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Study Overview

Impact of a Second-Generation Conservation Agriculture Technology (Happy Seeder) on Crop Residue Burning and Air Quality in Northwestern Indo-Gangetic Plains
Study is 3ie funded:
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Study Status:
In Development

The intensive, irrigated rice-wheat systems of the northwestern Indo-Gangetic Plains (NW IGP) are associated with the widespread burning of excess rice residue that cannot be otherwise disposed-off within the limited turn-around time. The second-generation direct-seeders for wheat sowing, such as Happy Seeder, facilitate sowing under heavy stubble conditions, and thereby avoid the need for residue burning. The objective of the study is to test the causal relationship between Happy Seeder diffusion and reduction in residue burning and, ultimately, reduction in air pollution in the NW IGP. We draw on data from remote sensing, a systematic review of literature, existing primary datasets, and new surveys among farm-households, service providers, and village elders. The estimated reduction in air pollution due to the technology diffusion will then be converted to savings in human health costs.

Registration Citation:
Agriculture and Rural Development
Environment and Disaster Management
Health, Nutrition, and Population
Additional Keywords:
Technology evaluation; Externality; Satellite data; Instrumental variable
Secondary ID Number(s):

Principal Investigator(s)

Name of First PI:
Vijesh V. Krishna
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
Name of Second PI:
Dhanyalekshmi Pillai
Indian Institute Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal

Study Sponsor

Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA), Rome
Study Sponsor Location:

Research Partner

Name of Partner Institution:
University of Michigan, USA
Type of Organization:
Research institute/University
United States

Intervention Overview


The limited turn-around time between rice harvest and sowing of the next crop (wheat) and mechanized harvesting of rice pose a critical challenge for farmers to sustainably handle the surplus rice residues. Because only a few economically viable residue-management alternatives are readily available, a majority of the 2.5 million farmers burn an estimated 23 million metric tons of rice stubble in October and November (NAAS 2017). The rice residue burning and the resultant increase in air pollution have received significant media attention in the recent past (Shyamsundar et al. 2019). A solution for residue burning is offered by the application of two fundamental principles of Conservation Agriculture (CA) in wheat – minimal soil disturbance and crop residue retention for mulching. CA is heralded as more sustainable than the traditional tillage alternatives. The first-generation CA technology using conventional zero tillage seeder, although reduced the turn-around time for wheat, was not efficient in handling the surplus loose rice residues present on the soil surface. The second-generation direct-seeders, such as Happy Seeder, alongside a superior straw management system (e.g., spreaders attached to the combined harvesters), were subsequently developed to facilitate wheat sowing even under heavy stubble and avoid the need for residue burning, making the farming system more sustainable through curtailing the negative environmental externalities. Approximately 12,000 machines are currently in use in the western IGP, mostly (>80% of the machines) in the Punjab state of India. The on-farm trials and farm surveys have shown that wheat sown into rice residues with the second-generation CA machinery yields equal to or higher than conventional tillage at a lower cost and without residue burning.

[References are provided in separate file].

Theory of Change:

The proposed project aims to quantify the aggregate impact of a second-generation conservation agriculture (CA) technology in terms of air quality improvement in Punjab, India. In India, about 1.09 million deaths were reported from air pollution in 2015. Besides this human tragedy, economic costs amount to 3% of India's national income (Balwinder-Singh et al. 2019), and rice residue burning is a key source of air pollution in NW IGP (Shyamsundar et al. 2019). A recent data analysis showed that Happy Seeder adoption is highly efficient in preventing rice residue burning in comparison to other tillage options. The reduction in the negative externalities through Happy Seeder adoption will be assessed through a series of steps.

  1. Using Happy Seeder adoption rate and the causal effect at the plot and village levels (reduction in the probability of burning rice residues due to the technology) in NW India, we will generate an estimate of cultivated area spared from residue-burning owing to the technology.
  2. Reduction in CO, NO, CH4 and particulate matter (quantity per year) emission will be estimated in two ways: (a) from area spared from burning and using emission factors from the literature (Hayashi et al. 2014), and (b) directly from satellite data on zero tillage adoption and residue burning practice. The details of direct estimation are given in Section 5. The estimates generated from the two sources will be compared, and the possible differences will be discussed. 

[References are provided in a different file].

Multiple Treatment Arms Evaluated?

Implementing Agency

Name of Organization:
CGIAR Institutions, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), State Agricultural Universities; Private Service Proviers; Machine manufacturers
Type of Organization:

Program Funder

Name of Organization:
None. Now the intervention has been disseminated by individual service providers in the villages. The state governments provide subsidy on the machine.
Type of Organization:

Intervention Timing

Intervention or Program Started at time of Registration?
Start Date:
End Date:
Evaluation Method

Evaluation Method Overview

Primary (or First) Evaluation Method:
Instrumental variables
Other (not Listed) Method:
Additional Evaluation Method (If Any):
Difference in difference/fixed effects
Other (not Listed) Method:

Method Details

Details of Evaluation Approach:

The CA adoption does not de facto terminate residue burning practice in farmers' fields, as there are a number of confounding factors. As residue burning is now illegal (albeit pecuniary actions happen rarely) in many Indian states, getting reliable data at the plot or household level through farmer survey might be difficult. Therefore, we propose a triangulation approach in which the evidence on residue burning comes from different sources – (i) village surveys (i.e., key informant interviews and focus group discussions) and farm-household surveys, (ii) fire detection by satellite, and (iii) detection of emission of gases (CO2, CH4, CO) from biomass burning by satellites. The village boundaries will be mapped, and village characteristics – including soil characteristics, number and location of service providers – will be carefully recorded. Within the village boundaries, polluting gas emissions (e.g., CO) from residue burning can be inferred from the atmospheric observations of column averaged dry-air mixing ratio (e.g. XCO) retrieved from TROPOMI satellite instrument onboard Sentinel-5 Precursor during the wheat land preparation over three-year period (2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20). Another set of remote sensing data (Sentinel-2) would indicate the prevalence of CA in the village during the same period, which will be subjected to groundtruthing using the surveys.  



Outcomes (Endpoints):
  • The reduction in residue burning (wheat area under burning) through Happy Seeder adoption (primary outcome)
  • Reduction in CO, NO, CH4, and particulate matter (quantity per year) emission from reduced residue burning (primary outcome)
  • Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY) saved due to reduced air pollution (final outcome)
Unit of Analysis:
village; household; plot

1. Adoption of conservation agriculture (especially Happy Seeder) reduces farmer practice of burning rice residues.

2. By reducing the residue burning, Happy Seeder adoption reduces the emission of air pollutants.


Unit of Intervention or Assignment:
village; household; plot
Number of Clusters in Sample:
Number of Individuals in Sample:
1021 farm households
Size of Treatment, Control, or Comparison Subsamples:
Numebr of treatment villages = 52; Number of control villages = 70.

Supplementary Files

Other Documents:
References: References Happy Seeder Study.pdf
Power and Sample Size Estimation: Power and Sample Size Estimation.pdf

Outcomes Data

We propose a triangulation approach in which the evidence on residue burning comes from different sources – (i) village surveys (i.e., key informant interviews and focus group discussions) and farm-household surveys, (ii) fire detection by satellite, and (iii) detection of emission of gases (CO2, CH4, CO) from biomass burning by satellites.
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Data Previously Used?
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Treatment Assignment Data

Participation or Assignment Information:
Data Obtained by the Study Researchers?
Data Previously Used?
Data Access:
Data Obtained by the Study Researchers?
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Data Analysis

Data Analysis Status:

Study Materials

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Registration Category

Registration Category:
Prospective, Category 1: Data for measuring impacts have not been collected

Completion Overview

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Unit of Analysis:
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Preliminary Report:
Preliminary Report URL:
Summary of Findings:
Paper Summary:
Paper Citation:

Data Availability

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Other Materials

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Description of Changes:

Study Stopped