India. Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
STOP BURNING AND INCREASE
PROFIT WITH ZERO TILLAGE
In New Delhi, 19 million inhabitants are under siege from a noxious haze generated by traffic, industries, cooking fires and the yearly burning of more than 30 million tons of rice straw from harvests in the neighboring states of Haryana and Punjab. However, farmers who deploy a sustainable agricultural technique known as zero tillage to sow wheat in rice-wheat rotations, the region’s chief cropping system, can help reduce smog in India’s capital, allowing urban dwellers to breathe more easily.
Traditional tillage for sowing wheat in northern India involves removing or burning rice straw and driving tractor-drawn implements back and forth over fields to rebuild a soil bed from the rice paddy – a costly and protracted process. In zero tillage, wheat is sown directly into untilled soil and unburned rice residues in a single tractor pass, a method now practiced on some 1.8 million hectares in India. This successful technology builds on decades of work led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and national partners in South Asia.
Rice-wheat rotations South Asia account for nearly a quarter of the world’s food production
“Besides triggering costly respiratory ailments in humans and animals in farm regions and urban centers like Delhi, burning rice residues depletes soil nutrients, with estimated yearly losses in Punjab, India, alone of 3.9 million tons of organic carbon, 59,000 tons of nitrogen, 20,000 tons of phosphorus and 34,000 tons of potassium.”
Zero tillage: many wins
- Increases income by 6 percent
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 93 kilograms per hectare
- Saves on labor, tractor use and fuel costs, significantly increasing farmers’ incomes
- Reduces water use by 20-35 percent
- Fosters healthier soils, including increased organic matter