Farmer threatened with heavy fine for straw burning

An elderly Sichuan man called Mr Xue has been threatened with a large fine for burning stalks on his field.

Straw burning has long been controversial and is banned in China. It helps farmers but causes air pollution and carries a fine of CNY 500-2,000 (USD 69-276) in accordance with the national air pollution law

Mr Xue ignited the stalks on 2 May so that he could plant corn the next day. The Songlin village authority said he would be fined the maximum amount, but in fact has no law-enforcement power. The town government then sent Mr Xue a notice requiring him to pay the minimum fine, and hoping to have a “deterrent effect” on other villagers.

The air pollution caused by straw burning can cause smog and harm health. In 1999, it was banned in some parts of China and in 2008 that ban was extended nationwide. The prohibition has always been controversial. Burning can remove crop pathogens, insect eggs and weed seeds, thereby reducing pests, diseases and the need for pesticides. Moreover, handling straw is a big burden for aged villagers whose younger family members may have migrated to the cities. Every year, villagers across the country take the risk and burn their fields anyway.

In recent years, some commentators have called for the government to reassess the ban, saying policies need to “strike a balance between benefiting agriculture and reducing environmental pollution.”

At this year’s Two Sessions, several representatives of the National People’s Congress proposed to “gradually relax the ban on straw burning”, China Reform Daily reported. Some provinces like Zhejiang, Guangxi and Hunan have also begun to study the pros and cons of the policy, and even allow villagers to burn straw in some areas under appropriate weather conditions.

Read Dialogue Earth’s 2015 analysis on straw burning in China.