Changing agricultural stubble burning practices in the Indo-Gangetic plains: is the Happy Seeder a profitable alternative?
Every year after the rice harvest, some 2.5 million farmers in northwest India burn the remaining stubble to prepare their fields for the subsequent wheat crop. Crop residue burning causes massive air pollution affecting millions of people across the Indo-Gangetic Plains. We examine different tillage practices to provide urgently needed empirical evidence on how profitable it is for farmers to adopt no-burn technologies, especially the ‘Happy Seeder’ (HS) which is capable of sowing wheat directly into large amounts of crop residue. Apart from analysing the cost of rice residue management and wheat sowing under conventional-tillage and zero-tillage, we identify factors influencing the adoption of the HS and quantify its impact on wheat yields and –production costs. While we do not find any evidence of a yield penalty, our analysis reveals significant savings in wheat production costs, amounting to 136 USD ha–1. In addition, our analysis shows that the HS saves water and facilitates timely wheat sowing. We conclude that the private benefits of HS use combined with its societal benefits of reducing air pollution and enhancing agricultural sustainability justify particular policy support for its large-scale diffusion, to be supplemented by a stricter enforcement of the ban on residue burning.