Experts call for incentives, mechanisation to tackle stubble burning

THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2024

Farmers should be offered incentives and given access to machines that could help tackle air pollution and drive sustainable agriculture, several experts said during a panel discussion at the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre on Thursday.

Stubble burning is among the major causes of PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter) air pollution in Thailand. It can cause respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer, especially in the North where the area is surrounded by mountains.

Dares Kittiyopas, deputy director-general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, said air pollution in Thai agriculture came from three sources: rice straw in the Central region, sugarcane in the West and Northeast, and maize in the North.

The reason behind the stubble burning is the difficulty in preparing agricultural plots for the next cultivation. For instance, sugarcane leaves are sharp and make it difficult to plough the land, she explained.

She said the department had cooperated with relevant agencies to promote sustainable farming practices, such as campaigning among maize farmers in the North to refrain from farm burning, promoting the cultivation of fruits to solve soil erosion and setting up a fund to support farmers on machinery investment.

“A new act, which bans farmers from burning crops, would be passed soon, but I think the important thing is changing farmers’ mindset right away,” she said.

Experts call for incentives, mechanisation to tackle stubble burning

Incentives and machinery necessary

Marco Silvestri, programme officer of UNESCAP’s Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanisation, said incentives and machinery support can encourage farmers to adopt sustainable farming. 

“There are many reasons behind air pollution in agriculture. But in the end, farmers have no alternatives to stubble burning and looking for incentives in sustainable farming,” he said.

He advised government agencies to cooperate with relevant agencies on offering incentives and machinery services to farmers.

Silvestri asked Thailand and nearby countries to collaborate on dealing with air pollution together to prevent an impact on public health and tourism.

Experts call for incentives, mechanisation to tackle stubble burning

Dealing with crop residue

Tobias Breunig, adviser at the German Organisation for International Cooperation, said there were many ways to deal with crop residue, such as making fodder for feeding livestocks or even using higher technologies to boost its value.

Echoing Silvestri, he said regulations to prevent stubble burning were necessary to deal with air pollution along with enabling farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices.

He expected government agencies to offer subsidies and machine support to encourage farmers to change their mindset, which would help tackle air pollution in the long term.