Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Putting rice straw waste to good use

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines―A two-day workshop focusing on research-based, sustainable rice straw management initiatives and viable market prospects for rice straw was held at the IRRI Headquarters, 8-9 August. The event, titled "Putting Waste to Good Use: Sustainable Rice Straw Management in the Philippines," brought together researchers from Philippine government agencies and state universities and private sector entrepreneurs.  

A rice byproduct, rice straw can potentially be useful in several ways. However, in the Philippines, it is deemed to have little to no commercial value. Thus, it is usually burned or incorporated into the soil. Finding optimal uses for rice straw and determining how to manage it in an environmentally friendly way can increase farmers' income.

IRRI's Deputy Director General for Research Dr. Jacqueline Hughes said concerted efforts are needed to prevent rice straw burning. She also said that the rice straw management project fits into IRRI's strategic plan—to innovate, catalyze, and transform.

"The approach of the [rice straw management] project on seeking innovative and alternative ways on how to use rice straw will help catalyze impact towards transforming the current rice production systems where straw burning is a common practice," Dr. Hughes added.

Dr. Nguyen Van Hung, IRRI scientist, provided an overview of the institute’s work in generating evidence-based recommendations on rice straw management through the Sustainable Rice Straw Management project, which is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Field research is currently being implemented in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

A field tour around the IRRI research station showcased the innovative straw management technologies by IRRI. These included a rice straw compost turner, rice straw furnace, and an anaerobic digester that generates gas for cooking.

"This event brought together the latest research from a range of disciplines and programs and to stimulate thinking on solutions," said Dr. Craig Jamieson, founder of Straw Innovations, Ltd.

An expert elicitation session enabled the participants to explore out-of-the-box management strategies and chart market prospects for rice straw. This is a crucial first step in developing products and strategies that can increase the value of rice straw and allow farmers to generate additional income.

"I was able to see clearly how each of the rice straw value chain actors is connected to certain service providers, “ said Engr. John Eric Abon, one of the participants and a science research specialist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute. “Workshop discussions helped us come up with opportunities to optimize the use of rice straw for energy and industry, with farmers and farmer groups ultimately benefitting from it," he added.

Similar workshops have been conducted in Vietnam and Cambodia in the past months. Insights generated from these events will enable IRRI's rice value chain experts to design a future development path for rice straw value chains.

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