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Burning dilemma: Sugarcane farmers struggle in Thailand’s green vision

As Thailand pushes towards a bioeconomy green vision, it’s making a concerted effort to reduce crop burning and improve air quality. But cut off from much of the profits generated from their crops, the kingdom’s sugarcane farmers continue to burn just to survive

According to May Thazin Aung, a research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, bioeconomy can drive economic development, but “you cannot have sustainability without an equal society”.

Published on 7 December 2020

Workers harvesting sugarcane crop. Photo: kampee patisena / Gettyimages.

Sugarcane has long been a key commodity for sugar production in Thailand. But in recent years, it has been increasingly promoted as a potential cornerstone for Thailand’s growing bioeconomy, as the kingdom aims to substantially grow the business of turning biological material into value-added products.

In response to air quality routinely dipping below healthy standards, in June 2019 the Thai government issued regulations in an attempt to reduce sugarcane burning within a three-year timeline. This would be done by setting a limit on the amount of burned sugarcane that millers can accept, as well as offering a higher price for fresh sugarcane, and in some provinces, penalizing farmers for burning.

But despite government efforts, the long-held practice of burning sugarcane persists as Thai farmers struggle with high production costs and fluctuating year-to-year income amidst declining global sugar prices.

“Sugarcane burning can be an indicator of inequality,” said May Thazin Aung, a research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “If the system was more equitable, then people wouldn’t be sidelined by considerations such as labour costs, there would be a greater investment into machinery and mechanization to avoid the field burning that causes environmental pollution.”

Read the full article in Southeast Asia Globe.

This article was produced with support from the SEI Asia Media Grant

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