Trading skills before opportunities burns: A journey in the gold-fields of Senapati District, Manipur

In the efforts that are being made to increase the avenues for the alternate usage of paddy straw and other crop residue, K. Paone, a devoted and passion-driven mother of four from Senapati District, Manipur designed a project to monitor the use of paddy straw for innovative purposes under the theme “Don’t burn STRAW, they are JEWELS”.

The end of October and the month of November can be seen as a paradox of spring in autumn with cherry blossom blossoming in dusty air and golden sunflowers dancing to the hazy visual field of smog enveloping the winter sky. The scent of burnt paddy straw overrides the smell of engine fuels loading the harvested crops whereby it overlays a visual description of paddy residues typically burnt on-farm. Few of the many reasons is that, farmers are left with few options but to burn the crop residues due to lack of labour during the harvesting period or absence of livestock or time limitation and due to its cost-efficient means of waste disposal.

It is a well-known fact that rice occupies a crucial position in Indian agriculture contributing about 13% of annual agriculture GDP also providing 43% calorie requirement for more than 70% of the Indian population {source} Regardless of this fact, research has shown evidence on the environmental concerns of the rice production system. Although there are benefits contributing to the burning of crop residues like pest-control, facilitation of soil tillage and seed-bed preparation, this open-field straw burning has increased dramatically over the past years while overlooking the demerits it generates in releasing large amounts of air pollutants or airborne silica fibres such as Carbon monoxide, Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide that disrupts the ambient air quality, ravages public health and causing destructive climate change. One incident concerning the severe problem of pollution caused by the burning of straws is that of the agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana in 2012. It was so severe that the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration released a satellite image showing fires across millions of hectares of agricultural fields in the region. The smog and haze were reported to have affected Delhi situated 100 km south.

The output value of the farmers can, not only be increased through the harvest but by fostering sustainable rice straw management that can improve the livelihoods of farmersàincorporating the crop residues into the paddy soil would in turn help in enhancing and maintaining the soil fertility through a slow decomposition of the residues, which will leisurely add value to the crops thereby reducing its environmental impact. Some of the other developmental rice straw management which can be incorporated by farmers includes mechanized rice straw composting, rice straw-based mushroom production, rice straw silage for cattle feed which can be utilized as an additive to increase the supply of energy and protein, and assessing different straw management options to extend the potential values of rice straws on environmental footprint.

Easier said than done, the beginning and the end of harvest are seen as a trial of glory and a tie of clutter dipped in the mercy of our ecosystem. Even as the awareness of burning stubble could be seen penetrating the wisdom of many farmers, one exhilarates the plentiful harvest on fulfilling celebration for the guts while abandoning the possible utilization of paddy straw considered a waste. In no position to interfere with the business or interests of the government yet in agitation, this issue may be regarded as a matter of concern to the government. Reasons further extended that several environmental projects may be incorporated to develop rice straw management either through technical and mechanical assistance to the farmers or acquiring the responsibilities to convert the logic of ‘waste’  to a biodegradable fortune serving as a living example for the farmers to understand its priceless value, especially in Manipur. Why set fire to possibilities when a future can be shaped from it? Regardless, the responsibilities need no longer be confined to farmers alone, but the people as a whole.

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Fig: burning of paddy straw causing air pollution, picture: the internet.

In the efforts that are being made to increase the avenues for the alternate usage of paddy straw and other crop residue, K. Paone, a devoted and passion-driven mother of four from Senapati District, Manipur designed a project to monitor the use of paddy straw for innovative purposes under the theme “Don’t burn STRAW, they are JEWELS”. “I want to contribute ideas and deliver the message of utilizing the many resources we are blessed with through straw baskets. Our surrounding is a blessing in disguise, which we fail to recognize while chasing the glitters that attract our eyes”, she stated when intervened while gathering paddy straws with her pack of young trainees in one of the fields in Senapati District. Considering herself as a farmer in harvesting innovative minds through her now widely known label Skill Traders, which has storm dynamically into the business market in the state and scaling across the country, Paone monitors the production of sublime handloom woven apparel, culture influenced attire and handicrafts (accessories), organic cotton clothes, and authentic crafts designed from wastes (such as bottles, stones, paper bags, etc). She has managed to employ young youths and has achieved sensational acclamation in creating opportunities for the populace in the district. Having trained more than 300 youths and women under different skill development programs and with 59 trainees undergoing training, Skill Traders have successfully assisted twenty-eight weavers who have benefitted handloom up-gradation schemes from the Govt. of Manipur and currently have twenty-one regular employees with more than a hundred home-based weavers and artisans. Believing in the philosophy of promoting culture and identity unconventionally, Skill Traders have successfully exhibited their label exposure in places like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Nagaland, Manipur, etc. Skill Traders have efficiently supplied their products across the country through TRIFIED under the brand name Tribes India.

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Fig: young trainees making straw baskets

Furthermore, Paone instigated her concerns in enhancing export factors rather than import factors to deliver economic stability in the state by exhibiting Skill Traders’ Paddy Straw baskets in the presence of the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh and other distinguished Ministers and officers of various departments during a Cabinet Meeting cum reviewing of important projects/ works in Senapati District held at DC office, Senapati District on 5th December 2021. It can be added that the Paddy Straw basket has received `orders from various cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati and enormously within the state. It is worth mentioning that the use of paddy straw in producing straw baskets sets an exemplary effort in paving ways for other smart waste management. In this regard, it may be reasoned tactically unwise if the government dumbly resolves to turn a visionless deaf ear to the scattered resources available for the imposition of eco-friendly commodities. “Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world”, says Nelson Mandela. Have we, the people been overlooking the potentials we have in harvesting diamonds while chasing for gold?

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Fig: D. John Sha, MFS Divisional Officer, Senapati handing over Skill Traders’ straw baskets to Hon’ble CM of Manipur N. Biren Singh

Consider sauntering around your area and assess the generic possibilities of experiencing yourself from mundane things in life.  Why not promote more mind- scaping for a better life scape with a clear landscape to save ourselves and the environment we evolve with? What about the time when we admire the green pastures of fields in the August skies? What happens now in your November gallery? Blossoms! Without any trail of burnt ashes from the greens you stood to capture in September- So long, do we not want golden autumn welcoming a platinum winter to witness a field of green emeralds?

“Don’t burn STRAW, they are JEWELS”- Skill Traders

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Waste not, the opportunities that will shape the future!

Waste not, the inspiration that struck you during your screen time!

“Put your principles into practice- now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren’t a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do-now” EICTETUS.

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