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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 611, 13 June 2023

Crop Residue Burning in Pakistan: Review of a UNESCAP Report



It highlights the detrimental effects of crop burning on air pollution, soil fertility, and agricultural productivity

Subiksha S

On 9 June, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) released a report titled "Sustainable Management of Crop Residues in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan: Challenges and Solutions." It highlights the detrimental effects of crop burning on air pollution, soil fertility, and agricultural productivity in the Indo-Gangetic plains of South Asia. It suggests that instead of imposing bans, modern technology should be employed to mitigate the adverse impacts of crop burning.
 
Crop Residue Burning in Pakistan: The Issue & Fallouts
The report identifies an increase in the burning of combined harvested wheat straws in Pakistan. Due to limited resources, challenging management practices, and a short window for seeding the next crop, rice straw burning has become a significant concern. According to the survey, rice straw burning is prevalent in Punjab province, accounting for 72 per cent of all practices. The use of combine harvesters leaves behind large amounts of loose straw, which are subsequently burned. Additionally, the burning of sugarcane trash during cane harvesting has been a common practice, although efforts to reduce it through penalties have been implemented.
 
Crop residue burning contributes to air pollution, releasing particulate matter, black carbon, and greenhouse gases, which adversely affect the health of both rural and urban populations. Moreover, it degrades soil fertility by depleting organic matter and essential nutrients, impairs microbial biomass, and leads to the loss of vital components such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium. This not only hampers agricultural productivity but also renders the land less fertile in the long run. The report also highlights the underutilization of wheat and rice straws as industrial raw materials, with limited uses in sectors such as animal bedding, garden mulch, heating fuel, and paper-making.
 
Addressing the Issue: Recommendations
The UN report emphasizes the need to address crop burning through a combination of technology and incentives rather than a complete ban. It suggests a sub-regional framework that assigns economic value to crop residues, ensuring that burning them results in an economic loss for farmers. By implementing modern technologies, such as biomass energy facilities, Pakistan's government aims to reduce crop residue burning and revise renewable energy legislation. The promotion of cogeneration power plants that burn agricultural waste is one such initiative.
 
Furthermore, the report highlights the critical role of crop residues in fulfilling animal dietary needs, particularly wheat straw, which constitutes a significant portion of livestock fodder. Any increase in its price has a direct impact on the prices of milk and meat. The report underscores the importance of finding alternative uses for crop residues, not only to mitigate burning but also to enhance economic opportunities and sustainable agriculture.
However, these residues can be valuable resources for rural households and small industries, providing carbon, bio-active compounds, feed, and energy. Sustainable management of crop residues is a challenge due to limited time, high costs, and lack of viable alternatives. Creating a decentralized mechanism for residue collection and sale can facilitate power generation and other uses. Educating farmers, providing financial support, and raising awareness are crucial steps in achieving sustainable crop residue management.

References
Amin Ahmed, “Crop burning should be reduced through technology: UN body,” Dawn, 13 June 2023
S C. R. Mehta Uday, R. Badegaonkar, “Sustainable Management of Crop Residue in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan: Challenges and Solutions,” United Nations, 9 June 2023

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