Agricultural residue burning is a serious problem facing Thailand and other countries in South and Southeast Asia. Burning of rice and sugarcane residues is one of the major factors that leads to dangerous air quality conditions in major cities of Thailand during dry months. In Central and Northeast Thailand, farmers burn rice stubble and sugarcane residue as a cheap and fast option to clear fields in order to prepare for the next crop. There are alternative options to manage the residue (e.g. residue for bioenergy production, mushroom farming, livestock), which not only reduce emissions but also benefit soil quality through soil carbon sequestration. However, there is insufficient knowledge on the benefit of the alternative practices for emissions reduction and improvement of soil health and a lack of information on the associated adoption costs or the required subsidies for successful implementation of alternative practices.
With NASA LCLUC funding and as part of the South/Southeast Asia Research Initiative (SARI), University of Maryland Harvest Hub researchers in collaboration with local research partners from King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang (KMITL) have been conducting an interdisciplinary research project to assess the trade-offs with residue burning and alternative management practices in rice and sugarcane on soil quality and socio-economic conditions. During a recent visit to Thailand, Dr. Prasad Bandaru presented results from this ongoing study at the Ministry of Industry's Office of Cane and Sugar Board and Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organisation (TGO), and interacted with officials to get feedback on how these results will be helpful in ongoing efforts under these organizations. Miss Puttipar Rotkittikhun, Director of Approval and Monitoring Office, was excited about the work and expressed her interest in collaborating with the project team. She felt that the information on regional soil carbon work can be used as to educate local farmers on the benefits of sustainable residue management practices. Further, Mr. Virasak Kwanmuang, Director of the Office of Cane and Sugar Board, and his colleagues appreciated the efforts to produce high quality sugarcane maps using a combination of optical and SAR satellite datasets, and to estimate regional impacts of various sugarcane residue management practices. They expressed interest in participating in the work and a willingness to provide field scale data (e.g., sugarcane yields, production costs). The UMD Hub researchers and local research partners at KMITL will continue to interact with these agencies to work closely with them and transfer the knowledge obtained from this research.