What to Know About India’s Crop Burning Season

What to Know About India’s Crop Burning Season

When you think of air pollution, you probably think of cars or factories. But what about agriculture?

Although not top of mind, agricultural operations are a major source of pollution around the world. One major source of air pollutants in agriculture is crop burning.

Every year, crop burning season drastically affects the air quality in India all across the country. It’s so damaging, the journal Nature Sustainability published a study finding that the majority of India’s air pollution comes from crop burning. The particulate matter released into the air can have a range of negative health effects.

So, what is crop burning, why is it harmful to the environment, and what can we do to address the issues? Read on for more information about the problem and what you can do to help.

What is Crop Burning Season?

Crop burning season refers to the season when farmers burn the remnants of their crops or stubble. The stalks of plants that remain after harvesting are hearty and difficult to remove, so many opt to burn them. However, the ash and smoke from these fires can cause respiratory problems and contribute to global air pollution.

India’s crop burning season usually starts just after the rainy and wet monsoon season. It then lasts from September to December. During that time, the air in India is thick with smoke from the burning fields, which migrates from rural areas to metropolitan cities.

Why is Crop Burning Done in India?

Farmers in India and other countries burn their crops after harvest to clear the land for the next season. Crop burning is done to burn off the stalks that are left over after harvest. The practice is also known as stubble or paddy burning.

The problem is that it is more harmful to us and our environment.

Instead of other agricultural methods, crop burning is preferred for 3 reasons:

  1. Crop burning is generally more affordable.
  2. The fire kills weeds that resist pesticides.
  3. Farmers can also reduce pests that harm crops.

Key Problems with Crop Burning

For years, we have known the practice of crop burning in India causes significant environmental and health problems. Because the burning of crops releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere, it contributes to lower air quality and higher concentrations of particulate matter (PM).

As a result, this pollution causes respiratory problems and other health issues for people living in the area. PM pollution itself has been linked to many health problems by the EPA, such as:

  • Higher risk of death for those with heart or lung diseases
  • Higher rates of respiratory symptoms
  • Nondeadly heart attacks
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Poor lung functioning
  • Asthma attacks

Beyond that, crop burning also affects our quality of life and our atmosphere. This is because the burning of biomass (such as crops) produces greenhouse gases. To be more specific, a study from IARI, or Indian Agricultural Research Institute, also found that crop burning emits over 1.28 million tons of particulate matter and 0.07 million tons of black carbon.

4 Crop Burning Solutions

Thankfully, there are several solutions that could help reduce the amount of crop burning in India. These are 4 ways we can help dissuade farmers from burning their crops:

  1. Financial Support: One solution is to provide financial assistance to farmers so they can afford to keep their crops instead of burning them.
  2. Improved Technology: Another solution is to develop better technologies that would make it easier and cheaper for farmers to process and store their crops.
  3. Raise Awareness: Additionally, better education and awareness about the harmful effects of crop burning could help reduce the number of farmers who engage in this practice.
  4. Air Quality Monitoring: To make better decisions, we need to have a clear picture of what is happening. Investing in technology like air quality monitors is one step we can all take in the right direction.

As our cities grow, so does the level of air pollution. This is a major issue because it can cause all sorts of health problems—especially for vulnerable groups. One way to combat this problem is by investing in technology that helps us monitor air quality.

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map. or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. 

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.