Every January the lush, green hills of Northern Thailand slowly fade away. Thick layers of smog coat the pristine jungle landscapes, as clear blue skies transform into a noxious cloud of smoke, soot and deadly micro-particles.
Those lucky enough to be able to afford air purifiers face the prospect of spending months bunkered-up indoors. Millions more aren’t so lucky and will spend several months of the year breathing in this toxic stew of chemicals. Schools across Thailand are forced to close, hospitalisation rates go up and the surging PM2.5 pollution leads to high rates of heart attacks, kidney failure, lung cancer, respiratory disease and strokes.
Welcome to Thailand’s “Burning Season”.
It’s a devastating problem that appears to be getting worse every year. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
There are many factors that contribute to the smoke – such as forest fires and illegal mushroom foraging – but by and large the main source of smoke is the result of farmers burning crop residues to clear their fields after the rainy season.
To simplify a difficult matter, here is a brief explanation of the problem:
1. Farmers are increasingly forced to grow “dirty crops” that create huge amounts of of biowaste
Over the last few decades poor rural farmers have been incentivised to switch to “dirty” crops such as maize and sugarcane, both of which leave a tremendous amount of waste. Consider this: only 22% of a mature corn plant consists of edible kernels, the remaining 78% is waste (stalks, leaves and stems). So for every 1kg of edible corn kernels grown, ~3.5kg of crop waste is generated that must be cleared from the field before the next year’s crop can be grown.
2. Farmers have no easy or economical way to clear their fields for next year’s planting
Most of these farmers are incredibly poor and don’t have the money to buy tractors or harvesters. And even if they had the money, many plots of land are located on mountain slopes that are so steep that it would be impossible to operate heavy machinery. So instead farmers have no choice but to harvest by hand.
3. Without any other options, they are forced to burn their crop leftovers
This creates a surge of smoke as massive mountains of crop waste get burned after the rainy season. The smoke can drift for hundreds of miles and creates haze and pollution which affects millions of people across South-East Asia.
We are taking a two-pronged approach to address this problem:
Give farmers an economic alternative so they can make more money by not burning their crop waste (our Biochar Program)
Though the immediate cause for this smoke is burning crop waste, the real root cause is poverty and lack of development.
It’s easy to point fingers and place the blame on the farmers, but we can’t forget that they too are victims in this story. They aren’t burning out of choice, but out of necessity.
We want to help farmers lift themselves out of their poverty trap. We can help them develop alternatives that not only prevent smoke but also improve their circumstances and create opportunities for extra income.
We believe that working together is the only way to find a sustainable solution to such a complex problem that affects so many lives.
Stop the Smoke is an initiative by Warm Heart, a grassroots organization that helps Thai villagers in the remote northern district of Phrao, Chiang Mai Province.
We organize community projects that provide access to improved education and basic health services, create jobs and sustainable incomes for the poorest in our community, and restore the environment so it will sustain future generations.
Burning season is upon us, and we are in urgent need of funds to prevent as much smoke as we can!
No matter how old you are, where you live, or what you can give, you can help end the smoke crisis—and you can start right now!
Please make a difference by contributing today:
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