A new type of agricultural machinery is promising multiple benefits for farmers – and city-dwellers – in India. Evidence showsi that use of newly developed Happy Seeder planting machines, coupled with Super SMS mounted combine harvesters, is a cost-effective solution for reducing the problem of crop-residue clearing and its impacts on soil damage, yield limitations and dangerous air pollution.ii
India is home to the 14 cities with the highest air pollution globally, and reports indicate iii that women and children suffer the worst health effects. Burning of crop residue, or stubble, across millions of hectares of cropland between planting seasons is a major contributor to haze in both rural and urban areas. Use of the new planting machines has the potential to benefit the health of up to 20 million people, while reducing overall carbon emissions.
The new approach is finding success in rice-wheat cropping systems, where traditional machinery required large volumes of crop residue to be cleared between plantings. Unlike the old models, the combined Happy Seeder and Super SMS machines are able to plant wheat seed without becoming jammed by rice residue, by simply lifting the straw, cutting it and replacing it as mulch over the new crops. The approach has also been found to improve soil fertility, conserve water and reduce the use of potentially harmful fertilizers and herbicides.
The Government of India has launched a USD 170 million scheme using the new technology, targeting increased incomes for 2 million farmers and a reduced carbon footprint for 4 million hectares of farmland. The policy decision was supported by evidence from CCAFS, CIMMYT and partners, and an action plan proposal developed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), CCAFS, WHEAT and other partners.iv Research is now ongoing into the possibility of scaling the solution across up to 12 countries, contributing to a potential reduction of 57 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year and up to 30% reductions in relevant production systems.
Research conducted by CCAFS, RICE, and WHEAT.
i NAAS, “Innovative Viable Solution to Rice Residue Burning in Rice-Wheat Cropping System through Concurrent Use of Super Straw Management System-Fitted Combines and Turbo Happy Seeder,” Policy Brief (New Delhi: National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, 2017).
ii CIMMYT, “Emergency Seed Support for Drought Affected Maize and Wheat Growing Areas of Ethiopia: 01 January 2016 – 30 June 2017: End of Project Report” (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), 2018).
iii P. Kumar, S. Kumar, and L. Joshi, eds., Socioeconomic and Environmental Implications of Agricultural Residue Burning, Springer Briefs in Environmental Science (New Delhi: Springer India, 2015), https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-81- 322-2014-5.
iv H. Tallis et al., “The Evergreen Revolution: Six Ways to Empower India’s No-Burn Agricultural Future” (University of Minnesota; The Nature Conservancy; CIMMYT; Borlaug Institute for South Asia, 2017).
Photo by M. DeFreese/CIMMYT.