Burning residual crops is a common practice across North India which is also one of the major causes of air pollution. A team of scientists based in Pune may be able to provide an alternative to this environmentally unfriendly practice by disposing of crop residue.

The crop residue which is generated by the cultivation of rice, maize and wheat, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, is one of the leading factors behind declining air quality in New Delhi and national capital regions, especially in winters after Kharif harvest.

The scientists of Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) from Bioenergy Group have developed an anaerobic fungi mixture from farm waste which is generated from rice straw. “This culture of anaerobic fungi, known as methanogens, which we have created from rice straw, can be mixed directly in the bio-digestors along with other farm waste to acquire manure. The farmers would be able to get processed manure within two weeks, once it’s added. At present time, it takes at least 20-30 days to obtain manure this way,” said S S Dagar, one of the research analysts in the team.

The aim of the team is to restrain the secondary pollution caused by burning crops as well as help farmers earn some additional money from the waste created by their own land. “Although farmers grow two to three crops in a year, there is little done to preserve the fertility of the soil. Burning residue crops is one of the traditional ways but its consequences are aggravating. With this extremely eco-friendly solution attained from the crop residue itself, the nutrients and components can be put back into the soil for the following season,” enunciated P K Dhakephalkar, senior scientist of ARI.

Methanogens are microorganisms which help in balancing the hydrogen concentration in bacteria. “When Methanogens are available in their pure form, they help in creating effective methods in anaerobic dissolution of residue crop waste so that the minimum amount of methane gas is released in the air,” stated Dhakephalkar, who has been working with these microorganisms for many years.

The scientists are also in the process of establishing the country’s first culture bank, which will be used by researchers for scientific studies.

Picture Credits: Bureau of Land Management