It is commonplace in Thailand to harvest sugarcane supplied to sugar mills by burning the sugarcane before cutting it, with an average of up to 65.5% of sugarcane being burned in the past 10 crop years. This practice increases local PM2.5 dust, in addition to resulting in payments to farmers being reduced due to the quality of their sugarcane. Therefore, promoting the use of sugarcane harvesters would somewhat reduce the levels of PM 2.5, and also increase the net income generated from fresh sugarcane and sugarcane leaves per household farmer by about THB 74,550, compared to the method of burning in sugarcane harvesting.
KResearch believes that in supporting the harvesting of fresh sugarcane for supply to sugar mills, it is necessary to increase the number of sugarcane harvesters from the current amount, which is roughly about 2,000-2,500 units, to a higher number at 3,400-4,500 units. Another key factor is motivating sugarcane farmers to change the conditions of their plantation areas to suit new planting patterns appropriate for using harvesters.
The challenge of investing in sugarcane harvesters is the price, which can reach up to THB 8-12 million; this is a responsibility that may initially have to be borne by upstream sugar mills or co-invested in with large farmers. The government needs to step in to provide support, such as soft loans or tax incentives, including the promoting of research and development in the production of less-expensive sugarcane harvesters to give more farmers access to the technology. The government should send a clear signal to sugarcane farmers regarding the proportions of fresh and burned sugarcane harvesting that must be achieved each year, with clear and serious enforcement measures, which will lead to the reduction or disappearance of the practice of burning in sugarcane harvesting in the future.
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