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The Development Papers Series of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Subregional Office for South and South-West Asia (ESCAP-SSWA) promotes and disseminates policy-relevant research on the development challenges facing South and South-West Asia. It features policy research conducted at ESCAP-SSWA as well as by outside experts from within the subregion and beyond. The objective is to foster an informed debate on development policy challenges facing the subregion and sharing of development experiences and best practices.

This paper by C.R. Mehta and Uday R. Badegaonkar was commissioned by ESCAP-SSWA and the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization (CSAM) to better understand the status of crop residue management in South Asia. The burning of crop residue is a major reason for severe air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plain region. Crop residue burning increases the concentration of particulate matter and black carbon in the air, adversely affecting the health of both rural and urban populations. This burning degrades soil fertility that needs to be compensated by greater use of fertilizers and can reduce agricultural productivity in the long run. Greenhouse gases emitted from burning also contribute to global warming and climate change. All of these factors adversely affect the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals as crop residue burning harms our health and wellbeing (SDG 3), has implications on food security (SDG 2), affects the air quality of city inhabitants (SDG 11) and contributes to climate change (SDG 13).

This paper summarizes findings of national studies undertaken in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to better understand the situation of crop residue management in these countries. Good practices and technologies of crop residue management are identified and interventions are proposed to reduce straw burning. Given the cross-border nature of air pollution, this report also proposes a subregional framework for cooperation to promote sustainable and integrated management of crop residue.