Guojun He, Tong Liu, Maigeng Zhou; Journal of Development Economics

Key Takeaways:

  1. Straw burning on agricultural land can be a major source of seasonal air pollution in some parts of the world, particularly developing countries dependent on agriculture.
  2. The study investigates the impacts of agricultural straw burning on particulate air pollution and mortality in China, and finds that 10 additional straw fires within 50 km of a county center will lead to a 7.6 percent increase in monthly particulate pollution (PM2.5) levels and a 1.6 percent increase in mortality in Chinese counties. Two-thirds of the deaths are caused by cardiorespiratory diseases.
  3. Those who are more vulnerable and are more intensively exposed to the straw burning smoke are more likely to die due to straw burning. Straw burning impacts rural and poor populations the most, suggesting better socioeconomic conditions can mitigate the impact of air pollution on mortality. Further, nearly 80 percent of the deaths were among people over 60 years old, and males account for around 58 percent of deaths.
  4. In evaluating China’s straw recycling subsidy policy, the study shows that providing subsidies to farmers incentivized them to recycle, which reduced air pollution by 7.3 percent and averted about 18,900 premature deaths.
  5. The benefits of subsidizing straw recycling—figured to be about 55 billion Chinese yuan (around 7.85 billion USD)—are substantially larger than the costs—at most 2.6 billion Chinese yuan each year (around 367.6 million USD). Other countries facing similar particulate pollution problems from straw burning may also benefit from a similar subsidy policy.