that this was a very small area, considering that in Punjab alone stubble is burnt on around 2 million hectares of land annually, the official said for increasing the production of the decomposer, licences have been issued to eight companies and the knowhow would be shared with them to allow mass production of the capsules.

He said the solution reduces the decomposition time of the stubble from around three months to 25 days, Singh added that the process involved in this is crucial. “It works best when the soil is dug up so that the decomposer can act on both the stubble and the roots.”

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Paddy stubble set on fire. Photo: Flickr/CIAT, CC BY-SA 2.0

‘Decomposer is completely chemical free, non-poisonous’

Principal scientist of the Microbiology division of IARI Pusa, Y.V. Singh told The Wire that the decomposer is a “microbial consortia of eight types of micro-organisms”. He insisted that it was completely organic and chemical free. “So there is no question of it being poisonous,” he said.

Singh said the decomposer provides a cheap solution to the problem of crop burning as four of its capsules, costing Rs 5 each, are enough to make 25 litres of solution that can be used for rapid decomposition of crop residue over a hectare of field.

Singh said the Pusa Decomposer has been developed after nearly five years of research. “We worked with farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. The trials have been taking place at both the institute and in the fields.” He said, “While the decomposer is being seen as a solution to the problem of burning of ‘parali’ or rice straw, it can actually be used for speeding up the decomposition of any kind of biomass.”

The scientist said the decomposer is made by extracting fungi strains that help the paddy straw decompose at a rapid rate. “An ideal mix of solution and moisture is needed in the soil for the technology to work best,” he added.

Asked if there are documents or research papers to support these findings, the principal scientist said the research involved a large number of PhD students and others. “It involved a lot of writing work too but documentation takes time. We are, however, going ahead with promoting the use of the Pusa Decomposer.”