For more than 10 years, Warm Heart Organization, a community development organization in Phrao, Thailand, has supported rural and low-income villages by finding relevant solutions to become more economically sustainable. Among these rural communities, seasonal haze is a consistent issue in which smoke from burning crop waste affects the health of village community members. Under the leadership of the Chiang Mai Governor, the Breathe Council advocates for clean air and sustainable solutions for all communities.
In October 2019, Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai committed to help fight the issue in association with Warm Heart Organization through the Stop The Smoke program. Through the five-year commitment, the hotel will provide equipment and resources for rural villages to operate biochar production facilities, which will create biochar that can be resold as organic fertilizer or combustible briquettes, a more sustainable alternative to coal. Biochar is made by burning organic material from agricultural waste which safely stores carbon dioxide that can’t easily escape into the atmosphere, helping mitigate climate change.
The hotel’s commitment supports the villages’ infrastructure by creating jobs within the community, creating a source of income by producing fertilizer and reducing the carbon footprint through the elimination of burning of crop waste in the area. Hotel colleagues will also volunteer at the villages during regular visits.
To start, the hotel supported the creation of two community-based biochar facilities and purchased 50 tons of biochar production, contributing to an income of 300,000 baht (almost USD10,000) of income for the villagers and preventing the release of 313 kilograms of PM2.5, a dangerous air quality element that is found in smoke. In comparison, one kilogram of smoke is equivalent to smoke produced from 71,429 cigarettes.
“Forest fires significantly raise Chiang Mai’s air pollution levels, so we hope more villagers start to see bio char as a viable alternative to burning," said Gabriele Lombardo, general manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai. "The villagers can earn more money by converting husks and stalks into bio char which doesn’t emit PM2.5 particles into the air. Cleaner air leads to better health conditions for the community and in turn more tourists visiting the city.”
The hotel also donated fertilizer to local organizations that train community members to become farmers and either start urban farms on empty plots of land or degraded soil. Through this outreach, Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai has donated 50 tons of fertilizer to help enrich soil. The hotel plans to purchase vegetables from the farmers, generating more jobs and income for community members.
Through the new partnership, Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai will purchase 50 tons of biochar in 2020. Fifty tons of biochar are obtained by recycling 250 tons of waste, in this case corn husk and stalks that would otherwise be burned and pollute the villages. The 50 tons of biochar can fertilize up to 50,000 square meters, about five hectares.
"In these days where the air quality has dramatically deteriorated in Northern Thailand due to wild burning, primarily triggered by poverty, there could not be a better time for Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai to be at the forefront of the battle by partnering with Warm Heart Organization,” said Lombardo.
Thank you to our colleagues at Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai for committing to the important cause. We look forward to witnessing the positive impact the program will have for rural villages in Northern Thailand.