Why it’s time to recover agricultural and food waste | India News

NEW DELHI: Each year, India generates around 500 million tonnes of agricultural waste and Indian households waste 50 kg of food per capita. In financial terms, harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural and related commodities amount to Rs 92,651 crore per annum.
But economic loss is not the only concern. The mismanagement of this waste has also caused air, water and soil pollution, which harms human health and the environment, and can affect the country’s food and nutrition security in the long term.

The burning of crop residues in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which significantly deteriorates air quality, may seem like a brief seasonal problem. But it has a significant negative impact on soil health by killing beneficial soil microorganisms.
Declining soil fertility over the years eventually prompts farmers to use more chemical fertilizers which, in turn, pollute water bodies through irrigation runoff.

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However, only one-fifth of India’s total crop residues are burned; 80% is used as bedding material for animals and livestock feed, for soil mulching, biogas production, bio-manure/compost making, rural house thatch, mushroom cultivation, fuel for domestic and industrial use, etc. This gives hope that the right policy interventions, mentoring of farmers and the involvement of private actors in the management of agricultural waste will increase its use and generate natural resources.
Globally, 931 million tonnes of food (17% of total food available for consumption) is wasted or lost each year. In fact, nearly two-thirds of biodegradable municipal solid waste is made up of domestic kitchen waste from households. If not managed properly, this waste generates greenhouse gases and foul odors around landfills.

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Circularity principles can play an important role in agricultural and food waste management where biological materials, unlike waste from non-agricultural sectors, can be safely returned to the natural environment through biodegradation. It provides the soil with biological nutrients that are essential for crop/plant growth and agricultural production, and thus it can complete the biological cycle.
Such circularity method for paddy stubble management gained traction in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi last year through the use of Pusa bio-decomposer, a bio- enzyme developed by the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research (IARI). The bioenzyme is made up of eight fungi which, when mixed with crop stubble, break it down into manure.

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IARI has given licenses to different private companies, including nurture. farm, to develop a ready-to-use formulation of the biodecomposer and make it easily accessible to farmers. Feed last year. helped 25,000 farmers spray bio-decomposer on 4.2 lakh acres of paddy fields in Punjab (14 districts) and Haryana (9 districts).
Pranav Tiwari, technical director of education. firm, said an impact verification study by IIM Rohtak found that the bio-decomposer “helped prevent stubble burning in 92% of service areas in both states and also reduced the use 20 to 25% fertilizer”. He said farms that used the bio-decomposer had better yields.
Tiwari said the company will try to apply the bio-decomposer to twice the acreage this year and may expand to other states, depending on resource availability. There are also several successful government models to promote the bioeconomy through the principles of circularity in states. Under the ‘Sukhet’ model developed by the Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University (RPCAU), Pusa, Samastipur in Bihar, people can get refills of LPG cylinders in exchange for cow dung and household waste. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned ‘Sukhet’ on his monthly radio program ‘Mann Ki Baat‘ last year when he called on panchayats across the country to emulate these innovative practices.
“Sukhet’s model emphasizes the creation of a self-sufficient circular and bio-economic economy at the village level. Besides promoting rural sanitation, it also monetizes cow dung and household waste, and improves soil health as the waste is converted into vermicompost (organic manure),” said RC Srivastava, former Vice Chancellor of the RPCAU who conceptualized the model.
The premier agricultural research body, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), has also published a compendium – Creating Wealth from Agricultural Wastes – of 140 technologies that can help farmers/stakeholders utilize agricultural wastes to make various biodegradable products.

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