Scientific Publications

Burning in agricultural landscapes: an emerging natural and human issue in China


Burning is one of the most widely used methods for removing crop residues during harvest seasons. It cleans fields faster and costs less in comparison to other residue removal methods. Agricultural burning, however, has been recently limited or banned during harvest seasons in China, mainly due to the air quality and human health concerns raised from its use. This paper reviews recent studies on the burning of agricultural landscapes in China to understand the natural (environmental and ecological) and human (economic and social) impacts and identifies uncertainties, gaps, and future research needs. The total annual crop straw output in China is more than 600 billon kg, with about 110, 130, and 230 billion kg coming from rice, wheat, and corn, respectively. Agricultural burning removes about one-fourth of total crop straw and emits about 140–240, 1.6–2.2, and 0.5–0.14 billion kg of CO2, PM2.5, and black carbon, respectively. Agricultural burning accounts for up to half of the total PM10 concentrations in the major burning regions during harvesting periods. Burning emissions contribute to regional haze and smog events. Therefore, limiting or banning agricultural burning is a necessary measure for reducing air pollution in China. The estimations of total burned crop straw amounts and emission factors are the major uncertainty sources for emission estimates. More studies are needed to better describe the smoke plume rise, dispersion, and interactions with weather and climate and to simulate the ecological impacts of agricultural burning. Effective alternatives need to be explored in order to provide solutions for farmers to remove agricultural residues in the wake of the burning ban.

Shi, T., Y. Liu, L. Zhang, L. Hao, & Z. Gao (2014) Burning in agricultural landscapes: an emerging natural and human issue in China, Landscape Ecol.