Dhaka Courier

Environmental economics of rice husks potential in Bangladesh

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Alleviate human suffering attributable to shortages of cooking fuel. Reduce deforestation related to the gathering of firewood. Provide a sustainable low cost cooking fuel made from a locally sourced waste product – rice hulls. Increase the income of the working poor in developing countries by creating a business opportunity for production of cooking fuel and a related network of retail outlets. Improve the current process in Bangladesh. Adapt the process and business model to Tanzania and other parts of the world. (courtesy - changemakers*)

Worldwide, carrying capacities of land, water bodies, forest, wetlands, hill, and coastal region are extirpated under the development term of ‘Neo-liberalism’. Bangladesh, due to her geographical location is a guiltless sufferer of climate change. As a result of alteration of climate − rural to urban migration, environmental insurgencies, food insecurity, occupancy loss of wildlife have been occurred. Commercial cultivation, illegal hunting and human settlements in forest area degrade our forest biodiversity and wildlife security. These crises are also strictly related to land encroachment in forest, clash in char-land, river encroachment, deforestation, violation of eco-industrial laws – anthropogenic on the whole. Population Pressures on forest resources − also augmented by expansion via housing, huge water demands, use of arable and wild environment. In addition, the demands of forest wood are escalating for industrial fabrication. Consequently, forest loses her carbon assimilating capacity. In this context, the application of rice husks potential as an alternative wood fuel can be as effective to integrate economic growth and ecological security.

Setting the Scene

Energy exaction around the world has escalated rapidly, generally in the developing countries. Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. The big population heaviness has imposed relentless strain on non-renewable and conventional energy resources. The increasing consumption of fossil fuel for domestic, industrial needs, transport has generated environmental hazards, forest insecurity and climate aggression. People are facing land and water pollution, riverbank erosion and natural disasters like flood, cyclone, drought etc. Agro-ecology is currently under threat. Desertification is scaling up. Coastal inhabitants are struggling with salinity and toxic crops.

To ensure environmental protection and human wellbeing, including poverty alleviation and prosperity, the ecosystem services of forests are essential. Forests are playing a big role in securing human health through provisioning clean water, maintenance of medicinal plants and prevention of various diseases. But, the land use pattern in Bangladesh is changing very rapidly due to alterations in physiographic and socio-economic conditions, climatic change and population growth. Land use conversion affects forest habitat, which in turn can affect the ecological function and future development of remaining forest lands. Habitat fragmentation and transportation corridors, land encroachment and alien species cultivation in forest have created migration barriers or inhospitable habitats for wildlife. On the other hand, this forest resources act a carbon sink by renewing 7.8 million tones of CO2 equivalents per annum.

In our country, rice husk has a great potential to be used as a foundation of renewable biomass energy. About 50 new varieties of rice including the recently developed one are on hand in Bangladesh. Rice husk is unvarying; small in corporeal size and it is a hulking substance. A variation in the substance of volatile matter, fixed carbon has been found in different types of husks. Global annual rice husk production is 137 million tones.  Bangladesh’s production is 9 million tons annually. Out of 38.75 million tones of total biomass produced from agro-residues, rice husk is about 26% by mass. Rice husk briquette is an alternate of wood fuel, we use. It is a common figure that, there is an extra stress on the forest resources due to the high growth of population every year. It can be condensed by using rice husk briquette as alternative of wood fuel, thus saving 25.41 thousand hectare forest land and resources alike once a year. If we use rice husk as a substitute for wood fuel, forests will be a bigger carbon sink and lead to sustainable development of forest resources.

Political Economy of Forest Ecosystems in Bangladesh

Political economy of forest management dynamics may underpin the conservation progress of forest and wildlife. Loss of habitat, over harvesting of resources, increasing productivity and natural calamities are common portrait in Bangladesh. The present-day scenario of climate change, indefensible development and biodiversity thrashing are mounting threats to life on earth and human societies. Particularly, ecological extermination interrupts the various magnitudes of ecosystem equilibriums, environmental constancy and ecological stability caused by assorted human activities. It is also an upshot of both affluence and deficiency. Over the 100 years, Bangladesh has lost about 10% of its mammalian fauna, 3% avifauna and 4% reptile species. IUCN report (2012) has said 58 species of fish, 8 species of amphibians, 63 species of reptiles, 47 species of birds and 43species of mammals in the country which are threatened under degree of risk of extinction. Bangladesh has three types of forest ecosystems including the extensive mangrove forests in the southwestern region. All these are already degraded and their area has been shrinking continuously over the years as population continues to grow. It is we who are whimsically destroying the habitats of organisms, the biological resource base.

At hilly forest, tobacco farming is increasing rather than the mainstream food. About 10 national and international companies are involved in tobacco farming. In 2000, about 300 hectares land was used which has increased 4232 hectares in 2010. Now the farming area is about 10,000 hectares. The overall condition of Bandarban district: in lama upazilla, total tobacco cultivated land is 5 thousands and 399 acres. Previously, those lands were suitable for 21 food crops and the amount of these food crops is about 11 cores taka. In alikodom upazilla, total tobacco cultivated land is 1 thousand 812 acres. Those lands were apposite for 23 food crops and the amount of these food crops is 3cores 78 lacs taka.

Forest areas are not out of intensive cultivation because of land encroachment and growing population rather forest areas are going under the suppression of commercial cultivation because at Sal forest, native plant species like kumbi, koroi, banza, sheura, jalpai, amloki, bohera are being replaced by alien species like rubber, acacia, eucalyptus, pine apple, teak etc. Similarly at Hill forest, native plant species like telsur, garjan, koroi, chapalish, dhundal are being replaced by tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, turmeric, groundnut, maize, teak etc.

Other side, shrimp farming has increased the rate of land encroachment more than double from 45,596 hectares in 2000 to 96,283 hectares in 2010 at Mangrove forest area.  In Sundarban, the total areas are lessening day by day – in 1776, it was 11,256 sq.km; 9,279 in 1841 and the estimation of 2015 has said, it is now 5,467 sq.km. In 1959, the total plants were 296 per hectare; 180 in 1983; 144 in 1996 and it will reach 109 within 2020. Besides, Sundri trees were 211 per hectare (1959), 125 (1983), 106 (1996) and it will be 80 by the year of 2020 (Prothom Alo; September 3, 2016). Many of her mammals, birds and reptiles have already been lost. Such as, one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic rhinoceros, Javan rhinoceros, blue bull, wild buffalo, gaur, banteng, swamp deer, marbled cat, pink headed duck, common peafowl, marsh crocodile.

About 15% of total area of the country has forest cover. However, commercial plantation, illegal possession in Sal forest and inappropriate jhumming, illegal logging, stone exploitation, brick fields, Bengali expansionism in Hill forest as well as apiculture, shrimp by catching and animals hunting in Mangrove forest area − all issues are raising a concern about conservation of forest biodiversity. Apart from these, every day we employ huge amount of wood as energy or fuel for industrial and agricultural production. Consequently, CO2 sinking capacities of forest are reducing which aids to escalate climatic threats.

Rice Husks Potential: Bangladesh Context

Bangladesh is farming based emerging economy in South Asia where more than 70 % of the people live in rural areas. In 2010, natural gas consumption was 14.2%, oil 5.9%, coal 0.6% and renewable 0.2%. Natural gas, oil, coal and renewable energy consumption will be more in 2030.

It is known to all, biomass energy is very indispensable to protect environment, ecology and natural food chain. Rice husk is abundant biomass resources in Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal, Nigeria, China − offering much potential for energy generation and biomass-to energy create sustainable enterprises, protect the environment, and reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for the rural poor. In Bangladesh 80% of total energy utilization comes from biomass. In general, agricultural residues infinitely convene the domestic energy demands in rural and semi-urban areas. This culture is mainly as of the fact that around 70% of our economic activities are based on crop growing. Bangladesh has an enormous potential of harvesting bio-fuel from cultivation of rice crops. We have tremendous potential of utilizing briquetting machinery as the accessibility of raw materials. There are main three derivative comes from rice − rice straw, rice husk and rice bran. Rice straw and rice bran are used as feed for cattle, poultry and fish.

These potential run more than 18,000 briquetting machines in our country. At present about 100,000 rice mills are operating. Collectively, this potential can reduce the emanation of greenhouse gases. Husks of rice are an inimitable biomass energy having good heat value − about 14,000 KJ/kg which is also ‘capable of carbon-sinking’.  After china, Bangladesh is a major rice producing country in Asia. It produces on average about 40,000,000 MT of paddy and about 8,000,000 MT of husks every year. Power generation through biomass gasification from rice husks can be an astonishing alternative in rice mills in Bangladesh.

The GEMIS (Global Emission Model for Integrated Systems) explores the potential of CO2 reduction through rice husk briquette fuel over forest wood. It was found that about 1.81 kg CO2 could be saved for each kg rice husk briquette fuel use over each kg of firewood. Also, about US$ 65.65 thousand could be achieved. This figure surely would be raised in future from the existing production of rice husk briquette in Bangladesh. The key purchaser of the rice husk energy is the rice milling sector. About 70% of rice husk energy is consumed by the rice parboiling arrangement. The wastes of rice husk energy can be reduced by replacing the improved system and CO2 level can be reduced as well. The surplus rice husk is transformed to rice husk briquette as fuel which is used for cooking in restaurant, hotel, brick fields, biscuit factories, soap mills, dying factories and household sector. Surely, this solid fuel is used as an alternative of wood fuel. As a whole, the rice husk briquetting can generate not only employment opportunity but also take part in an enormous function to lessen the CO2 emission which is very imperative for our climatic and environmental security.

Forest and Environmental Sustainability: Policies and Strategies

Sustainable management of forest has been recognized in the earth summit at Rio and it has been stressed the need for enhancing the tree cover to 33% by 2012 to combat the global warming. Understanding the importance of forest conservation in adapting to climate change, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has agreed to start the global reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

In Bangladesh, we have plethora of laws and policies – Environment Conservation Act, 1995(amendment 2000, 2002); Forest Policy, 1994; Environmental Conservation Rules, 1997; Environment Court Act, 2000(amendment, 2002); The Wildlife Preservation Order, 1973; The Forest Act, 1927 (amendment 1990, 2000); Bio-safety Guidelines of Bangladesh, 2007; National Biodiversity Framework, 2007; Bangladesh Bio-safety Rules, 2010. In addition, Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), The Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF) and The Pilot Program for Climate Resilience – are working and taking various projects to combat and adapt with climatic hazards. But a gap between policy formation and enforcement of environmental regulations is a common characteristic. Present perspective implies − the use of rice husks energy also puts a positive impact on the employment generation and forest biodiversity, environment and climate by replacing non-sustainable firewood.

Concluding Remarks

A tree that lives for 50 years can generate US$ 31,500 worth of oxygen; provide US$ 62,000 worth of air pollution control; recycle US$ 37,500 worth of water; control US$ 31,500 worth of soil erosion. In the era of climatic insurgencies, it should not make more strain on forest resources. As the potential of rice husks better are capable to reduce carbon emission, we should use it for sustainable environmental protection. We have to ensure the utilization of rice husks as an alternative wood fuel in every production centre; address the less transparent functioning of environmental institution, poor administrative practices, lack of manpower and active public participation in the grass root level. Finally − Political will, commitment and intention of the government are essential to take apposite proceedings timely to  promote the rice husks potential as well as of course diminish the threats on environment, ecosystem and forest biodiversity.

The Writer is an Environmental Analyst & associate member, Bangladesh Economic Association

  • Environmental economics of rice husks potential in Bangladesh
  • Issue 28
  • Shishir Reza
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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