The EcoWaste Coalition pleaded for the ecological management of rice straws and other crop residues as government officials search for real solutions to the unfolding rice crisis and the warming of the climate.
The open burning of rice straws after harvesting, laments the eco-group, persists despite the “Unified Campaign on Composting and Prevention of Rice Straw Burning” that the Department of Agriculture launched in 2006 as part of its “Agri-Kalikasan” program.
“Rice fields on fire are pollution hotspots that can release huge amounts of toxic environmental contaminants, which can considerably increase air pollution levels and adversely affect the public health and the climate,” said Roy Alvarez, film actor and Vice-President of the EcoWaste Coalition.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as dioxins and furans, are formed and released into the environment when agricultural wastes are burned. These toxic byproducts are potent carcinogens or cancer-causing substances. A report by the Department of Science and Technology shows that the open burning of agricultural wastes is the number one source of dioxin and furan pollution in the country.
Smoke plumes from burning farm wastes contain many other contaminants, including fine dust particles such as PM10 or particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter. Exposure to the acrid smoke can induce or aggravate coughing, allergic rhinitis, asthma and other respiratory as well as cardiovascular diseases.
“If the straws from the palay to be harvested are burned and reduced to smoke, soot and ash, we are not only polluting the environment but also wasting valuable resources that can certainly help us in improving soil fertility, farmers’ income and community health. Rice straws can be composted to produce organic fertilizer for our farms,” Alvarez said.
Organic farmer Bernie Aragoza, a member of the EcoWaste Coalition’s newly-formed Task Force on Natural Farming, says that “mainstreaming ecological alternatives to the open burning of rice straws such as turning them into organic compost fertilizer will dramatically reduce farmers’ dependence on expensive chemical fertilizer costing P800 to P1,000 per bag.”
Aside from composting, rice straws can be used as fodder for livestock, as substrates for cultivating mushrooms or as raw material for special papers.
To encourage more farmers to abandon the outmoded practice of burning dayami, the EcoWaste Coalition urges the Department of Agriculture to intensify its public information campaign in partnership with the mass media, the local government units, the church and the civil society.
The eco-group also cited the recent adoption of Provincial Ordinance No. 07-05 by the Government of Leyte that bans the burning of rice straws and other agricultural wastes and penalizes violators.
“As more Filipinos embrace organic farming in lieu of destructive chemical-dependent agriculture, we remain hopeful that our country will get through the rice crisis while we enhance the health of our fragile ecosystems and cool the planet,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.
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