So­lu­tions, ac­tion needed to ad­dress a burn­ing is­sue

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By GAO JIN’AN

Af­ter the fall har­vest­ing sea­son last year, when many cities in north­ern China were en­veloped in heavy smog, many some­times pointed their fin­gers at farm­ers for pol­lut­ing the ur­ban air by burn­ing un­wanted crop stalks.

Yes, it could be part of the prob­lem.

The govern­ment banned the ran­dom burn­ing of crop waste and vi­o­la­tors will be fined, but farm­ers played a hide-and-seek game and con­tin­ued.

When I was atmy home vil­lage in He­nan prov­ince dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val in early Fe­bru­ary, I learned that one ofmy cousins was fined 2,000 yuan (about $300) when he was caught, red-handed, set­ting his corn stalks ablaze in the field.

He was un­lucky, many fel­low vil­lagers sighed, show­ing sym­pa­thy for the price he paid.

With the ban in place and grass­roots of­fi­cials pa­trolling day and night for any vi­o­la­tors af­ter the har­vest sea­son, why do farm­ers still take the risk of be­ing fined? The an­swer frommy fel­low vil­lagers was unan­i­mous: It’s the most fea­si­ble and cost-ef­fec­tive way.

As the coun­try­side mod­ern­izes, farm­ers are now less de­pen­dent on crop stalks for fire­wood or an­i­mal feed, be­cause many have started us­ing liq­ue­fied gas or elec­tric­ity for cook­ing, and trac­tors and other ma­chin­ery for farm­ing, leav­ing crop stalks vir­tu­ally use­less.

Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics show that China pro­duces 700 to 900 mil­lion met­ric tons of crop stalks a year, trans­lat­ing into more than 1 ton per capita for the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion and pos­ing a chal­lenge to ru­ral folks to prop­erly dis­pose of it.

For farm­ers, burn­ing is cost-ef­fi­cient, and could help save la­bor, fer­til­ize the soil and lower the pos­si­bil­ity of crop pests in the com­ing farm­ing sea­son. For the govern­ment, how­ever, it is a burn­ing headache against the back­drop of the wors­en­ing filthy and smoggy air.

See­ing this as a big prob­lem, the govern­ment has plans to bet­ter use crop stalks and cul­ti­vate a busi­ness out of the “val­ue­less”, in an at­tempt to fight pol­lu­tion.

In Novem­ber 2015, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment and Re­form Com­mis­sion and the min­istries of fi­nance, agri­cul­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is­sued mea­sures to sup­port the com­pre­hen­sive uti­liza­tion of crop stalks and set an am­bi­tious goal of bring­ing the uti­liza­tion rate to 85 per­cent by 2020.

Crop stalks could be pro­cessed and used for fiber, pa­per pulp, biomass en­ergy, an­i­mal feed and or­ganic fer­til­izer. The govern­ment also en­cour­ages the con­struc­tion of stalk col­lec­tion and stor­age sites.

How­ever, the cost of the use of such low-value crops is high, and with­out fis­cal sub­si­dies and pref­er­en­tial poli­cies, pa­per mills and other en­ter­prises will be less en­thu­si­as­tic to ex­pand their busi­nesses in the sec­tor.

And with­out sub­si­dies, farm­ers will not bother trans­port­ing stalks to the stor­age sites or big cat­tle farms.

An­other fea­si­ble way that may help pre­vent farm­ers from burn­ing stalks is: Launch­ing a stalk trade-in pro­gram.

When farm­ers hand over their agri­cul­tural waste, they could get a cer­tain amount of fer­til­izer or qual­ity seeds pro­vided by the govern­ment. By do­ing so, farm­ers would come to re­al­ize that val­ue­less stalks could also be valu­able re­sources.

If well uti­lized, it could also help re­duce im­ports of dry hay and al­falfa. In 2015, China im­ported more than 2.57 mil­lion tons of dry hay and al­falfa for an­i­mal hus­bandry, and the amount is still ris­ing.

Now, it’s the govern­ment’s turn to act.

As I learned frommy fel­low vil­lagers, they don’t want to burn the un­wanted crops ei­ther and have the de­sire to make some money out of it.

In the United States, the govern­ment has set up a fund to sup­port the uti­liza­tion of agri­cul­tural waste, mainly crop stalks, which amounts to about 900 mil­lion tons. Sub­si­dies are pro­vided for ethanol pro­duc­tion us­ing crop stalks and other clean uses.

As China em­barks on the road of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and calls for the con­struc­tion of a beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, with green moun­tains, crys­tal-clear wa­ter and blue skies, the ap­pro­pri­ate dis­posal and use of crop stalks have a role to play.

At the time of Spring Fes­ti­val, months af­ter the fall har­vest­ing sea­son, I still saw­piles of corn stalks scat­tered in the fields near my home vil­lage. I hope such un­wanted piles will dis­ap­pear, and will not ap­pear again.

Con­tact the writer at gao­jin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Farm­ers in Beizhen, Liaon­ing prov­ince, make mat­tresses out of crop stalks, in­stead of burn­ing them.

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