Rice straw eyed for bioenergy

Rice farmers and municipal agricultural officers from Laguna and Nueva Ecija participated in a series of roundtable discussions (RTDs) facilitated by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) to probe the use of rice straw for bioenergy.

Citing the harmful effects of burning rice straw in the fields such as air pollution, emission of greenhouse gases, harm to public health and motorists getting into accidents, the participants emphasized the need to use the waste product for bioenergy, fertilizer, mulching, livestock feed or mushroom substrate.

SEARCA Director Glenn Gregorio said the series of RTDs were led by the center's Emerging Innovation for Growth Department as part of the Rice Straw Biogas Hub (RSBH) project funded by Innovate UK.

The RTDs, which were conducted in Los Baños, Laguna on April 12, 2023 and in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija on April 14, 2023, aimed to identify challenges, opportunities and innovations in implementing local and national policies on rice straw management.

Gregorio said the discussions gathered participants, which included local government units, farmer associations, environmental groups, research organizations and other rice commodity stakeholders from 10 rice-producing municipalities in Laguna and Nueva Ecija.

"Attaining agricultural transformation through innovation takes an open mind and a brave change in policies, processes and implementation," he said.

Gregorio explained that the RTD is designed to be a mutual learning experience of gaining insights from the attendees while sharing innovations such as using rice straw for biogas generation.

According to the RTD facilitators, the overall results and findings from the discussions serve as a baseline for crafting recommendations on the enabling environment of managing rice straw wastes and its use for clean energy, among others.

The RTD facilitating team from SEARCA included Lichelle Dara Carlos, program specialist; Romeo Labios, consultant; Darlyn Angeles, project coordinator; Jerrel Edric Mallari, project assistant; and Richelle Legaspi, research assistant.

Innovations discussed

Giving assurance that Nueva Ecija is open to innovative technologies benefiting farmers, Provincial Agriculture Officer Bernado Valdez said it was important to be informed about value-adding initiatives related to rice production that is a primary agricultural activity in the province.

Introducing Straw Innovations Ltd. company's central role in the RSBH project, Chief Executive Officer and founder Craig Jamieson said that his startup company invested in green technologies to use rice straw that he described as a highly neglected resource.

Jamieson also presented harvesting technology services that chop straw for various uses or remove the straw from the fields for bioenergy use in rice drying and milling, and pelletizing as cooking fuel.

He said the work packages of the RSBH project are being implemented in collaboration with four organizations: Straw Innovations on Rice Harvesting and Bioenergy Use for Rice Drying; Koolmill on Energy Efficient Milling; Aston University on Socioeconomic Analysis; and SEARCA on Greenhouse Gas Analysis and Enabling Environment.

The discussions on the extent of current rice straw uses and disposal, the effects and reasons for burning rice straw, as well as the local policies on rice straw management and bioenergy, including adoption strategies, was moderated by Ma. Victoria Espaldon, SEARCA consultant on policy and governance.

During the discussions, participants who were randomly grouped into teams provided insights that were cross-examined by facilitators and other teams.

Facilitators said findings highlighted a basic awareness of the negative effects of straw burning, a limited practice on alternative ways of disposal or use, and a demand on capacity building for straw management strategies and implementation of local policies.

The RTDs also enabled stakeholders to assess service options offered by Straw Innovations for rice straw management.

For her part, Jessica Villanueva-Peyraube, SEARCA socioeconomic consultant, presented the The Analytical Hierarchy Process as a decision-making tool using economic, sociopolitical and environmental criteria for gauging the given options on the issue.

She said the assessment and preferences will be considered in developing a viable business model offering solutions fitted to the target provinces.

Discussing the benefits of biogas as an energy source and the opportunities to power rice production among other agricultural activities, Victor Luis, project consultant, also talked about anaerobic digestion as a means of producing biogas energy from various agricultural wastes, including rice straw.

Luis presented the biogas production potential of different wastes and explained how the chemical composition of rice straw affects the potential.

Facilitators said stakeholders expressed their training needs, lessons learned and feedback, and among these was a demand for a demonstration of the harvesting technology by Straw Innovations.