To develop an integrated ecosystem where technology, policy, economics and environment work cohesively for benefit of agricultural sector
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The ideas42 team in India resides and works in the city of Gurugram in Haryana which borders the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and the national capital New Delhi. Annually, in the winter months of October and November, we experience a thick blanket of smog over our city leading to serious health risk for citizens. Gurugram experiences this severe air pollution primarily due to its proximity to villages and wind effect from other states that engage in the seasonal practice of stubble burning to clear away paddy residue at the end of the Kharif season. Gurugram’s air quality index (AQI) reaches levels marked “severe plus” and “emergency”. Air pollution grips the city entirely over the two months causing schools to shut down intermittently and huge disruption in public activities. As residents of Gurugram, we have witnessed both the city’s progress from a small town to its present status of the millennium city, as well as the State’s agricultural developments and cultural shifts. We have seen how, over the years, in both urban cities like Gurugram and in rural villages, there has been progressive increase in stress on natural resources like water and soil accompanying air pollution. We, as citizens and behavioral scientists, realized that there is a need to evaluate these seemingly different issues in the context of the various elements which make up the food system. As designers who look closely at decision making process and the decision-action gap, we are curious to uncover the challenges with respect to stubble burning, onset of smog, degradation of natural resources and lack of uptake of potential alternatives like Happy Seeder. We are interested to tease out and resolve the behavioural aspects behind these systemic issues. This opportunity to use our professional interests to understand the space we habitat better and the chance to re-visualize a sustainable and healthy future got us deeply wired to both the place and project.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Aerial image of Haryana and the neighboring states across India
The men of Mewat district of Haryana gather around a hookah for their daily chat
Haryana, a landlocked state in north-west India, experiences hot dry summers and intense cold winters with sparse rainfall in between, yet is remarked as one of the two granaries of the country being an agricultural surplus state contributing to 60% of the country’s rice export. With 65% of the state’s population residing in the rural parts, travelling through Haryana would take you through a sea of green fields, elders gathered on the streets in small groups on a charpoy with a hookah glowing in the middle, interspersed with upcoming industrial towns and educational institutions. At the same time, Haryana infamously has a very low sex ratio of 879 (further below the national average of 943), and a female literacy of 66%, both of which reflect the entrenched patriarchy across most of the state. The agricultural state has, up until recently, been a major wheat producer which is also reflected in the diets of the natives. People mostly eat rotis (made from wheat) and vegetables along with lentils. However, there has been a visible increase in rice consumption on the back of a number of reasons, most salient of which is the state’s aggressive adoption of Green Revolution - a sequence of events in the 1960s, which introduced high yielding varieties of seeds with an assured minimum support price, free electricity for running tube wells and procurement by the government of India to meet its food security goals to minimize poverty. This leads to Haryana, a formerly wheat and millet dependent state, to begin cultivation of water intensive paddy crop. This has resulted in the state grappling with serious concerns around water shortage over the last few years. Among many suggestions, conservationists are now advocating for a return to maize and millet production, but the economics of growing rice – a high price yielding crop – is not making this transition easy. The other face of Haryana is in stark contrast. The IT boom and the burgeoning service industry has converted some of its erstwhile ‘rural’ areas into Manhattans of India. A few miles drive away from the wheat and paddy fields, one could see high rise glass buildings and stretches of apartment complexes in cities like Gurgaon and Faridabad, where the last two decades have witnessed heavy migration from within and other states of India. Conversion of villages to these modern cities made landowners millionaires overnight, thanks to the boom in real estate prices. Haryana also has a thriving industrial base for some of the biggest automotive, agro-based, textiles and petrochemical companies, and is seeing a rapidly growing education sector. The history of Haryana is also shaped by its boxers and wrestlers. Though Haryana accounts for 2% of India’s population it comprises 20% of the Indian Olympic contingent, a reason which has been attributed to the superior physical strength of residents from years of physical labour during farming.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The challenge our proposal addresses is the adverse impact of policy changes on the underlying food system and agricultural practices that have led to an environmental crisis in the state of Haryana. While the severe air pollution is being blamed solely on the crop residue burning by the farmers, there is in fact a confluence of factors relating to multiple stakeholders that have led to this crisis.
Farmers in Haryana typically grow rice and wheat on an alternating basis during the two crop cycles in each year. Rice is harvested using mechanical harvesters, which leave a 5-7 inch long stubble in the fields post-harvest, which needs to be cleared before sowing the next crop, wheat. Complicating matters further still, as a result of a change in agricultural policy in 2009 designed to prevent groundwater level depletion, the window between rice harvesting and wheat sowing has become shorter. Labor costs associated with manually clearing the fields of rice stubble have also risen in recent years. Faced with higher costs and tighter turnaround times on a uniform schedule, farmers resort to the cheap and quick option of burning stubble in their fields en masse.
This causes widespread air pollution and interspersed with the effect of crackers from Diwali and coinciding with the onset of winters, the effect of the pollution gets amplified multifold. The shifting of smoke from hinterland to the rest of Haryana and other neighboring states, results in peak Air Quality Index (AQI) which lead to huge disruptions in daily lives of the people.
While there is in-situ crop residue management technology such as Happy Seeder machine available, its adoption has been very low due to behavioral barriers, limited availability and unfavorable economics for the farmers. There have also been advances in productive use of crop residue in industries such as paper, biogas, furniture but at a much smaller scale without sufficient logistics and market linkages. Haryana government has also taken measures to encourage moving farmers from the back to back paddy-wheat cycles, but the attractive Minimum Support Price (MSP) offered on paddy and wheat, free electricity and water and the well established supply chain makes the change tougher.
Through the crop burning challenge, it is evident how a policy measure taken to improve food security and conserve water levels ends up having a negative externality across another area like air pollution. The evolution of the agricultural production value chain into its present form is clearly unsustainable due to the huge adverse impact on water resources and air quality impacting daily lives of millions of citizens. This would also lead to soil quality deterioration in the longer run, constraint the biodiversity and adverse health impact on the farmers and their livestock, thus diminishing quality of life for them.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision holds at its centre the intention to introduce behavioral change among stakeholders of Haryana’s food system by encouraging a shift towards sustainability. Our vision holds out the strategy for this change in a progressive manner, being mindful of the context and the deep set nature of current practices. Our vision is intricately linked to the design of systems and aspires to build sequentially on crop residue management techniques undertaken by several stakeholders in the road to making the food system of Haryana sustainable by 2050. The vision targets an improvement to the current system specifically along the agriculture and environment route to meet the specific challenges that are felt today.
By partnering with experienced professionals and organizations with deep presence across the ecosystem our vision engages in redesigning complex systems, embedding a behavioral approach. These systems which are either already unsustainable or are on the verge of tipping are behind the challenges that have been identified. Through a systematic approach which addresses the root cause for unsustainability, our vision imagines change over a short, medium and long term. This approach will bring in a targeted action plan for both stakeholders and partners involved in a given phase. ideas42, will add its flagship behavioral design approach to engage in a detailed process of defining the problem, diagnosing the behavioral risks behind it, designing iterative contextual solutions and rigorously testing the interventions, in keeping with the bandwidth of our partners.
Our vision over the in-situ period will focus on encouraging adoption of crop residue management technology like Happy Seeder, by bringing out a behavior change at farmers end supported by stakeholders across policy, environmentalists, industry and citizens. This would be a definitive step towards minimizing the effect and consequences of crop residue burning across Haryana in the immediate term. Over the medium term, our vision will address persisting challenges around creating market linkage for alternative productive uses of the crop residue generated. The creation of these linkage could act as a deterrent for farmers against burning, eventually contributing consistently to air pollution reduction.
The long term visualizes a diversification towards less resource intensive crops, allowing for depleted resources to replenish themselves contributing to the overall sustainability of the new food system. The vision approaches the challenges of today and the potential challenges of 2050 in a systematic and practical manner to draw inspiration from the community to design interventions in a manner which balances the interests of all partners and stakeholders.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
In 2050, we envision that the quality of life of the farmers and their living conditions in terms of the air they breathe, their livestock and the biodiversity are at a comfortable level. They grow sustainably, use technology for good and enjoy a healthy economic status. The citizens of Haryana now appreciate their cultural roots, eat healthy and balanced diet, and importantly, live a healthier and a happier life. This has been made possible by the integration of policy changes, technology adoption, shifts in agricultural practices and improvement of diet patterns for a sustainable future.
Over time, the cropping pattern in Haryana shifted towards a more sustainable agriculture. The move towards less water intensive and more native crops like maize and millets has been a result of various factors - the government revised its MSP policy to encourage farmers to grow millets; an increase in demand for such crops as consumers transitioned to healthy eating; and a move towards appreciating and embracing one’s culture through one’s diet. At the same time, the government has responded to the seriously deteriorating levels of ground water by modifying its pricing of water and electricity to check their unsparing use. The depletion of soil nutrients and ground water table levels have been arrested and in fact they are improving.
The issue of crop residue management is taken care of in this balanced ecosystem by a combination of residue management technology adoption for more efficient harvesting practices and a robust market created for crop residue. Behavioral approaches and planning tools have helped them adopt the new technology in a manner that is economically feasible which ensures a balanced allocation of manual labor and mechanization. It is no longer seen as a ‘residue’ but an important ingredient that fuels (literally) key industries. Technology is leveraged efficiently for buyers and sellers to determine prices via a virtual marketplace.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
FIG 1. FOOD SYSTEM’S EVOLUTION TO ITS PRESENT UNSUSTAINABLE STATE
FIG 2. CHALLENGES IN THE PRESENT FOOD SYSTEM
FIG 3. BEHAVIORAL BARRIERS TO TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION
FIG 4. MARKET SUPPLY LINKAGES FOR RESIDUE DISPOSAL
FIG 5. EVOLUTION OF A SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM IN 2050
FIG 6. THE ABC OF FOOD SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH AN AGRO ECOLOGICAL APPROACH
(Refer Fig 1) Recent agricultural practices of cultivation of water intensive crops and crop residue burning have had a severe effect on cross cutting elements of environment. Formed over the years as a natural reaction to governmental policies, these subsystems involve several stakeholders, like policy makers, environmentalists, equipment manufacturers, farmers and citizens at its core.
Our vision takes note of the existing measures by a variety of stakeholders and adds a unique behavioral perspective towards addressing these issues and channelizing the same to create impact driven change. For ease of collaboration and implementability, the vision addresses the challenges to the food system at three levels - short, medium and long term. (Refer Fig 2)
1. Short Term – Adopt in-situ crop residue management technology
Given the gravity of the situation, there is a need for immediate measures to reduce crop residue burning instances in the forthcoming season. For this purpose, the in-situ solution of using residue management technology like the Happy Seeder is an available option. Widely recognized across the northern India states as a reliable solution, many stakeholders including policy makers and economists have taken measures to increase uptake of Happy Seeder among farmers to minimize instances of crop burning and the resultant air pollution. However, it has been seen over the past 3 years that merely providing the means and also financial incentives have not resulted in the adoption of this residue management technology. We understand form our extensive work in behavioral science that deep-set behavioral barriers are one of the largest hinderances to changing conventional practices and habits. As behavioral scientists, we attempted to understand the decisions and actions of the farmer towards adopting this technology for residue management so as to uncover potential biases which could be limiting desired action. (Refer Fig 3)
Farmers are focused on their present task at hand: Burning crop residue is the natural choice for the farmer as it provides him instant gratification and the present biased farmers do not even see the need to consider any alternative to stubble burning.
Scarce cognitive bandwidth to consider a new method which is possibly hassle-prone - Harvesting is a stressful time as a farmer’s bulk of income depends on it. Their cognitive bandwidth to think, decide and plan for any alternative way to dispose their rice stubble is limited and hence they stick to the status quo practice of stubble burning rather than considering an alternative which is seemingly full of hassles.
Farmers see others burning residue, since hardly anyone does otherwise - Farmers see most of the other farmers burning crop residue which has now become an established social norm. Even any one-off adverse incidence of leftover stubble causing fungus or lowering wheat productivity triggers negativity bias, preventing fresh trials of this newer technology.
Individual effort would not be enough to control the large scale problem- Since burning is practiced at such a large scale by almost everyone across states, they feel that reduction on their part alone will not change the situation. This diffusion of responsibility (or bystander effect) often leads to inaction.
Behavioral and transformational approach to increase adoption
Through an understanding of the behaviors at play in this context, our approach supports the vision of other stakeholders towards maximizing effectiveness of interventions. As a step in this direction, we have identified partnerships across the ecosystem with organizations having extensive experience in the agriculture-environment space. While the problem of ‘stopping farmers from burning crop residue’ seems most evident, we focus on identifying different layers of problems in close consultation with our partners and the community. We begin by narrowing the problem and defining it clearly in the form of desired behavior(s). We then diagnose the situation to uncover key behavioral drivers and barriers contributing to the specific problem(s) of focus. The objective is to understand how the context (physical spaces, product design, norms, etc.) around individuals influences decision-making and behavior leading to low uptake of alternatives to crop residue burning like Happy Seeder. Drawing on the diagnosis insights, we will use user-centered behavioral design to identify locally appropriate, feasible, scalable, and impactful interventions to address the target behavior(s).
Our designs would include low touch interventions, like Behavioral Change Communication to farmers which clear misconceptions around residue management technology adoption such as effect on yield, ease of availability, etc. The deeper level transformational initiatives would be undertaken, first in pilot programs and then at scale. These could be more targeted interventions like mobilizing these machines to be rented, clubbing with nudges like mobile reminders. We would be supported by one of our partners, Ecociate Consulting, who have established community level no-crop burn initiatives by providing Happy Seeder machines and creating awareness around its usage across through a pilot across 4 Farmer Producer Organizations reaching around 2000 farmers in Haryana. (Refer additional documents for more details on Ecociate and their project)
2. Medium Term – Bridge: Alternative uses for crop residue
Over the medium term, the focus shifts towards systemic interventions to create supply chain linkages for alternative productive uses for crop residue, in close consultation with our partners through the phase. The streamlined linkages map out the current system and identify gaps which currently hamper the process of residue management for production of fuel, sustainable products and furniture. Our vision proposes establishing a link between farmer for disposal of residue and the requirement arising at manufacturers end through a virtual market place to smoothen the supply chain linkages. This will ensure that farmers have a chance at determining the price for the residue without the hassles and cognitive strain associated with having to participate in a physical market place. Our vision identifies a farmer’s collective which will be designated as the aggregation and feeder point for residue collection to manufacturers. Following the collection and production of the products from the residue generated, the farmers get the revenue credited, based on the volume generated, at their end through the marketplace app. (Refer Fig 4)
The introduction of this linkage with farmers in control of the market dynamics and existence of a supporting ecosystem in terms of machinery and manufacturing facilities, creates a sustainable incentive for farmers to practice responsible residue management actively. We visualize that redesigning these gaps with a behavioral component attached to system design will ensure a realistic shift towards adoption of alternative methods of residue management pushing innovators to focus on customer centric residue based products.
3. Long Term – Co-opt: Transition toward less resource intensive crops
With the above envisaged short and medium term interventions, the crop residue, to a large extent, would be managed responsibly by way of either in-situ technology adoption or disposal of residue for productive uses. However, to achieve a sustainable balance, there would be a need to ensure that the current farming ecosystem shifts out the resource intensive wheat-rice cropping cycle by diversifying towards comparatively lesser intensive crops like maize, millet, etc.
We envisage that policy makers will redesign the minimum support prices (MSP) and procurement on these crops in a manner to incentivize production, as the MSP has historically linked farmers and policy makers. Policy makers will respond to the deteriorating levels of ground water by modifying its pricing of water and electricity. Resources which are currently provided free, causing rampant usage, will be priced in a manner that clearly reflects demand and supply resulting in more judicious use. In line with the ongoing cultural awareness around the sustainable dietary preferences, citizens will be encouraged to shift their consumption patterns towards healthier alternatives like millets. This would further make the market for these grains more attractive, thus bringing them into mainstream consumption and production.
These decisions, over time, would on one hand reduce the farmers’ dependence on resource incentive paddy and on the other hand expand the time window between harvest of wheat and sowing of rice allowing farmers enough time to practice responsible crop residue management, thus leading to a sustainable ecological balance.
(Refer Fig 5) Our vision across the short, medium and long term phases envisages policy makers, agriculture experts, industry players, technology developers and environmentalists coming together in a cohesive manner while adopting a behavioral and transformative approach at each step. Starting with immediate measures to target low hanging fruits and subsequently layering it with deeper systemic changes would build a sustainable ecosystem. Successful adoption of this ecosystem overhaul would require behavioral user centred approach to ensure the designs, policy, pricing and financial incentives are aligned in order to elicit the desired action at the user’s end. The ABC approach of ADOPT, BRIDGE AND CO-OPT would ensure food sustainability while maintaining the agriculture and ecological balance. (Refer Fig 6)