Bioenergy benefits better than burning rice straw

There is a huge opportunity to generate energy from agricultural wastes – one opportunity of which is rice straw. About 6 tons of straw are produced for every 4 tons of rice grain, amounting to more than 700 million tons of rice straw every year.

At least 80% of rice straw is burnt every year. This contributes to CO2 emissions, air emissions, pollution, and poorer livelihoods through negative health and water quality impacts. In Vietnam, rice residue burning contributes to 14% (non-pile burning), 18% (pile burning), and 16% (current status) of total combustion emissions.

“Farmers unfortunately tend to be ignored in the bioenergy development process but solutions to rice straw burning can be addressed with livelihood co-benefits that can be maximised if collaborative solutions are taken,” says Angela Mae Minas from the Tyndall Centre at Manchester University.

Angela’s work shows that active involvement with farmers and local communities can offer a solution to rice straw burning in Southeast Asia.

Their research focuses on exploring collaborative ways to engage farmers in the co-development of bioenergy systems for agricultural waste . Part of this work examines social networks in farming communities to understand how locals make decisions about their rice straw and considerations for how a biogas facility could support current livelihoods.  Among potential livelihood benefits  for farmers include income from selling rice straw and using the digestate, a by-product of anaerobic digestion (or the decomposition of rice straw to produce energy), as compost for their rice fields.

“Our work in the Philippines and Vietnam allowed us to critically reflect on the value of making central the farmers and their communities in bioenergy development, and thus, based on insights from the field, we propose collaboration strategies to co-develop beneficial bioenergy solutions with them,” said Minas.

Technology developers, project implementers, and foreign-aid donors should work harder in co-developing renewable energy solutions with local communities. One of the ways this collaboration can be encouraged is through an understanding of social networks in rural farming communities.

Farmers and their families, rice traders, lenders, agricultural machine owners, and farmers’ associations have the capacity and resources to actively participate and support a potential livelihoods-based bioenergy alternative to rice straw burning.

By developing network capacities and structures in rice farming communities, farmers’ social networks can serve as platforms for social innovation.

Angela’s findings emphasise the value of coordination between policy actors, project implementers, technology developers and local communities in creating enabling environments that support rice farming communities to adopt bioenergy alternatives to rice straw burning.

“There is a need to shift away from current dominant thinking that farmers and local communities in the Global South are passive recipients of innovation; instead, they can be active participants and can take roles in the innovation process – this is particularly relevant not only for renewable energy projects (as bioenergy) but also for any ‘global challenges’ project or ‘development’ initiative,” Minas concludes.

Red full journal article here.

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