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Straw the main product, rice a by-product…

 

In the 1970s the brilliant technocrat entrepreneur S Viswanathan of Seshasayee Group said that in a sugar mill bagasse is the main product and sugar a by-product. The success of Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Papers Ltd. (TNPL) set up in the 1980s, proved this by its stellar performance for over three decades. TNPL today produces over 600,000 tonnes of paper and boards based on bagasse, so profitably!

On a visit to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila I met Martin Gummert, a German expert. He suggests a sharp focus on the co-product straw in rice production.

 To improve incomes of the rice farmer, Gummert suggests a sharp focus on straw: “people just burn it. It causes pollution and destroys the potential value.” He pointed to the sustainable rice straw management in the Philippines that stresses on options better than burning the rice straw. “Making paper is one such choice but it is not economical. Another is the production of mushrooms. But just two per cent of rice straw would suffice for this. Biogas is another. Yet another is to make compost. Rice grass has the nutritious value,” said Gummert

For a few years now burning rice straw causes very high air pollution of Delhi. Thus Gummert’s suggestion is of interest. He pointed to the Vietnam experience, where a tonne of straw is sold even for $90! “Vietnam has built a nice straw value-chain that caters to the needs of the energy and animal husbandry sectors. A large cattle farm offers an annual market for 20,000 tonnes of straw. The focus is on making available quality straw while harvesting through harvester combines. They are also using machines for making straw pellets,” said Gummert. They have rich value as fertilizer and animal feed.

The Centre can think of such a value chain for tackling the pollution problem of Delhi. On the model of Verghese Kurien’s milk cooperatives, an institution can be created for collecting straw from small farmers, take them to decentralised baling and pellet making centres and federate these to a state level large unit for making a wide range of straw products. I am sure experts like Gummert and IRRI can lend their expertise and support.

Rice is typical an Asian food crop. Last year global production of rice was 487.5 million tonnes. India produced 169.5 million tonnes.

S. VISWANATHAN, IE

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