Farmers will adopt shorter duration varieties if they are as robust as Pusa-44, and our institution is ready to extend all necessary help,” said AK Singh, chief of Indian Agricultural Research Institute
Punjab has sought the Centre’s help to shift to shorter-duration paddy varieties, which will give farmers a longer window to clear crop residue and, as a result, help lessen an annual spell of deadly pollution from stubble burning, an official aware of the development said.
A widely-grown rice variety is ‘Pusa-44’, which takes 150 days to mature. The Punjab government has said it is willing to “de-notify” Pusa-44 — notorious for its hard stubble — if suitable shorter-duration alternatives with similar yields and costs of cultivation are made available to the state, said the official, who took part in recent consultations between the Centre and state government.
“The Punjab government is in talks with Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and the Punjab Agricultural University to help identify and develop shorter-duration paddy that is suitable for Punjab’s agro-climatic conditions,” the official said.
Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which are major paddy producers, set aflame paddy stalks around October to clear their fields for the next crop. This burning releases millions of tonnes of smoke, carbon dioxide stored in plant biomass, toxins and planet-warming gases in the atmosphere. Some environmentalists believe this to be the deadliest spell of pollution in all of South Asia, especially engulfing Delhi and swathes of neighbouring areas.
To conserve groundwater, Punjab passed a law in 2009 – the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act – to ban rice planting before a set date announced by the government every season, so that paddy is grown when monsoon arrives.
This pushed rice sowing from mid-May to mid-June. The move had unintended consequences. It shifted paddy harvesting to October from September, leaving farmers with very little time to sow the next crop – wheat. Setting paddy stalks on fire became a quick and cheap way to clear fields, resulting in an intractable pollution crisis.
However, farmers will adopt shorter-duration paddy varieties only if they are economically viable. Pusa-44, a state developed rice variety, currently gives at least 10-11 tonne yield per hectare and is popular for its robust productivity.
“Farmers will adopt shorter duration varieties if they are as robust as Pusa-44, and our institution is ready to extend all necessary help,” said AK Singh, chief of the state-run IARI.