From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Ground level pollution and its impact on agriculture
Mains level : Paper 3- Interplay between agri-subsidies and pollution
Agriculture’s contribution to air pollution
- Agriculture’s contribution to air pollution runs deeper than what happens between crop seasons.
- The Indo-Gangetic plain is also one of the world’s largest and rapidly-growing ammonia hotspots.
- Atmospheric ammonia, which comes from fertiliser use, animal husbandry, and other agricultural practices, combines with emissions from power plants, transportation and other fossil-fuel burning to form fine particles.
Impact of pollution on agriculture
- It is important to note that agriculture is a victim of pollution as well as its perpetrator.
- Particulate matter and ground-level ozone formed from industrial, power plant, and transportation emissions among other ingredients cause double-digit losses in crop yields.
- Ozone damages plant cells, handicapping photosynthesis, while particulate matter dims the sunlight that reaches crops.
- Agriculture scientist Tony Fischer’s 2019 estimates of the two pollutants’ combined effect suggest that as much as 30 per cent of India’s wheat yield is missing (Sage Journals, Outlook on Agriculture).
- Earlier, B Sinha et al (2015), in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, found that high ozone levels in parts of Haryana and Punjab could diminish rice yields by a quarter and cotton by half.
Role played by subsidies
- The current system of subsidies is a big reason that there is stubble on these fields in the first place.
- Free power — and consequently, “free” water, pumped from the ground — is a big part of what makes growing rice in these areas attractive.
- Open-ended procurement of paddy, despite the bulging stocks of grains with the Food Corporation of India, adds to the incentives.
- Subsidies account for almost 15 per cent of the value of rice being produced in Punjab-Haryana belt.
- Fertiliser, particularly urea in granular form, is highly subsidised.
- It is one of the cheapest forms of nitrogen-based fertiliser, easy to store and easy to transport, but it is also one of the first to “volatilise,” or release ammonia into the air.
- This loss of nitrogen then leads to a cycle of more and more fertiliser being applied to get the intended benefits for crops.
- We need to shift the nature of support to farmers from input subsidies to investment subsidies.
- This could involve the conversion of paddy areas in this belt to orchards with drip irrigation, vegetables, corn, cotton, pulses and oilseeds.
- All of the above consume much less water, much less power and fertilisers and don’t create stubble to burn.
- A diversification package of, say, Rs 10,000 crore spread over the next five years, equally contributed by the Centre and states, may be the best way to move forward in reducing agriculture-related pollution.
- The approach to diversification has to be demand-led, with a holistic framework of the value chain, from farm to fork and not just focused on production.
- On the fertiliser front, it would be better to give farmers input subsidy in cash on per hectare basis, and free up the prices of fertilisers completely.
Taken together, these measures could double farmers’ incomes, promote efficiency in resource use, and reduce pollution — a win-win solution for all.