SEARCA ASEAN farm consortium to cut GHG emissions, raise farmers' income

The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) established an ASEAN farming consortium to generate carbon credit and cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while raising farmers' income.

SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio said the consortium would incentivize Asian farmers to adopt innovative technologies to reduce methane emissions from rice farming. It will generate carbon credits in the future.

Aside from solving a huge environmental problem, it will raise farmers' income by at least 50 percent. It will generate rural jobs and produce an organic-type fertilizer.

"We will share the data (between Southeast Asian countries) and the experience from everyone. We will get funds together, and SEARCA will commit some funds to start it up," said Gregorio at the "Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems in Southeast Asia" roundtable discussion. SEARCA co-organized it with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

SEARCA will start with a few pilot sites, use these as models for replication, and do actual measurements (greenhouse gas emissions, income) as the scientific basis for reproduction.

Farmers will be organized, formed into communities, and incentivized to use the innovations.

"We'll incentivize them and use these incentive systems as a policy that may be adopted by legislators. Using these technologies needs a new mindset," said Gregorio.

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

"We'll make a model, make it work, and after a few years, once we see farmers benefitting, it will spread like fire," said Gregorio. "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."

In one technology to be adopted by the consortium, SEARCA has partnered with the UK-based Straw Innovation Ltd for the "Rice Straw Biogas Hub." The project also involves UK SME Koolmill and UK academic partner Aston University.

The project solves the huge problem of disposing of rice straw which becomes a waste material from 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 greenhouse gas 80 times more dangerous to the environment than carbon dioxide when emitted over 20 years, according to technology firm SIL. GHG emission is more than that of the entire global aviation industry.

However, SIL has developed a harvester enabling synchronous harvesting of both rice and rice straw. That omits the burning and disposal of much waste and significantly reduces GHG emissions.

Income for farmers is increased by 50 percent. The technology enables the production of fertilizer that stores carbon. The innovation brings jobs in rural areas, reduces post-harvest losses, and generates billions of dollars for the Philippines' rice sector.

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

GHG-reducing soil and nutrient management techniques include nutrient-fixing legumes, chemical versus organic fertilizer, and methane-oxidating bacteria.

Cropping and crop animal systems that reduce GHG emissions include lowland agroforestry, crop-animal integration, and crop biomass and animal manure management.

The carbon farming system will improve the traceability of farms and agricultural products or the process by which market products at any stage in the supply chain can be traced to their origin. Such provides for food safety and transparency.