Mae Chaem – A feasibility study

Located in Chiang Mai Province, Mae Chaem is a small farming community that grows tens of thousands of tons of corn. A large portion of the smoke pollution that hits Chiang Mai every year comes from the burning of Mae Chaem’s corn waste.

In conjunction with a grant from the Canadian Embassy, Warm Heart is managing a program in Mae Chaem working with a group of farmers to test the feasibility of switching from open field burning to a biochar system.

When first approached with the project, the farmers objected that field burning was too difficult to address because the fields are so large. They argued that the project should start with the massive piles of corn cob waste that accumulates where corn from the fields is de-kernelled. In Mae Na Chon, the sub-district where the Warm Heart team started, de-kernelling produces almost 10,000 tons of cob and husk waste annually. The farmers felt that this would be sufficiently challenging.

Warm Heart provided the materials and the farmers made 250 barrel biochar ovens. Few people were available to make biochar until the end of December because every extended family group was out picking. As the picking season peaked, farmers flocked to the barrels. By the end of January, farmers at a single site were making as much as 15 tons of biochar (750 barrels of biochar) per day. The sight was amazing to behold – but the pile of cob never diminished.

Change is always difficult. As an incentive to participate in our program, we are “buying the smoke” from the farmers in terms of biochar. Now, to get even more farmers on board, we need more incentives – and that means we need community support. We are running a Crowdrise "Stop the Smoke" campaign to raise money to pay the farmers for the biochar.

While this project will not make a huge difference in this year’s smoke problem, what it has taught Warm Heart makes it a major step towards finding a sustainable solution to what is a seemingly unsolvable problem.

Dr, Shafer is the Director of the Environmental Program at Warm Heart

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