A significant area of the Albufera Natural Park is occupied by fields used for rice cultivation. This agricultural practice is characterised by its compatibility with the protection of the natural environment, given that the flooded fields serve as a refuge for a large quantity of birds who take repose there on their migratory routes or who choose to settle there.
However, once a year one can be witness to a pitiful scene: soaring pillars of smoke caused by the burning of left-over stalks. Between September and October, after the harvesting of the rice, the stalks are left behind in the fields. Some days later, the flooding of the fields takes place, for which the stalks must firstly be removed. The simplest solution and one which is used by practically all farmers, consists of the burning of the left-over stalks on the same land. This gives rise to multiple problems, including the release of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, the impact on wildlife and vegetation, human health problems (respiratory conditions such as asthma, rhinitis…) and the danger to road safety (lack of visibility on roads due to the smoke).
Any other alternative presented serious difficulties, mainly due to the complications involved in the operation of machinery in the fields (generally swamped and forming mudland) to remove the stalks.
In the year 2001, the Valencia City Council, DAM, FUVAMA and the European Commission (through the LIFE programme) launched the BIOCOMPOST project in order to solve this problem.
Research was carried out in order to identify the characteristics that tractors and bailing machines should have incorporated in order to work in adverse conditions. When definitive conclusions were obtained, three baling machine protypes and one tractor protype were created, based on commercial models.
During three harvesting seasons (2001, 2002 and 2003), more than 2,200 tonnes of rice stalks were gathered with a combined mechanism which used the prototypes to operate both quickly and efficiently. This service did not involve any cost for collaborating farmers.
The bales of stalk gathered were transported to a waste processing plant, which was adapted to receive this type of waste and incorporate it as a structurant in composting processes. The sludge from sewage purifying plants was also transported to the plant, which is highly problematic when it comes to eliminating it, given that its texture requires strong structurants for it to be composted. The process proved to be very efficient and so, the plant built a new process line with silos, in order to receive higher quantities of both types of waste. The characteristics of the compost produced were analysed and it was concluded as being very suitable for various applications. It was sent mainly to the vineyards of the region.
BIOCOMPOST has raised awareness among farmers, citizens, city councils and other institutions about this problem by initiating a cascade of actions which will in the future, lead to the complete eradication of the burning of rice stalks in the Natural Park, demonstrating a management model which is exportable to all European regions which are experiencing the same problem.
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