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Searca to create SEA carbon farming consortium
Non-profit aims to cut huge GHG emissions, rice straw burning, raise farmers’ income
The Asset 28 Jul 2023

The non-profit organization Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) plans to create a carbon farming consortium to generate carbon credits and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while raising rice farmers’ income.

Searca director Glenn B. Gregorio, who made the announcement during a roundtable discussion, entitled Sustainable Food and Agriculture System in Southeast Asia, organized by the non-profit and the Philippine central bank Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, says the consortium will give incentives for Asian farmers to adopt innovative technologies that will reduce emission of a very powerful GHG – methane – that comes from rice farming, and will generate carbon credits in the future. 

Aside from solving a huge environmental problem, Gregorio shares that the consortium also aims to raise farmers’ income by at least 50%, generate rural jobs and produce an organic fertilizer. 

The non-profit will start with a few pilot sites, use these as model for replication and do actual measurements (greenhouse gas emissions, income) as a scientific basis for replication. Farmers, it notes, will be organized, formed into communities and incentivized to use the innovations.

Among the climate-smart rice varieties to be popularized to farmers are those that are short-maturing and high-yielding, biotic and abiotic stress-tolerant, high-biomass, and drought-, submergence- and salt-tolerant.

In one technology to be adopted by the consortium, Searca has partnered with the UK-based Straw Innovation (SI) whose Rice Straw Biogas Hub project solves the huge problem of disposing of the straw waste material created when producing rice.

An estimated 750 million metric tons (MT) of rice straw is produced yearly. To dispose of the waste, an estimated 300 million MT is burned. The remaining 400 MT is left to decay in the fields, emitting a huge amount of methane, a GHG, according to SI, 80 times more dangerous to the environment than carbon dioxide when emitted over a 20-year period.

However, SI has developed a harvester that enables synchronous harvesting of both rice and the rice straw that omits burning, disposal of much of the waste and significantly reduces GHG emissions. The technology also enables production of fertilizer that stores carbon. The innovation, SI notes, brings jobs in rural areas, reduces post-harvest losses and generates billions of dollars for the Philippine rice sector.

Other technologies to be popularized among Southeast Asian (SEA) farmers are water-saving technologies like alternate wetting and drying of rice farms, soil and nutrient management, and cropping and crop animal systems.

“We will share the data and the experence [between Southeast Asian countries],” Gregorio adds.  “We will get funds together, and Searca will commit some funds to start it up. We’ll make a model, make it work and, after a few years, once we see farmers benefiting, it will spread like fire. Once the soil is rehabilitated, it will have health benefits. It will benefit all. We will use digital technology. It’s a dream, but it’s reachable.”

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