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Dr. İbrahim Ortaş: Is it possible to prevent stubble burning?

With increasing temperatures, news of stubble fires in many regions of our country frequently come to the fore. In the last three days, sparks from stubble fires in Çanakkale/Gelibolu have spread to forested areas, causing several villages to be evacuated. Every fire in the region, where Türkiye’s most significant victory in history was achieved, raises fears about the potential damage to historical evidence. On June 21, 2024, at 22:15, a fire broke out in fields covered with stubble after the harvest between the Çınar district of Diyarbakır and the Mazıdağı district of Mardin. The fire, fueled by the wind, spread to residential areas, causing the death of 12 people and seriously injuring dozens more.

For a long time, we have seen stubble burning in the Çukurova region and every year we have explained to farmers why they should not burn stubble. However, despite the warnings from ministries, scientific institutions, and scientists, stubble fires continue to cause significant loss of life and damage.

Why is Stubble Burned? What Should the State and We Do to Prevent Stubble Burning?

As every year, this year stubble fires have become a nightmare in the GAP region, the “fertile lands” of Diyarbakır and Mardin. We frequently witness that the sparks from the stubble, which unconscious farmers burn after the wheat harvest to avoid working the soil during the hot and dry summer season, get out of control due to the wind, making cultivated areas, forests, and settlements uninhabitable. Generally, farmers burn their fields after the wheat harvest in early June, thinking that the stubble on the surface weakens the function of soil tillage tools. It seems that farmers are unaware that they are putting not only their own future but also the homes and lives of others at risk. Stubble fires show that farmers in our country, which has poor soils and relies on imported fertilizers, are not only burning the soil but also their own future. Although burning the fields may make soil tillage easier in the short term, in the long term, soil health and quality decrease, leading to reduced productivity. This situation forces farmers to use more fertilizers in the coming years. Only a few farmers are aware of this, and despite the ban and small fines, they continue to burn stubble (paying the fine). At least this is the case observed in Çukurova.

What Should Be Done to Prevent Stubble Burning?

In addition to the organic matter sources that we destroy with our own hands, countless soil organisms living in the soil are killed/destroyed, and serious measures must be taken by the public to prevent irreparable loss of life and property. These fires show that we are experiencing an integrated agriculture-soil management and environmental problem beyond just stubble burning. The issue concerns not only individual farmers but also the interest areas of the country’s agriculture and environment ministries, so public institutions have duties to perform. First, we need to find the answer to the question of what can be done to protect our soils without burning the production residues on the soil surface.

  1. The State Should Provide Fuel and Equipment Support to Farmers: To prevent stubble burning, instead of bans, it would be more convincing to implement incentives planned by the state and explain the seriousness of the issue to farmers. Providing credit support for equipment that mixes the stubble into the soil is important. The biggest problem farmers’ face in soil tillage is the cost of fuel. The high cost of fuel used directs farmers to the easy way of burning stubble, so providing cheap fuel support to farmers is necessary and obligatory.
  2. Change Soil Tillage Method: After the wheat harvest, the soil should be tilled immediately before losing its moisture. As the soil surface is exposed to sunlight after the harvest, moisture evaporates from the soil, causing the soil clods to harden, making tillage difficult. When the soil is processed appropriately while retaining moisture, stubble can be more easily mixed into the soil with suitable soil tillage tools.
  3. Manage Stubble Instead of Burning It: If large plowing is not to be done directly, stubble remaining on the surface can be collected with suitable mechanization techniques and used as animal feed or bedding. Instead of burning stubble after the harvest of wheat, corn, lentils and other crops, it can be collected and used as feed, providing additional income. It should be noted that one of the biggest mistakes made since the 1950s in our country is converting pastures into agricultural land with tractors, reducing the number of people managing agriculture in rural areas, and resulting in the importation of straw as a food source for animals due to migration from rural areas to cities. Stubble from plants can be collected without burning, using equipment developed by mechanization technology, to produce straw and other feeds. In this context, the state/public, farmers, scientific institutions, and farmer unions should work together to develop long-term plans for agricultural-soil and stubble management, which are necessary for the sustainability of our agriculture.
  4. Penalties Should Be Deterrent; However, Priority Should Be Increasing Farmers’ Awareness and Providing Tool-Equipment and Energy Support: The Ministry of Environment and Urbanization periodically publishes notifications imposing administrative fines per hectare on those who burn stubble. If stubble burning occurs in areas adjacent to forests, wetlands and residential areas, this fine is increased fivefold. Although “burning stubble and grass cover within 4 km of forests and open residential areas is a crime according to the Forestry Law No. 6831”, the fires continue. Also, according to Article 20 of the Environmental Law No. 2872, an administrative fine of approximately 410 TL per hectare is imposed for those who burn stubble contrary to paragraph (c) of the additional article 1 of this law, and if the act of burning stubble is committed in areas adjacent to forests, wetlands and residential areas, the penalty is increased fivefold. However, in practice, small fines and measures taken cannot prevent stubble burning.

Suggestion: It is inevitable to conduct a scientific study on stubble burning, which causes severe loss of life and property every summer. Yesterday was in Çukurova region, today in Çanakkale, Mardin and Diyarbakır, and tomorrow may be in another region of our country, stubble burning should not continue to cause loss of life and property and environmental problems. It is possible to prevent stubble burning, and not burning stubble is beneficial for both farmers and nature as well. The problem can be solved with a holistic understanding, cooperation, scientific techniques, and planning. First of all, farmers should be explained the damage and losses caused by stubble burning in an understandable language. Additionally, the irreparable damage it causes to the environment should be explained, and the reasons for the ban on stubble burning should be stated. However, farmers and people’s awareness should be raised by explaining the benefits from multiple perspectives. Most importantly, it should be shown that the benefits of incorporating stubble into the soil without burning are higher for the farmers with state support. As scientists, we also need to develop new approaches and methods for the easiest way to incorporate stubble into the soil. In this regard, Çukurova University and other relevant institutions should take the initiative and develop solution proposals. I am sure this problem can be solve with several serious measurements.

By Professor Dr. İbrahim Ortaş,

Lecturer – Faculty of Agriculture, Çukurova University

İbrahim Ortaş, iortas@cu.edu.tr

About İsmail Uğural

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