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Air pollution reaches “unhealthy” levels in Thailand’s north and northeast

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18 provinces in Thailand’s north and northeast are being hit by a wave of smoke and air pollution as the burning season kicks in for the country’s agricultural sector. The next 2 months are the peak of the burning off season for agricultural waste as farmers prepare their land for the next crops of corn, rice and sugar and use the fires to aid the harvest of some of their crops.

With sugar cane plantations, for example, farmers choose to burn the leaves off the plant, exposing the stalks, before harvesting the profit-making stalks, saving time and money. There are mechanical ways to achieve the same result but the farmers, pushed to slender profit margins by the multinational food companies, are unable to invest and amortise the additional costs.

The levels of PM 25 micron particulate, a measure of the smoke and haze, has been at “unhealthy” levels in Chiang Rai, Phrae, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, Tak, Phetchabun, Phayao, Nan, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Khon Kaen, Roi Et, Chaiyaphum, Ubon Ratchathani, Saraburi, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Nakhon Ratchasima.

The Pollution Control Department are now openly admitting that the major cause of the seasonal smoke is “open burning by farmers who are preparing their land”, according to the Bangkok Post. On Monday the Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan issued orders to prevent farmers from starting the plantation fires. You can check the result of his orders in the fire map below.

Air pollution reaches "unhealthy" levels in Thailand's north and northeast | News by Thaiger

iqair.com measures the average level of PM2.5 dust in the North at between 35-85 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m³) yesterday, considered “unhealthy”. In the Northeast, the levels ranged between 40-99μg/m³.

The Thai Pollution Control Department considers PM2.5 readings below 50μg/m³ as “safe” but the Thai standard is twice as high as what is considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

firms.modaps, the NASA satellite fire tracking service, shows the number of fires currently alight around Thailand and the concentrations in the north and north east. The fires in northern Cambodia and north east Myanmar are also contributing to the Thailand’s smog and haze, depending on which way the winds are blowing. During this time of the year, the winds are predominantly north east and light across much of Thailand. The firms.modaps feed is live, registering the fires alight at the time the screen capture was taken.

Air pollution reaches "unhealthy" levels in Thailand's north and northeast | News by Thaiger

Bangkok starts off Wednesday with relatively better air quality than the past few weeks.

Air pollution reaches "unhealthy" levels in Thailand's north and northeast | News by Thaiger

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Issan John

    Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    Most “farmers” in Thailand DO NOT “choose to burn the leaves off the plant, exposing the stalks, before harvesting the profit-making stalks, saving time and money.”

    This is the OLD way of harvesting, still practiced in Cambodia for example, but NOT as a general rule in Thailand any more.

    All you need to do to see very clear, absolutely irrefutable evidence of this is to look at the screenshot in the article and to compare the fires in Cambodia (which produces only 600,000 tonnes of sugar cane) with the fires in Thailand (which produces over 12 million tonnes of sugar cane).

    Thailand very clearly has a small fraction of the fires, but produces twenty times as much sugar cane.

    The government also pays farmers a bonus of seven baht per tonne for cane sold to the processing factories that is NOT burnt, and the factories in turn also pay more for unburnt cane (as much as 25% more).

    Farmers also have to pay the cutters more to cut burnt cane than unburnt as it is far more unpleasant to cut.

    With few exceptions, the only cane which is burnt BEFORE harvesting is cane which is due to re-planted, which happens every four years, so around a quarter of the fields. The rest of the burning, so some 75% of it, is burning the leaves AFTER the cane has been harvested.

    As the Bangkok Post correctly said: “Concentrations of PM2.5 dust have risen across 18 provinces in the North and Northeast, as farmers begin to set fire to their agricultural waste to prepare for next season’s crops, the Pollution Control Department said yesterday.”

    The farmers are burning “agricultural waste” (the cut leaves) AFTER harvesting “to prepare for next season’s crops”, NOT before.

    The screenshot in the article could hardly be clearer evidence.

    • Avatar

      Patrick

      Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 6:58 pm

      Weird, I saw them recently burn the sugar cane before harvest. Very fierce fire and smoke seen from kilometers away spreading steady in the North East.

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 9:16 pm

        What part of “With few exceptions, the only cane which is burnt BEFORE harvesting is cane which is due to be re-planted, which happens every four years, so around a quarter of the fields” isn’t clear, Patrick?

        … and maybe you have some other explanation for the fact that Thailand produces twenty times as much sugar cane as Cambodia but, according to the screenshot in the article and the NASA site, clearly only has a very small fraction of the fires?

        … or maybe not …

        • Avatar

          Joe

          Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 7:35 pm

          With an easterly wind direction which is common at this time of the year, the smoke from Cambodia goes to Bangkok.

  2. Avatar

    Lane Narrows

    Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    What difference does it make if the burning is before or after the harvest. The facts are Thai farmers, and residents of local mu bans for that matter, ARE burning. On average, the PM 2.5 levels in Chiang Mai are three to four times what is considered safe by the WHO. Each year the burning season gets longer and the pollution levels worse. Something needs to be done!

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Saturday, January 30, 2021 at 12:32 am

      Three or four times as much difference, actually, L N, as far as the open field burning goes.

      Have a look at the screenshot in the article. Most of the burning is in Cambodia, far more than Thailand, although it produces a twentieth of the sugar cane.

      Sure, “Something needs to be done!”, but it needs to be the right thing.

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