LCLUC researchers help tackle a toxic practice in Thailand

Varaprasad Bandaru

Hundreds of Bangkok schools were closed recently due to the dangerous levels of air pollution and the severity of the pollution made the international news. It was reported that burning of crop residue, a leftover plant material after harvest, is one of the major contributors to this situation. Intensive burning, particularly burning of rice stubble occurs during the dry months from January to March. Residue burning in Bangkok’s neighboring provinces (e.g. Pathum Thani), is estimated to be responsible for 25-35% fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and more than 15% of course particulate matter (PM10) in the Bangkok region. These air pollutants from crop burning add to other pollution sources from transportation, construction and factories leading to dangerous air quality conditions during the dry season.

In the Central Region of the Thailand, 2-3 crops of paddy rice are cultivated each year, and due to short time period between seasons, farmers burn their rice stubble ━ a cheap and fast option to clear the field in order to prepare the field 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 may also benefit the soil quality. But there is insufficient knowledge on the tradeoff of the alternative practices on emissions reduction and improvement of soil health and a lack information on associated adoption costs or the required subsidies for successful implementation of alternative practices.

With NASA LCLUC funding, UMD researchers in collaboration with local research partners from King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang (KMITL) and King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUT) have been conducting an interdisciplinary research project integrating satellite remote sensing, field-scale research, agroecosystem modeling, and socioeconomic analysis to address different issues associated with rice and sugarcane residue burning in Central and Northeast Thailand. The project aims to: 1) improve emission estimates from burning practices by accounting for the spatial variability in the biomass production, burning practices, and emission characteristics, 2) estimate regional impacts with different alternative residue management practices on soil quality and economic well-being of the farming communities, 3) understand the farmer’s economic and non-economic considerations towards adoption of sustainable management practices to inform the establishment of workable policies, 4) engage with government (e.g. Pollution Control Department ) and non-government agencies (e.g. sugarcane industries) to provide the knowledge base required for developing and deploying sustainable development strategies.

During a recent visit to Thailand, Principal Investigator Dr. Varaprasad Bandaru (Dept of Geographical Sciences, UMD) and local partners interacted with farmers and community leaders in Chaiyaphum Province, collecting information on various residue burning practices and factors constraining adoption of sustainable residue management practices. Further, with help of Dr. Sukunya Yampracha’s group, (KMITL), soil samples and the history of various residue management practices were collected. This information will be used in agroecosystem modeling and socio-economic analysis. 

By end of the project period, this research is expected to provide a standardized framework to monitor emissions from crop burning, and also produce critical data to design the subsidies and policies to prevent the residue burning and to promote sustainable residue management practices in Thailand.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019