With the raising levels of air pollution in Delhi, the Indian Supreme court had ordered a ban on stubble burning in farms situated in the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The cultivators of rice in these states have always had the practice that once the crops are harvested the fields would be set on fire to get rid of the stubble. The issue of stubble burning arouse after a majority of the farmers in these states shifted to the use of machinery for harvesting the paddy crop in October and November months leaving 8-12 inches of paddy straw behind.
Punjab alone burns approximately 7 to 8 million metric tonnes of paddy residue every year. Farmers are attracted to this method for the sole reason that it involves no additional costs. Due to proximity, Delhi is usually the most badly affected by these stubble burning activities. Even with the ban in effect, farmers continue these practices as paying a fine is more economical than it would be to clear the fields in some other way. Many leading experts have raised possible solutions, everything from processing the stubble into useful materials like paper or cardboard to investing in more advanced machinery that can cleanly remove the stubble from the fields. However, this all involves an investment of time and money, something which may farmers who struggle to make ends meet just cannot afford. An obvious solution might be turning the stubble into animal fodder, but due to the high silica content, farm animals find this type of feed unpalatable.
As time moves on, farmers complain that the Government is instituting a ban with providing a suitable alternative and continue to violate the ban. Perhaps this is valuable opportunity for our friendly edible fungi to take the stage. With the continuous rising demand for fresh mushrooms in the Indian market along with ability to process agricultural waste into food for consumers, profits for farmers and cleaner air for everyone, this could be the solution we need.
Among the different a variety of mushrooms, oyster mushrooms would be a good candidate for this initiative given fast growing time, excellentand ability to grow on almost any kind of agricultural waste. It would also be suitable for the climatic conditions in these states during the time of year when the fields are harvested. It certainly helps that it the mushroom variety often considered the best for beginners of mushroom cultivation.
Sometimes the best solutions are not always the most obvious. Mushrooms could solve farm waste management issues while also making farmers more economically self-sufficient. Right now, rather than an increased crack down on offending farmers, implementing strategies that would benefit everyone while solving the problem is the need of the hour.