Is there an eco-friendly alternative to stubble burning?

Rice: A staple food for a lot of Asian countries which requires a labor intensive cropping and harvest cycle. However, the challenge is not only to harvest the rice from the paddy fields but the stubble that is left behind. Once the rice is harvested from the paddy fields, the residual stubble (typically a Kilogram per Kilogram of rice harvest) needs to be cleared to prepare the field for the consecutive plantation cycle. For the moment, there are two apparent approaches for this: 1.) To let the stubble rot in the field which release Methane which is a greenhouse gas and contribute to global warming; or, 2.) burn the stubble which has contributed to record breaking levels of pollution especially in places like New Delhi and Punjab, India where such practices have prevailed for several generations. In today’s times, where the humanity is already struggling with the environmental imbalance and record high levels of pollution, is there an eco-friendly alternative that can be adopted by rice farmers globally?

Potential eco-friendly solution

One alternative to burning the paddy stubble could be the use of alternative technologies like the Happy seeder, a tractor-mounted machine that sows seeds without the need to till the field or remove existing paddy straw. Whilst this does away with the need to till the field altogether, people in other parts of the world are looking into ancient technologies of converting cellulosic fibers into paper.

Mrs. Jaruwan Khammuang, Co-founder and CEO of the Fang Thai Factory in Thailand, has come up with a unique eco-friendly solution to recycle the left over straw whilst giving monetary incentives to farmers. They purchase the residual straw from farmers at the rate of few cents per Kilogram. At the processing site, the accrued straw is first chopped and then mixed with water and brought to a boil for about 4 hours. This leaves behind a pulpy mass which is then dried without any chemicals. The dried powdery raw material can then be processed to obtain rice paper, dinnerware and leak-proof take-away food packaging. The technique itself of converting any Lignocellulosic biomass be it rice straw or wheat straw etc. into paper is not novel and has existed since the 1st century AD as reported by the Chinese history. But in recent days, startups around the world are showing renewed interest in developing this into a widely acceptable farming practice.

All that remains now is to perfect the technique to make it economically feasible for the end-products to be produced locally, thereby doing away with the need to outsource the raw material for processing into end-products for consumer use.

Environmental and social benefits

Aside from its apparent eco-friendly strengths, this solution also serves as an additional livelihood for the farmers. Usually, upon harvest the farmers face low season until the next harvest season but like this, the farmers can be employed for post-processing of the straw giving them a sustained and perhaps an additional source of income until the next harvest. This might just be what the rice farmers need from across the globe as an adaptation to their post harvest practices to minimize their carbon footprint.

Published by Kshitij Tiwari

Roboticist, martial artist, solo traveler, environmentalist

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