NORTH THAILAND - To deal with smog in the North in the long run, a number of measures including royally initiated projects could be adopted to minimise the problem, a senior National Science and Technology Development Agency official based in the region has said.
While it is almost impossible to prevent villagers from preparing areas for a new plantation and farming by burning down post-harvest stubble, it is easier to plant high-value crops that produce lesser leftover that would require minimal or zero work in getting rid of them for new crops, Assoc Prof Surapong Lerdthusnee said.
His Majesty the King has come up with such a way out but there have been few follow-up projects implemented by relevant agencies, despite a number of royal model projects in the North having been successful.
NSTDA has adapted the royal idea by running a project in Phayao, which turns crop leftovers into animal feed for cattle. This project faces a setback as conditions for processing the animal feed are better for plain areas - while the North is mostly mountainous.
There are other projects that turn crop stubble into organic fertiliser, but the price of fertiliser is too low to make up for the cost of transporting the fertiliser down from the hills to plain areas for mass sales.
Surapong said taxes should be levied on companies that buy crops which produced great amounts of stubble, or on companies that do contract-farming which similarly yield crop leftovers. But these companies would then try to exploit legal loopholes in order not to face such tax burdens.
Changing villagers' attitude on burning crop stubble, through elders' local wisdom together with promoting marketing policies that would encourage them to grow crops with lesser stubble would take at least five years to bear fruit.
Sasiprapa Thaewthatham, a technology information geologist with Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), said the fight-fire-with-fire technique had been used somewhat successfully in the past few years prior to the smog season, which begins around March when villagers begin their areas for next crops.
The pan-shaped landform in the upper North covering Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang makes the smog linger longer, which makes it worse when there is a huge volume of smog coming from neighbouring countries, she explained.
She said fining villagers that burn the stubble or spraying water from airplanes down on fire-burning areas every hot season wasn't a practical solution for the problem in the long run.
Chongklai Worapongsathorn, the director of the Provincial Offices for Natural Resources and Environment in Chiang Mai, said smog also came from villagers based in a neighbouring country who share similar thought and practice about burning down stubble.
The scale of burning there is no less than what is practised here, but Thailand suffers far greater as the smog is carried by the tail wind, he said.