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Open biomass burning

Action 7.1: Mitigate open biomass burning on cropland

Open biomass burning on cropland is practiced extensively in some countries whereas others have abandoned the practice almost entirely. Global estimates have been made using modelling tools (IIASA 2016, Klimont et al. 2017) suggesting that about 5% of the global black carbon emissions originate from agricultural residue burning, which has been recently declining in several countries.


Area of action
Open biomass burning
Mitigate open biomass burning on cropland
Further development of extension services for farmers
Type of intervention
Information and guidance
Time perspective
Short and long-term
Structural change
Jurisdictional scope
International, national
Policy forum
National authorities, non-government organisations, international organisations and initiatives
Kühn et al. (2020)

Agricultural activities are producing a variety of products and the size of the facilities are ranging from small scale to industrial scale. In contrast to other industries, emissions from the agricultural sector are from non-point sources rather than chimneys or exhaust pipes. Further, the sector is subject to a variety of agricultural policy interventions affecting production and practices. Correspondingly, governance of black carbon emissions from open biomass burning on croplands is multifaceted and national circumstances are affecting the nature of actions to reduce emissions.

A motivating factor for efforts to reduce open biomass burning on croplands is the co-beneficial feature of reduced biomass burning. Not only does it reduce emissions to air of black carbon and other health-damaging particulate matter, but it also helps preserve soil carbon content: thereby aligning the interest of climate change, agricultural and air pollution polices. The main components of an action addressing black carbon emissions from open biomass burning on croplands are those guiding agricultural activities through regulation, subsidies and extension services.

Component 7.1a. Develop agricultural policies to further discourage open biomass burning

Given the varying formulation of agricultural policies in countries with emissions affecting the Arctic, the method suitable to further discourage agricultural biomass burning also varies. In some countries a ban on open burning of crop residues can be considered. In other countries, the enforcement of existing bans can be strengthened through inspections or monitoring. An example is the CCAC-funded satellite mapping of open burning in the Andes and Himalayas. For some countries it is feasible to formulate subsidy eligibility requirements in agricultural policies that guide the distribution of rural development funding for farmers and thereby influence farming open burning practices through economic incentives.

Component 7.1b. Further development of extension services for farmers

Legal regulations and economic incentives will only slowly affect practice unless supported by extension services that provide guidance on changing the practice of open burning of crop residues on farmland. Developing extension services for farmers can contribute to the reduction and elimination of open burning trough strong message for public outreach, agricultural education and extension campaigns. As for the regulations and incentives mentioned above, there is variation between countries with respect to the degree that existing extension services and advisory systems already consider open biomass burning. Previous examples of extension services that promotes technology and cooperation to reduce the need for open burning is, for example, introduction of non-tilling practice and access to relevant agricultural machinery. Introduction of non-tilling practice, as well as mechanisation of collection and/or incorporation into soil of agricultural residues, can be exemplified by a technology promoted in India, the so-called “Happy Seeder”, which reduced the need for open burning agricultural residue at community-scales. Additional agricultural machinery to mulch and spread straw and stubble, creating valuable compost for subsequent crops, eliminates the need to gather or burn these excess crop residues.

No-burn alternatives for agriculture are promoted by CCAC and the International Cryosphere Climate initiatives. Further, the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation has conducted capacity-building/investment projects with specific focus on promotion of alternative agricultural practises in Russia, including legal and policy support as well as training programmes.

A change in agricultural practices needs to be acceptable to farmers (Pereira et al. 2016), as compliance monitoring is unlikely to be possible at the scale that would stop the practice if the practice is still considered to contribute to good yields. Promotion of new technologies should thus be reinforced by agricultural education and extension for farmers and rural communities. Public health and ‘good neighbour’ narratives are more powerful than statistics when enacting change in farming communities (Morgan et al. 2002).