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Stop the burn – Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste

Thaiger

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Provincial governors in Thailand’s farming areas are being told to mitigate the burning off of agri-business waste by farmers in their provinces. The annual burn-offs are the biggest cause of the December to April air pollution in Bangkok and Central Thailand which lie in the wake of the light north-easterly breezes this time of the year. The burn-offs partly co-incide with the lighter annual north-easterly monsoons.

Lt-Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, a spokesman for Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, has been one of the first to openly admit that the agri-fires are the common denominator in the capital’s annual smog woes. Over recent decades Bangkok’s Pollution Control department has trotted out any number of PR stunts, including water-spraying drones and asking temples to stop lighting josh sticks.

Now that spokesperson says that the accumulation of PM2.5 micron dust in the atmosphere… “mainly caused by outdoor burning of waste, especially on farms, combined with poor air circulation, has been posing a health risk for the past several days”.

Deputy PM Prawit has now ordered all provincial governors to send teams to warn farmers to stop the burning or face prosecution. It’s not the first order from the top directed at farmers trying to find cheap ways to get rid of agri-waste and prepare their plantations for the next crop. But, despite the ‘warnings’ in the past the practice has continued largely unenforced.

Thai farmers conduct the burn-off activities to reduce the amount of leftover materials – biowaste – like stalk tops, leaves and refuse left after the harvesting. Rice farmers also routinely burn rice stubble – the residual plant waste to prepare fields for the next season of crops.

Around 70-75% of Thailand’s sugar production is sent overseas and the country ranks second in exports just behind Brazil. It’s a big industry. The government also introduced a quota, distribution and price support system between growers and millers which has helped to artificially keep a ceiling on the export prices. Most of Thailand’s sugarcane plantations are in the Central and Northeast regions, some of them, evidenced by the fire maps, are less than 100 kilometres north of the capital.

But the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Woravut Silpaarcha is resorting to the old government narrative, repeating that officials at the Pollution Control Department will have to coordinate with the Interior Ministry and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to “intensify efforts to reduce emissions of PM2.5 dust from vehicles and factories”.

He’s also suggested that companies should allow employees to work from home to reduce the amount of vehicles on the city’s roads.

The Pollution Control Department is now estimating that the biomass burn-off contribution to the PM2.5 levels could vary between 24 – 38%, with the majority of it coming from sugarcane and rice burning. Most of the concentrations of agri-burning is around Northern Thailand and in the farmlands north of Bangkok. These areas also suffer considerably from the direct effects of the smoke. Fire maps also indicate that an even worse problem exists in northern Cambodia and north-west Myanmar where the burning carries on un-abated.

Stop the burn - Thai Governors told to stop farmers burning off agricultural waste | News by Thaiger

GRAPHICS: firms2.modaps

The Thaiger has waged a long campaign to provide fire maps and air-pollution readings over the past 3 years as evidence of the contribution of the agri-burning to Bangkok’s annual smog problem. But officials have kept beating the same drum, blaming factories, vehicle traffic and old diesel buses (which certainly need to be regulated as well but are not the main cause of the December to April haze and smog).

 

 

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51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mark

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 9:29 am

    So all this “told to stop “. Not must stop under threat of law breaking ! NO. If it was someone posting some thing this wretched corrupt Gov didn’t like or protesting near embassies they would be charged ! #nohopethailand

  2. Avatar

    Patrick

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 9:45 am

    The sad thing is that the gov pushes media to not talk about the elephant in the room on their Thai language papers/sites/fb/twitter/etc…

    Here too. The Thaiger Thai edition: no translation of this article because the gov wont like it that people talk about the real reasons. Only some basic stats published and “be careful when going outside” (uhmm it enters your home too in a few hours).

    • Avatar

      yeman

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 10:14 am

      ?

  3. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 10:06 am

    I thought the government said the dirty air was caused by Farang?

  4. Avatar

    Tony Andrews

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Surely They can do something with all this waste vegetable matter.
    Will nothing eat it?
    Can they not make straw roofs out of it? It seems a waste to just burn the stuff.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 1:01 pm

      That’s the whole problem, Tony.

      If they don’t burn it, what are they supposed to do with it?

      No, nothing eats it so it’s useless as straw or hay, it can’t be ploughed back into the soil or it makes the land barren and infertile, and it’s useless for thatching.

      It’s one thing for the Thaiger or the Deputy PM to say “stop the burn”, but it’s a very different thing for them or anyone else to come up with a solution.

      At the moment Thailand’s the second biggest sugar cane exporter in the world, exporting around 12 million tonnes from an industry worth around 7 billion baht.

      Thailand exports four times more than it consumes, and the industry makes up 16% of the agricultural portion of GDP and over 1% of GDP overall.

      Most of the over 330,000 sugar cane farmers own small farms of an average of only 25 rai, but the industry employs over one and a half million people, so 4% of the working population (albeit not full time)
      – that’s a third of the numbers that famously work in the tourism sector.

      … but profit margins are low, and that’s even with a government subsidy – with an extra subsidy for cane that’s not burnt before it’s harvested.

      So … simple question for the Thaiger or anyone else saying “stop the burn”:

      If you “stop the burn” then what do you do with the waste instead?

      What? WHAT?

      • Avatar

        Michael

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 1:29 pm

        >> If they don’t burn it, what are they supposed to do with it?

        Just watch the video above at 3.07 min.

        As always it is about money.

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Monday, January 25, 2021 at 3:52 pm

          Of course it’s “about money”!!!

          What do you think they grow sugar cane for? Fun?

          … and the “video above at 3:07” doesn’t give a solution at all! Absolutely none!

          You can “clear the land mechanically” but you still have EXACTLY the same problem you had before – what do you do with the waste once you’ve “cleared the land mechanically”?

          You’ve still got exactly the same waste to dispose of!

          • Avatar

            Ynwaps

            Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 12:47 pm

            Have the government take care of it. They can substitute sugar. Why can’t they substitute air quality?

      • Avatar

        Fred glue

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 2:40 pm

        Your solution is the cause, sugar cane mulch for pots & plants, fruit & vegetables.
        Bio fuel for the farmers tractors e.t.c.. parks & gardens, you sure you are not on the board of tourism of Thailand. You are a educated person IS,,, I can’t believe what you said above. Never mind,
        You can not get it right all the time,,

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:00 pm

          Well, at least you tried, Fred g.

          You can’t get a usable “mulch for pots & plants, fruits & vegetables” from sugar cane waste. It doesn’t work, instead it kills the mulch and makes the mulch / soil infertile.

          … and you can’t use the waste for “bio fuel” – you can only use the cane, not the waste.

          … and I DON’T HAVE A SOLUTION! That’s why I’m asking the question!

          • Avatar

            Tgthai

            Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:18 pm

            Does anyone know what they do with it in Brazil? As I understand they produce 2 or 3 times more cane than Thailand with the majority machine harvested without pre burning

          • Avatar

            LeWibbler

            Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:34 pm

            A quick google search reveals it can be repurposed into plastic free packaging and paper.

            If this is a solution, then Thailand could become a player in non plastic packing. Help ease the air pollution and provide a growth area for Thailand to invest in/help the economy.

          • Avatar

            Fred glue

            Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 2:37 am

            Issan John, when someone gives a solution you say its wrong. You are a bully.
            Always correcting people for there say. Why do you do that, we can have some fun too.
            Relax a little there John. You say you have got a bad back, so why do you take it out on us.
            You must be a Liverpool supporter,,,, ( just kidding John)

          • Avatar

            Richard

            Thursday, January 28, 2021 at 3:57 pm

            More untruths, you know squat about sugarcane fodder. Its biodegradable as any leftover plant waste is. Damn stop spreading the untruths

      • Avatar

        TS

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:12 pm

        I lived in Hawaii in the decades when sugar was the king crop on all the islands. Cane fields burned off there as well. Fortunately the Hawaiian trade winds blew it away offshore. When the trades would subside, the black ‘Hawaiian Snow’ would rain down. Last of the sugar plantations shut down in late 90s-couldn’t compete with other sugar producing countries. The former sugar lands are now a sea of overpriced cheaply built houses.
        The only by-product was bagasse-what was left after the cane was crushed. The old days it was used for insulation and cheap building material. Point is as long as there’s sugar growing, there’s going to be field burning.

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:28 pm

          EGGZACTLY!!!

          If you want to produce sugar cane you have to burn the leaves after you harvest the canes unless someone comes up with an alternative.

          It doesn’t matter if the farmers burn them in the fields or the fields are cleared “mechanically” and they’re burnt somewhere else!

      • Avatar

        Toby Andrews

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 7:50 pm

        Strange my name has changed from Toby to Tony.
        Maybe it is the way I sign the post . . .

      • Avatar

        DRD

        Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 6:13 am

        Compost it at 25-30:1 carbon to Nitrogen ratio.
        Thereby making :
        -methane gas
        -quality compost to improve future crops
        -Heat a as byproduct-can be use for ancillary pre heat of water for natural gas run steam turbine electric generators
        -fibre for paper and packaging as well as packing filler for shipping
        -spraycrete -fibre mixed with concrete and sprayed on forms for low cost housing

        These are a few uses and total value would be quite high mind you central processing facilities and farm equipment to pick up and process the carbon waste is necessary, as is the will.

        Better than a high speed train in my eyes.

      • Avatar

        Richard Lewis

        Thursday, January 28, 2021 at 3:53 pm

        “nothing eats it so it’s useless as straw or hay, it can’t be ploughed back into the soil or it makes the land barren and infertile”,
        You have no clue what your talking about.

      • Avatar

        baroness

        Thursday, February 4, 2021 at 3:25 am

        Go to researchgate.org. There is a list of by-products and successful experiments done with sugar cane waste. Many countries have energy efficient programs and products made from bio-substrates of sugar cane waste. In the USA you can buy wood panelling, ceiling tiles and isolation materials made from recycled sugar cane waste. They also sell OBS and MDF boards made with sugar cane waste content. So what’s the big deal?

    • Avatar

      Richard

      Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 4:34 pm

      Plow the waste in, its beneficial as organic waste, builds the soil.

  5. Avatar

    Adam

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Stop burning everywhere! Lazy peasants are polluting and giving cancer to everyone and destroying earth.

  6. Avatar

    Colin G

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    I was wondering why no-one was suggesting ‘waste to energy’ power stations. Then I found that the Ministry of Energy’s Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency once had a 10 year plan to build a range of these incinerators to deal with crop waste, general garbage (that would otherwise go to landfill) and crops grown specifically to be burned.

    I can only assume that it is still a ‘work in progress’ but, coupled with payments to farmers for providing the waste/fuel, surely this has to be a (large) part of the answer ?

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:45 pm

      I actually mentioned this some time ago, Colin G, but it’s not a solution as the M of E soon realised.

      You can produce some energy / power from burning it, but the energy produced is very expensive as it makes a very bad fuel even when dried and compressed – you get a lot of smoke and very little heat, far worse than burning soft wood or even straw.

      It would be possible to produce some energy, but the energy produced would be less than the energy used to compress it and transport it to the power stations / incinerators, and at the same time you’d still be producing exactly the same amount of smoke and pollution, just in a different place and concentrated in far more localised areas.

      That “solution” would only be moving the pollution source, nothing more, and spending money and creating more pollution to do so!

      As I’ve mentioned before and here, the government already gives a subsidy to farmers for not “pre-burning” crops (as they’re doing in the photo at the top of the article) of 7 baht per tonne (about 0.5% of sale price) on top of the basic subsidy (65 baht, or some 5%) which has reduced some of the burn but it only solves a small part of the problem.

      The problem isn’t HOW you clear the land – all doing it mechanically does is collect it in one place leaving you / the farmer / the government with the same unresolved problem:

      “If you “stop the burn” then what do you do with the waste instead?

      What? WHAT?”

      • Avatar

        Colin G

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 7:55 pm

        That’s a good reasoned argument, although I would want to know if the energy conversion is consistently low across all biomass combustibles likely to be used. There is also the point that, having the output of the burning contained in a controlled environment means that it can be scrubbed/ filtered and the harmful particles captured.

        I didn’t say this was going to be cheap, but any business case has to consider the peripheral costs and benefits, e.g. the potential health gains to be made (and therefore costs saved) through the reduction in pollution. All major infrastructure projects are supposed to be assessed in this way, why not this one ?

        As to the environmental cost of transporting the materials, I suggest that no pick-ups or trucks that have been specially converted to spew plumes of smoke out of their tail pipes every time the driver touches the accelerator be used. I appreciate, of course, that this will rule out about 80% of the available vehicle fleet.

      • Avatar

        Lane Narrows

        Friday, January 29, 2021 at 10:27 am

        So what’s the solution…do nothing? Continue to allow over 50,000 people (2013 WHO figures) in Thailand to die from pollution? If sugar cane is the problem then maybe the Govt should propose an alternate crop.

        I know you and others will say “what crop” or “it’s an economic issue”, and I get it. But if that’s the case, then the Govt should just say that and stop pretending like they are concerned about the air pollution issue. I actually feel sorry for the farmers and the Thai prople in general. They burn in order to live yet burning destroys their lungs and leads to premature deaths.

  7. Avatar

    Craig

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Maybe the “Bern” can be stopped in the US but burning can’t be stopped here or in India. Good luck with that one.

  8. Avatar

    David

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 1:21 pm

    Not going to happen.
    Period!

  9. Avatar

    gosport

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 2:27 pm

    It is great to have the wastes burned. It shows the organic side of a real agricultural practice. That is why everyone loves Thai rice and appreciate Thai sugar. As for the pollution, it has been burning for generations, where is the problem? Everyone is happy. If I had rice fields, I would charge tourists, especially, Westerners, to burn the wastes. Let them indulge themselves.

    • Avatar

      The Thaiger

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      Did you really write all that?

      • Avatar

        Geoff

        Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:25 pm

        Inhaled too much of that smoke, I think!

    • Avatar

      TS

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:13 pm

      I lived in Hawaii in the decades when sugar was the king crop on all the islands. Cane fields burned off there as well. Fortunately the Hawaiian trade winds blew it away offshore. When the trades would subside, the black ‘Hawaiian Snow’ would rain down. Last of the sugar plantations shut down in late 90s-couldn’t compete with other sugar producing countries. The former sugar lands are now a sea of overpriced cheaply built houses.
      The only by-product was bagasse-what was left after the cane was crushed. The old days it was used for insulation and cheap building material. Point is as long as there’s sugar growing, there’s going to be field burning.

  10. Avatar

    Katherine Gottfried

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    Blag, blah, blah. Talk is cheap.No one here takes action. Grease my palm is the only action done about it.

  11. Avatar

    Geoff

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    This is just one of Thailand’s many problems as a direct result of the money hierarchy, poor governance and law enforcement. Not easy to bring pressure to bear to do something about it.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:22 pm

      It’s got nothing to do with “the money hierarchy, poor governance and law enforcement”.

      It’s solely about what alternative the farmers have to burning the leaves.

      IT’S THAT SIMPLE!!!

      • Avatar

        Geoff

        Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 5:22 am

        Of that, I am sure, you are 100% wrong. Money not a reason in Thailand!? Your ‘avin’ a larf! What pressure is your safety valve set at?

      • Avatar

        baroness

        Thursday, February 4, 2021 at 2:59 am

        No alternative??? I read in other comments that 50,000 people die each year of lung disease due to smoke inhalations but the government has no way to stop the burning of the sugar cane field. Very weird, meanwhile the government has the authority to shut down the Thai economy because the Covid-19 pandemic with its 99.98% recovery rate, its 60 or 70 victims and its billions of lost income.
        What’s better? Get back the tourist economy and its billions of revenues (between 7% or 22% of GDP based on our experts commentators) + save the 50,000 lives + the cost associated to cure the other hundred of thousands of lung diseases or keep a blind eye for 1% of GDP represented by this polluting culture.
        It’s exactly the same with vehicle pollution and road accidents. Easy to enforce with proper regulations and adequate fines but there is no will for it. Again statistics between Covid-19 victims and road accidents victims are not comparable and don’t tell me the government is taking measures to protect the Thai people from Covid.
        Same stupidity as this “survey” about the quarantine. Did they ask the Thai people if they prefer to die from Covid, Road accidents or Air pollution based on published statistics. No it was a one way answer with no other options.

  12. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    LeWibbler, correct, it can indeed be “repurposed into plastic free packaging and paper” and I’ve mentioned that before too!

    … but that’s NOT the waste that the farmers burn. It’s the waste that the sugar cane mills have left over after they’ve processed the sugar cane, from the crushed canes (called “bagasse”).

    Bagasse can be sold for biofuel, cattle feed, to make paper and packaging, etc, and it is.

    BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME WASTE! 🙂

    That may sound as if I’m being pedantic and splitting hairs, but it’s completely different. It’s as different as, say meat and bone.

    The bagasse is what’s left over after you’ve crushed the sugar cane. It’s a by-product at the factory stage.

    What the farmers burn, which is what the problem here is, is completely different – they burn the leaves.

    (and that’s without even considering the pollution from the sugar cane factories, which are churning out smoke 24/7 right in the middle of the burning zones, throughout the burning season)

  13. Avatar

    Geoff

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    Easy! Stop using sugar. Problem solved. Some say that the sugar industry is the same as the tobacco industry used to be!

  14. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    So “Thaiger has waged a long campaign to provide fire maps and air-pollution readings over the past 3 years as evidence of the contribution of the agri-burning to Bangkok’s annual smog problem.”

    Congratulations, genuinely and honestly, maybe someone’s finally heard you.

    But how about a straight answer to a direct question?

    Since the “burn” is causing “between 24 – 38%” of the smog, which I don’t disagree with, WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

    WHAT ELSE CAN THE FARMERS DO WITH THE LEAVES?

    • Avatar

      Gosport

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 7:09 pm

      Just burn all leaves, there is no other way economically feasible or cost effective. The ashes are good ingredients for the fertility of land. They are just small holders. Burning the leaves is good entertainment. Small holders should think of it. Pollution comes from vehicles and excessive plastic bags.

  15. Avatar

    Mr cynic

    Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Many farmers in north thailand are clearly incapable of acting in a responsible manner.the highly regarded university of chiang Mai agriculture department have conducted numerous studies on the burning subject going back decades and approached them on numerous occasions with viable alternatives.because it will cost them a bit of money and cause them hassle they continue to ignore it.if they can’t make money in a responsible manner that’s tough and they have to move on and do something else for a living,same as anybody else.if they are all so poor how come most of them have a new Hilux’s parked outside and a great big sattelitte dish next to their homes.people are wise to the poor farmer bull worldwide.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Monday, January 25, 2021 at 8:26 pm

      Oh perleeze, Mr C, I expected more from you …

      Name any of those “viable alternatives”.

      Any at all. Just one would be nice …

      As for the “great big sattelitte dish next to their homes”, those are the cheap ones with free to view satellite TV – it’s the small, subscription dishes that are expensive …

      … and a “new Hilux” is cheaper than a second-hand one for some, as if you’ve got some land or kids working in a factory you can get a new one from a dealer at 0% interest for less per month than a second-hand one at 8%.

      Bizarre, but TiT.

  16. Avatar

    AndyPandy

    Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 1:31 am

    Why not make charcoal from the organic waste? The charcoal can then be used for many useful products such as active charcoal or anti bacterial agent.

  17. Avatar

    Geoff

    Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 5:19 am

    To Thaiger – there’s something really stifling about IJ’s continual rants. Perhaps it puts people off making sensible suggestions or comments? Perhaps it doesn’t? I don’t know, but apart from his social interaction deficiencies, perhaps you could consider a character limit on comments?

  18. Avatar

    Roger

    Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 10:05 am

    30 Years ago Australia stopped burning sugar cane
    Too much air pollution
    There are machines to harvest Cane
    If the gov cared about the people buy 100 machines help the farmers get their cane in
    the bi-products are very saleable also
    If Gov care about pollution in Bangkok and Thailand ( cancel those submarine orders by cane harvesters)
    Good Luck Thailand

  19. Avatar

    Crispy

    Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 4:17 pm

    Seems that everything that could be thought of, has been tried and nothing works.
    So we are short on ideas and innovation. Science is about discovery. Technology is the mass production of new discoveries. So let us turn to science.
    Universities are the home of science. We must begin the new search here. With funding, possibly from some of the subsidy money, to make the projects sustainable.
    What is to stop the govt creating research awards? Nothing. It will not solve the problem this year, but in five years, yes.
    IWhat areas of innovation could we look at? One would be new varieties that decompose, releasing the same nutrients to the soil but without the burning. Another would be bacteria – strains of bacteria can be found that will eat almost anything!
    Then there is the technology question. To mass produce the answers in safe ways – we wouldn’t want bacteria getting hungry between meals and eating seedlings!
    All the above is “big ideas”, disruption, top-down innovative thinking. But what of small, piecemeal reform? If the question is studied in detail, many minor reforms could be made through the use of regulations. I know nothing of the problem, but perhaps burning could be regulated instead of imagining it can be stopped altogether. Perhaps this is a silly idea, but could burning be permitted only when winds blow at a certain speed or direction? Or when it’s raining? Could we tune up and optimise the process, while waiting for disruptive solutions from science and technology?
    Finally, it is self-destructive to abandon hope and ignore obstacles. Usually, progress comes from setting challenges and incentivising through rewards and sanctions. The govt and market has a big role to play and we must place our hope there and make our trust conditional.
    Long post, sorry naa.

    • Avatar

      Lookni

      Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 11:53 pm

      Totally agree. Science and technology. New crops. New agents. New controls.

  20. Avatar

    Randall

    Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 12:31 am

    It looks to me like this is an opportunity waiting for someone to take advantage of it. Stubble fired boilers. Give farmers incentive such as cash or free electricity to take their stubble to be burned at some forward-thinking stubble fired boiler. I can’t believe something like this couldn’t be a viable solution to the agri-burning problem. These generators have been on the market for years.

    Benefits Of Stubble Fired Boilers. Some of the benefits of rice straw fired boilers are: Reduced dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. Steam produced can help meet the steam requirement to run turbines and for process requirements of plant. Replacing fossil fuels with rice straw can reduce greenhouse gas emission which prevents the pollution caused due to stubble burning.

  21. Avatar

    Howard

    Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at 3:05 pm

    @Geoff – I think he’s used to the Thai Visa Websites’ bar-style form of communication. Please excuse him.

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