Straws: From Unwanted Waste to Biomass Energy and Women Empowerment

Women from the Straw Knitting Cooperative in Xianhe Village knit handicrafts out of straw

Straw was once welcomed by villagers in Xianhe village, Shanxi province as the agricultural by-product that could be used as food to feed the animals and fuel to heat up the stoves and clay beds. With China’s rapid development in technology and economy, farmers no longer consider straw as an essential commodity but instead burn it as unwanted waste during the harvest season. 

After the harvest season, it was very common to see fumes around the entire village, adding to China’s existing environmental challenges. In addition to generating large amounts of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen dioxides and Dioxin, one of the infamous persistent organic pollutants (POPs), burning straw produces particulates (PM), the leading source for China’s severe air pollution.  

To help villages utilize straw sustainably UNDP launched the Rural Biomass Utilization and Demonstration Project in Addressing Climate Change in Xianhe village. The project hopes to tackle environmental issues and mitigate climate change by encouraging use of biomass and other environmentally-friendly products in rural communities.

Villagers, previously using coal stoves, were now introduced to biomass energy-efficient stoves to help them better utilize renewable local biomass resources - straw, fallen leaves and other agricultural and forest residues. These free stoves were offered to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and families in poverty. The 100 stoves provided can annually reduce 440 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. “The biomass energy-efficient stove is clean and environmentally safe, and it can boil water and roast sweet potatoes. I guess next year the nearby villagers would like to use biomass energy-efficient stoves too”, said Zhang Yongjie, a local villager, excitedly.


  • 100 stoves were offered to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and families in poverty, reducing 440 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in Xianhe Village, Shanxi province
  • 105 participants received straw knitting technology training from experts, potentially reducing 333 tons of carbon emissions per year by adopting these straw knitting practices
  • A straw knitting cooperative was established where 23 women and 6 men specialized in making exquisite handicrafts out of straw and selling them to visiting tourists

Aside from introducing the biomass stoves which could turn straw into fuel, this initiative also guided villagers to turn straw into daily use items and handicrafts by introducing them to straw knitting techniques. In two training workshops, 105 participants received straw knitting training from experts.

“We wanted to do something useful but we didn’t know what to do. I never thought the corn leaves and straw that we used to make fire could also be used to make handicrafts. Using straw this way not only makes money, but also protects the environment,” said Geng Xiaoyu, a previously unemployed villager.

Per year 333 tons of carbon emissions can be reduced by adopting straw knitting practices. The government in the 12th Five-Year Plan had banned the practice of burning straw. The project will continue to help implement policies and regulations at the local level, especially those regarding environment and climate change in China.

With the help of the project, soon a straw knitting cooperative was established. The outstanding trainees, 23 women and 6 men participated in the cooperative which specializes in making exquisite handicrafts out of straw and selling them to visiting tourists.

“Since I joined the cooperative, in just one month I earned 300 Yuan, which was enough for me to cover my expenses. I no longer need to ask for money from my daughter when I am sick,” said Liu Wulan, another villager directly benefiting from the trainings.

In the past family businesses were solely owned and run by the husband but now women feel more empowered. Decisions in the community cooperative were made through votes and women were more involved in discussions around village issues.

“Theproject has greatly improved the ecosystem in Xianhe village as well as promoted women development,” said Fu Miao, the Director of Hanbin Women’s Federation. 

 New biomass energy-efficient stoves were installed in households
Under the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), this initiative was funded by the Small Grants Programme (SGP), a global mechanism that channels financial and technical support directly to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) for small-scale activities that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people’s well-being and livelihoods. UNDP collaborated with local partners such as Qinghai Forestry association, Jiang Yuan Research Association and Yangling Environmental Protection Association. 

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