Farmers in many parts of the world set fire to cultivated fields to clear stubble, weeds and waste before sowing a new crop. While this practice may be fast and economical, it is highly unsustainable, as it produces large amounts of the particle pollutant black carbon and reduces the fertility of soil.
Many farmers are well aware of the consequences of open burning but lack the tools and knowledge to adopt alternative practices. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Agriculture Initiative supports regional networks and projects that facilitate the adoption of open burning alternatives. These “no burn” methods have the potential to reduce black carbon emissions by half, while simultaneously providing economic and social benefits for farmers.
The environmental and human costs of agricultural open burning far outweigh the near-term economic benefits for farmers.
Responsible for more than a third of all black carbon emissions, open burning is the single largest source of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant that contributes to air pollution, climate change, and increased melting in the cryosphere (regions of snow and ice). Open burning also represents one of the largest causes of air pollution-related illnesses and deaths after cookstoves.
Over time, the repeated practice of open burning becomes costly to farmers. Successive fires destroy the organic matter that makes soil fertile, causing crop yields to decrease over time and increasing the need for costly fertilizers. Smoke and spreading flames also pose a risk to neighbouring communities, buildings, and fields.
Agriculture residues are often a valuable resource worth saving. Crop stubble can be used as an energy source when converted into pellets, and straw can be used in livestock feed or bedding.