Agriculture and Environment: Sugarcane

Better Management Practices: Eliminate Burning Prior to Harvest

Burning of cane fields prior to harvest should be abandoned.

The practice of burning fields prior to harvest kills much of the wildlife that has managed to survive in sugarcane fields to that point. If the fires are not monitored, they can easily get out of control and burn into neighbouring areas.

Often what is burned are riparian areas or slopes that are too steep to plant. Both of these areas, however, can be rich in biodiversity that can be destroyed by uncontrolled fires.

Not the same laws everywhere
In some countries it is against the law to burn cane fields and violators are fined severely. But this is not he case in most developing countries. More important from the point of view of producers, not burning fields prior to harvest improves profits.

Longer-term benefits
When growers abandon burning practices, they can harvest some 5% more sugar that had previously been lost as a result of burning. This more than compensates for the marginal labour increases involved in harvesting.

Finally, when fields are not burned, organic matter builds up, as much as 20 metric tons of organic matter per hectare from the leaves that are left in the field. Spraying the cane debris with microorganisms that hasten decomposition can break up the vegetable matter into manageable fractions that are more quickly reintegrated into the soil.

The friendly Mulch!
This partially decomposed organic matter can act as mulch for the crop. Mulch offers the advantage of holding in moisture, bonding with fertilisers and pesticides, reducing weed growth, and increasing productivity and net profits by reducing overall input use.


Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" by Jason Clay - buy the book online from Island Press

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