Enabling sustainable uses of crop residue in the State of Punjab, India

Crop residue burning in India is a serious issue that is detrimental to human health and the climate. It is also an unsustainable practice that damages the quality of soil and decreases agricultural yields. 

India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy estimates that approximately 500 million tonnes of crop residue is generated annually. While a portion of this is used to feed animals, amongst other purposes, most is burnt in the fields. The problem is severe in India's Punjab State where 15.4 million tonnes of rice straw is burnt to quickly and cheaply prepare fields for sowing the next crop.  

The burning of crop residue wastes what could be a useful resource and potential source of income for farmers. Crop residue has many practical uses, including for the production of green energy, which would contribute significantly to India meeting its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets and combatting climate change. Other uses for crop residue include feed for livestock, electricity production, cooking fuel and the production of organic soil fertilizer. Due to the large annual volume, many different uses are needed to absorb the crop residue supply.  

Since 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAO) has carried out a Climate and Clean Air Coalition project in Punjab to identify how crop residue can be used on farms and in other ways that are environmentally sustainable and economically viable for farmers and entrepreneurs.   


Our Agriculture Initiative supports the development of integrated strategies for crop residue management that is grounded in robust evidence. This project’s activities will provide essential groundwork to develop an effective value chain for crop residue. 

Why we're doing this work

While many countries want to use crop residue to generate bio-energy, FAO analysis shows that these efforts often fail due to insufficient infrastructure for residue collection, transport and storage. For this reason, our work involves identifying where and how much crop residue is burnt in Punjab and determining the required logistics to collect residue within the very narrow three-week window available post-harvest.

Quantifying how much residue is burnt in the field is challenging. Knowing this would help identify which crop residue supply chains have development potential. The lack of a crop residue logistical value chain is a critical bottleneck that results in this valuable resource being burned.

The project is also supporting efforts to estimate which bioenergy technologies are economically and environmentally feasible to produce renewable energy from available crop residue.

This work will support achieving the Punjab Government's target to produce 600 megawatts of power from biomass, including from agricultural residue by 2022 and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy's programme to produce energy from urban and industrial waste and agricultural residue launched in 2018.

What we're doing

Project activities include:  

  • Identification and spatial definition of the amount of crop residues burnt in fields by district, including specific crop residue locations  
  • Identifying requirements for developing a crop residue supply chain, and associated components to spur their further use  
  • Identifying feasible bioenergy technologies and the potential renewable energy that can be generated from crop residue 

Pollutants (SLCPs)