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 for farmers, 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 risks 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 benefits.
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.
The livelihoods of farmers are directly affected by the practice of open burning. 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 can also pose a risk to neighbouring communities, buildings, and fields.
While agricultural open burning is a long-standing practice, several effective and sustainable alternatives exist. Conservation agriculture practices help keep soil unbroken while also maintaining vegetation coverage with the use of agricultural residues and crop rotation. No-till farming, a key conservation agriculture strategy, leaves crop residues on the soil surface, facilitating planting and increasing nitrogen in the soil.
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.
The Coalition's Agriculture Initiative supports the development of replicable and scalable "no burn" alternatives in the Eastern Himalayas and Andes regions, which are particularly sensitive to the warming effects of black carbon. It works with regional networks to promote alternative practices that are tailored to local environments and crops.
The work consists of identifying the main open burning sources in the targeted regions and carrying out on-the-ground demonstrations of no-burn practices to educate local communities. Each project sets out to achieve:
- Farmer outreach and education conducted through study tours; field demonstrations; and the production of local-language educational materials on the negative impacts of burning, country- and crop-appropriate alternatives, and the integration of these practices
- Measurable impacts through continued satellite and on-the-ground monitoring of fires and their related pollutant emissions, including direct black carbon monitoring on nearby snow and glaciers when possible
- Policy support to local and national authorities, sharing examples of successful measures and regulations used elsewhere - from subsidies for alternative equipment to regulation of burning
A robust and flexible approach that embraces local input and expertise, together with the range of cultural dynamics and practices, climactic conditions, landscapes, and soil diversity, is most effective in addressing open agricultural burning.
The Coalition will create a Strategic Support Group in the Himalayas and the Andes regions to provide targeted expertise, advice and technical support to regional governments, farmer associations and others wishing to decrease local open burning. The members of the groups will also define regional and global strategies to raise awareness about the impacts of open burning and the alternatives.
Other interventions include:
- Targeted policy and strategic planning support to regional governments, and farmer associations that will provide open burning alternatives with incentives to farmers and that will spur the uptake of national measures at the policy level
- Capacity building through strengthened regional networks that facilitate the exchange of information on alternative practices.
- Identification of regional and global strategies to bring the impacts of open burning on crop yields, climate and health and the viability of alternatives to greater regional and global attention
- Regional satellite monitoring using the Moderate Resolution Image Spectroradiometer (MODIS) 1 km Global Fire Location Product (MCD14ML) and on-the-ground mapping of fires to monitor impact
Key ahievements to date:
- Satellite Mapping of Open Burning in the Andes and Himalayas Regions
- Design of shovel-ready mitigation projects for 6 countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Pakistan, Ecuador and India)
- Final Report on the Impacts and Reduction of Open Burning in the Andes, Himalayas – and Globally
- CCAC Open Burning Global Transition Strategy with no-burn alternative
- Regional emissions baseline separating black carbon emissions by deliberate burning versus 'natural' wildfired (2013-2018)