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