NEWS February 29, 2024

Takachar: How One Startup Is Ending Field Burning in Northern India

The startup Takachar is building new technology to end stubble burning and convert farm waste into saleable products. 

Every year in late October and November, farmers in northern India burn off crop debris, a practice known as stubble burning. Stubble burning has long been a method of removing crop residue to prepare a field for sowing wheat. Cold, heavy air traps construction dust, vehicle emissions and smoke from the stubble burning (in the states of Punjab and Haryana) resulting in the development of a layer of smog which envelops India’s national capital of Delhi and surrounding districts. Stubble burning shortens life spans. It also represents potential profits that literally go up in smoke.

“Worldwide, close to $120 billion per year of crop and forest residue is just burnt in the open. Now think of it, if all this value was shared among farmers, how much impact we could make on the ground,” Vidyut Mohan told the Social Leadership Development Program in 2023.

Mr. Mohan founded the MIT spinoff Takachar, building new technology to end stubble burning and convert farm waste into saleable products. The startup has gained international recognition, winning the Earthshot Prize and placing in ASME ISHOW USA.

Unraveling the Stubble Burning Crisis

Takachar began with a problem. The health effects of stubble burning-induced air pollution range from irritation of the skin and eyes to severe neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, lung capacity loss, emphysema and cancer. In short, stubble burning increases mortality rates.

India’s central and state governments have tried to mitigate the practice by offering financial incentives, promoting bio-decomposer use, and imposing hefty fines on stubble burners. But the practice has shown few signs of abating.

Fines have not been effective at curbing the practice among small-scale farmers. The fines often exceed what farmers can afford, and policing every field is a logistical challenge.

Government-subsidized alternatives like “happy seeders” that plant crops without removing stubble, or subsidies for bio-decomposers, are either not readily accessible or require farmers to adopt new practices that may seem risky or complicated. Other solutions proposed, such as mulching, plowing under the crop residues, or using bio-decomposers, often demand significant changes in agricultural practices or entail additional costs. Such solutions have not seen enthusiastic adoption, especially when the benefits are not immediately obvious.

By examining why farmers persist in burning stubble, Takachar was able to build alternatives that meet their needs.

Farmers in northern India resort to stubble burning primarily due to the economic and practical convenience it offers. After the harvest season, clearing the fields quickly and efficiently is a priority for farmers as they prepare for the next planting season. Stubble burning offers a rapid solution that saves on labor costs. While it may offer a short-term solution for field clearing, the long-term consequences of stubble burning underscore the need for sustainable alternatives.

How it works

Takachar employs a unique thermochemical process that converts crop waste into valuable biochar and biofuel. What sets Takachar apart is the portability of its manufacturing equipment, enabling on-site processing of agricultural waste, even in remote areas. This not only eliminates the need for transportation of waste but also increases the efficiency of the conversion process.

“We have developed small-scale, low cost, smoke-free, and portable equipment that can be pulled behind tractors and even ox carts and taken directly to the sites where these agricultural and forest wastes are located. The machine then processes this waste into dense, carbon-rich fuels and fertilizers within 30 minutes,” Mr. Mohan said at TEDxGateway.

The device heats agricultural waste in chambers with a controlled quanitity of air. The process, called oxygen-lean torrefaction, burns away low-energy molecules and leaves nutrient-dense, carbon-rich biochar. Takachar’s tests found a reduction of up to 95 percent of emissions compared to open burning.

The machine is easy to operate and maintain, and does not require an external source of energy for heating.

Innovation that Converts Tons of Agro-Waste into Valuable Products | Vidyut Mohan | TEDxGateway

Economic impact

Takachar’s innovation has economic implications that extend beyond the farm. By transforming crop residue into biochar and biofuel, Takachar is creating a new market with new income streams for farmers and rural communities. With the new market come new jobs, including operation and maintenance of the equipment, collection, transportation, and sale of biomass waste.

As Takachar’s solution gains traction, it is incentivizing greater investment in the agri-tech sector. Another benefit: the adoption of Takachar is helping to dispel rural skepticism about new technologies. As farmers see the benefits of converting field waste into profitable products, they are more likely to embrace technology as a tool to improve their livelihoods and protect the environment.

“Above all, decentralized deployment of our equipment gives control to farmers to create value,” Mr. Mohan said.

Social Impact

Takachar has the potential to empower communities and improve health outcomes. A reduction in stubble burning could decrease air pollution and reduce respiratory and other health issues. Likewise, greater income can promote health by enhancing food security.

As a pioneer in waste management, Takachar is setting a precedent for best practices. The startup’s success is helping to build scientific temper and spread awareness about sustainable farming practices. Takachar’s work promotes social equity and fosters community cohesiveness. This sense of shared purpose and collective well-being is a vital ingredient in building resilient and sustainable communities.

Environmental impact

Besides reducing air pollution, Takachar produces biofuel, an alternative to fossil fuels, and of course biochar. Biochar can sequester carbon and mitigate climate change. Biochar also enhances soil health by improving its structure, nutrient content, and water retention capacity.

Collectively, these environmental benefits can pave the way for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future in agriculture.

How Takachar Are Cleaning Our Air | #Earthshot Prize

Alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals

Takachar’s solution resonates with at least five of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By reducing air pollution and carbon emissions, Takachar is contributing to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). By providing farmers with an additional source of income, the company is supporting SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). Furthermore, by promoting sustainable agricultural practices, Takachar is contributing to SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 15 (Life on Land).

The Way Forward

Takachar offers farmers a sustainable and profitable alternative.

Technologies like Takachar’s can scale their impact through partnerships with local governments, agricultural organizations and other stakeholders. Fostering a culture of sustainable agricultural practices, supported by technology and education, will be key to ensuring long-term success in combating the challenges of agricultural waste. Ultimately, by embracing sustainable solutions, we can see a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous future for all.

About the Author

Dilraj Singh Mann is a former Engineering for Change Fellow pursuing a Master of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto. 

Comments from the Community


  1. SKPandey says:

    I am interested to know more about this equipment and its price.
    Please share how can I contact.

  2. Rob Goodier says:

    Hi, thanks for reading. You can reach Takachar just by using the contact form on their website: Good luck!

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