The Promise of Clean Air from a Community of Farmers

By auther pic. Divya Tiwari

March 3, 2021

The Promise of Clean Air from a Community of Farmers

CII Foundation

India is home to 21 of the top 30 cities of the world that suffer from air pollution. We are aware that air pollution is the cause of over two million premature deaths in India. While the major cause of air contamination is through industries and polluting vehicles, it is impossible to ignore the alarming 17% caused by crop burning. The life expectancy, as a result, has reduced by 5.3 years for an average Indian resident. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and United States Environmental Protection Agency have ranked New Delhi as the world’s most polluted city for two years in recent past. While pollution and lack of pure air have now become commonplace topics of helpless discussion, very few know what can be done to reduce this severity. The measures taken by the government have shown little change and the general opinion in Delhi is to blame the farmers of Punjab and Haryana for burning crops that raise the levels of toxicity in the air for the residents of Delhi.


CII Foundation has been working on social development causes since a decade. Their multipronged partnership driven approach helps them approach several issues with depth and inclusivity. The communities work with the various stakeholders under the aegis of CII Foundation towards solving a critical but possible solution until success leads to happy smiles.

CII Foundation took the challenge of creating an ecosystem to bring together the representatives of the State Government, Corporates, and experts from the field, along with farmers from the twin States of Punjab and Haryana to understand the root cause of the air pollution caused by the age-old practice of crop burning. The primary aim was to promote sustainable agricultural practices and find most advantageous solution to it.



The holistic approach of the pilot set to tackle the problem of burning crops lead to the understanding of several negative impacts on the soil as well as the air quality of North India. Not only is the soil quality negatively affected, burning of the crops also kills the insects beneficial for the soil apart from increasing the irrigation requirements manifold times. As a result the farmers contribute more towards the soil maintenance monetarily on an annual basis. The same amount of money that could be used to increase the quality of their lives.

CII Crop Residue Management Program has found support from several Farmer Producer Organizations along with farmer Cooperatives to usher in mass awareness, behaviour change, research, knowledge management, along with actions to be taken by the farmers on field. 

CII Partners have helped deploy the following machinery for the help and convenience of farmers:

- Baler

- Happy Seeder

- Zero Till

- Mulcher

- Reversible MB Plough

- Rotavator

- Super SMS

The pilot project was initiated in Punjab and Haryana in the year 2018 with solutions like converting straw into biogas and bio-fertilizers. As part of the initiative, a study is also being conducted to understand the value chain of straw for its agricultural, commercial, and domestic uses, maintaining focus on the potential business models that can be adopted by start-ups and entrepreneurs locally to promote employment and also provide a viable solution to the crop burning issue.

The CII Crop Residue Management Program focussed on the 99% rice intensive areas of Punjab and Haryana. The Program coincided with the recommendation of the CII-NITI Aayog BioMass Management Report of upscaling technological interventions locally to result in cost-effective and actionable solutions. This resulted in the following achievements:

- 84% rice area was covered under improved CRM practices in 2019.

- Four out of Six clusters saw 90% rice area being covered under the program.

- Ex-situ management in wake of soil conditions not being conducive to in-situ management was conducted in two districts.

- Balers were provided to farmers on sharing-basis.

- 91% farmers accessed mulcher via shared-economy model created with farmer groups.


Overall, the adoption of improved crop residue management practices went up across 102 villages by 83% in one year: 

- 24% increase in area under mulching

- 89% increase in area under soil-incorporation

- 142% areas under baling (ex-situ)


As a result of the CII Crop Residue Management Program 64% of the crop residue burning came down to 24% in just one year. The success of the pilot project for the years 2018-19 can be seen across 147 villages and translate into over one lakh acres of land. The positive impact is visible in the lives of over 15000 farmers of the area across six districts of Punjab and Haryana. Majority of the 87% of the intervened farmers adopted improved crop residue management practices. 

183 thousand tonne of rice straw was avoided from burning in 2019 resulting in the following savings:

- 1.29 thousand tonne PM10

- 770 tonne PM2.5

- 3 thousand tonne gaseous pollutants

- 0.2 million tonne GHGs

- 86 tonne Black Carbon

- 158 thousand tonnes of organic matter was added back to the soil

- 13% water savings

- Total savings worth 10.15 billion litres are achieved due to recycling of organic matter back into the soil.

By adopting technologies instead of manual burning of crops, the farmers not only work smart and fast, but also save themselves and their families and animals from falling prey to burn accidents. 

Community participation results in a holistic understanding of the issue and becomes a household matter of responsibility instead of a decision made by the farmers on the field.

The agricultural departments of the Government and the Universities provide the much needed technical guidance by trainings and workshops on the field. This empowers the farmers to be able to take better and informed decisions rather than following malpractices through generations.



Understanding the gravity of the impact that air pollution has on millions of people, the District Administration takes active participation along with the Farmer Co-operatives towards providing clean air solutions.

With over 80% farmers adopting a zero stubble burning approach, 183000 tonnes of rice straw was prevented from burning as crop residue. As a result, the nutrient savings have exceeded over INR 1 Crore. This has led to various interventions leading to water conservation and improved farm biodiversity in the land.

Contrary to popular belief that Crop Residue Burning (CRB) does not cost farmer, CRB costs farmers INR 2948 per acre. The following savings were observed in the CII intervened areas as a result of the CII Crop Residue Management Program:

- Farmers paid 10% lesser than the cost of CRB for in-situ management (INR 2630 per acre and INR 2672 per acre for mulching and soil incorporation respectively). 

- Shared-economy model made cost of these operations affordable to all farmers. 

- Cost of in-situ management in areas outside intervention is found to be 7-8% higher compared to burning. 

- Baling (ex-situ) costs farmers 67% more when compared to CRB. 

- Even under the shared economy model or intervention group, ex-situ costs 48% more (INR 4350/acre) compared to CRB. 

Scaling ex-situ solutions, therefore, requires significant intervention to exploit economy-wide circularities and bridge the gap between in-situ management solutions and air pollution.

As a result of the success of the pilot and the on-going study along with farmers, CII Foundation strengthens its stand on providing policy level reforms and recommendations to the Government to tackle the crop burning problem. This will not only help the State Governments to function smoothly, but also save countless lives from suffering the evils of toxicity in the air caused by crop burning in the two states.

With hope towards pollution free sustainable farming practices, we can remember the joyful words of the Principal at a High School in the Village Boparai Khurd in Ludhiana. He says,” This year the number of school children affected by coughing and other respiratory problems was much lesser compared to previous years.” Needless to say, we have the brilliant efforts of CII Foundation to thank for.

If the story resonates with you, please share

Impact-Story is a series on development and CSR interventions leading to some impacts on the ground. If you have a project, innovation or intervention that has changed the lives of a few people or a community, please share a brief note at shilpi@csrbox.org. Our Team will get back to you after validating the information for a detailed coverage.

Also Read: CITTA: The Triangle of Education, Health and Economic Development


Divya Tiwari is a seasoned content writer with over 20 years of work experience. She holds an MBA degree from IIM Indore along with Triple Masters Degrees in Development Studies, Media Business Management, and Philosophy. She has worked in various capacities with National and International NGOs, Top Corporates, and several Ministries for projects that range from Training, Capacity Building, E-Learning, to Media and Communications. She has written and hosted English programs for All India Radio, Delhi. Her deep interest in Animal Welfare helps her engage with various Animal Welfare Organizations across the country in various capacities. She is an advocate of a cruelty-free sustainable lifestyle and regularly blogs on related issues and solutions. Apart from her writing engagements, she is also a social entrepreneur helping rural communities take their craft to centrestage. She is based out of Delhi


Suggest a Story: If you have similar story to refer, please fill in the form