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The burning of crop residue generates severe air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plain area of South Asia. Crop residue burning affects people's health, degrades soil health that impacts agricultural production and food security and emits greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Crop straw yield has kept growing and maintained a high level with increases in agriculture production in South Asia. The lack of suitable agricultural technology and machinery to sustainably utilize the straw or promote its recycled usage has led to straw burning, causing a high level of air pollution, including through transboundary sources.

This paper undertakes an analysis of the status of crop residue generation for three major crops (rice, maize and wheat), incidences of burning, factors that influences farmers’ decisions to burn crop residue. The study finds that incidences of residue burning has increased particularly since the use of combine harvesters came into practice and that changes in livestock rearing practices through commercial rearing and use of alternative feed has also reduced demand for straw and market value of crop residues, particularly in the Terai region. Access to suitable techniques for integrated straw management is also lacking which leaves farmers with limited options for using crop residues. Various in-situ and ex-situ methods for managing crop residues as well as the agricultural machinery and equipment used in Nepal are documented.

The paper analyses various gaps and challenges that exist to ensure a more sustainable management of straw. Various recommendations are made on policy, research, mechanization and agriculture practice issues that can be considered to tap unrealized opportunities that alternative uses of crop residues can have to improve farmers’ livelihoods and the environment.  Some short, medium and long-term action plans, along with returning 75% of crop residue back to the field either by in-situ or ex-situ straw management are also proposed for the implementation of a “no-burn” campaign in Nepal.

JEL Codes(s): O13, Q16, Q53, Q55

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Subregional Office for South and South-West Asia +91 11 3097 3700 [email protected]