This paper reviews the literature on crop residue burning - a widespread practice in many regions in South Asia. Specifically, we examine evidence from studies highlighting the scale of the practice in South Asia, the environmental implications, the drivers of the practice and the remedies to the problem. The studies provide evidence that the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) is a hot-spot for atmospheric pollutants, with seasonal crop residue burning being a major contributor. The burning of crop residue is reported to degrade the soil, increase the risk of erosion, and increase the soil temperature, consequently decimating soil microorganisms. This subsequently impacts the monetary cost involved in recovering the soil fertility and the potential for further pollution through the increased use of fertilizer. The review shows that farmers’ reasons for burning crop residues are mainly the high cost of incorporating, collecting, transporting, and processing crop residues in South Asia. Labour shortages, the marketability of the crop residue and the short time interval between harvest and next cropping seasons also influence farmers decision to burn crop residue. To address this problem, there is the need to encourage the use of agricultural machines capable of sowing crops in standing stubble, adopting in-situ practices and changing crop varieties to those with short duration. In addition, education and awareness are needed to change beliefs and perceptions on crop residue burning. Crucially, when promoting alternative sustainable uses of crop residue, the economic benefits should be prioritized, and support towards initial investments that accompany the adoption of alternative practices should be provided.
Muyang Lin & Toritseju Begho
Year of publication
Journal of Environmental Management