Millets can be a Solution to Delhi’s pollution crisis

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Read the original article in Hindustan Times by Bharati Chaturvedi

The hapless farmers of Punjab and Haryana pitted against the angry, breathless urbanites of the National Capital Region. The farmers are burning paddy stubble, contributing to between a fifth to a third of the air pollution in Delhi these days. This has pushed the air quality to unliveable levels. It is endangering the lives and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people. It’s also poisoning the farmers themselves.

It’s ironic. Paddy needs water, but Punjab’s water tables have fallen precipitously. To conserve water, farmers were asked to delay paddy sowing in time for the rains. At the other end of the paddy cycle, the new scheme left little time between the paddy harvest and the next sowing season. There isn’t enough time to pull out the stubble by hand, for sowing the next crop on time is critical. One of them told me that they were too few in number to replace burning with plucking in such a short window of time.

The only sustainable way forward is to work with farmers to change what is planted. The best crop option is millets, as many themselves point out. Apart from using very little water, millets are suited for the land, and can be climate-resilient. They are highly nutritious. But, this would mean giving up the rice option.

Delhi can prevent its annual health catastrophe by creating markets for these nutritious millets. What if Punjab and Haryana included millets in their mid-day meals in schools? Apart from positive health outcomes for children, this could also be a fix for an earlier, polluting policy flaw. Delhi could offer to work with Punjab to identify how much millet supply it can procure and consume next year, and pilot a downstream project in select schools.


Posted on

November 4, 2019

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