This article has been sponsored by Wingify Earth.
A problem that has been plaguing the North Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is stubble burning — the practice of burning farm residue to clear the field to sow rabi crops — which emits toxic pollutants; thereby, degrading the air quality index (AQI).
As per a Business Standard report, 30 per cent of PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter) levels in Delhi was contributed by stubble burning in the month of November.
The farmers say they do not have much of a choice as they get only 10 days to clear and prepare the field for the next round of sowing. However, GFF Innovations, a Chandigarh-based startup might have cracked the code to put an end to this practice.
The co-founders — Varinder Singh, Nitin Kumar Saluja, and Vilas Chhikara have innovated a machine called ‘Moksh’. Once mounted on a tractor, this machine is designed to pick up stubble from the farms and turn it into powder, which can then be used as an alternative fuel for boilers and a binding solution for making bricks.
Lack of cost-effective solutions
Varinder, Nitin and Vilas belong to farming families; so, the trio have closely observed the problems plaguing the farmers.
“Happy seeders (a solution for stubble burning) have their limitations and they are not all cost-effective, mostly because the soil is not very fertile for new growth. Moreover, using the crop waste is not very feasible either because of the quantity it is produced in,’’ says Nitin.
He continues, “We also explored a solution called bundling. This method, although seemed feasible at first, did not earn the farmers anything. Bundling costs Rs 1,000 per acre on a farm. These bundles have to be taken to the processing unit, which cost around Rs 3,000 per acre. Labourers must be employed to load the tractors, which costs around Rs 500. Then, there is the cost of tractor fuel also. So, the farmer will have to spend nearly Rs 40,000 for a 16-acre land to just manage the crop waste. Why would one spend so much money, time and energy on this.”
After brainstorming ideas and trying to figure out a cost-effective and easy-to-use solution, the trio co-founded GFF Innovations in 2018 and came up with a machine called Moksh.
Explaining how the machine works, Nitin says “The major issue was the cost of transportation. We wanted to eliminate that completely and then take the solution to the farmers.”
The standalone solution to stubble burning
The machine, ‘Moksh’, is attached as a tail to the tractor. It has a generator set that gives it power. There is a mechanism that picks up the residue and sends it to the processing unit — where it goes through de-watering and removal of silica, after which it is converted into a powder form.
“Our product is a standalone solution, but we faced many challenges while devising this. Among them, one was de-watering; the crop waste has around 80 per cent of water in it. So, we employed the flash dry technique, which uses radiation to dry up all the water. This also helped us to deal with another issue — the amount of silica in the end product reduces its efficiency. So when we use radiation to dry the water, it causes a thermal reaction which results in the production of silica bicarbonate that can easily be separated during the powdering process,” he further explains, adding that the research behind the technology was done at Chitkara University.
“All this happens on the go while the tractor moves around the farm,” says Nitin, adding, “The machine has two variants — Moksh which was released in 2018 and Moksh 2.0 in 2022, which is bigger in size and can cover more area. The upgraded version is in the pilot phase and targets to clear one acre in less than 40 minutes.”
“The powder is highly compressible and can be used to make bricks or as fuel in boilers. Many people want to buy the powder directly from the farmer. They sell it for Rs 7 per kg,” he adds.
While initially, the trio wanted to make the machine available for the farmers to buy, they could not do that due to its capital-intensive production. “So what we are doing instead is giving our services to the farmers. Since the project is still in its pilot stage, we have converted almost 10 tonnes of waste into powder covering four acres of land in the Patiala district,” informs Varinder.
He adds, “We are a need-based product. Since all three of us are from a farming background, we could relate to the problems that farmers are facing. They really wanted a solution which was pocket-friendly and easily accessible; hence, Moksh fits perfectly in the picture.”
“As for the future, we are looking forward to bringing machines with more functions to cover more and more land. Our core idea is clear — we want to give relief to the farmers who want to get rid of stubble without burning it,” he concludes.
Edited by Pranita Bhat