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[CAIRO] An Egyptian researcher has found a way to reduce the size of bales of rice straw, a type of agricultural waste that poses a huge environmental and health burden on rice farmers who burn it as a means of disposal.

Alaa al-Badawi, a researcher at the National Research Center for  in the Department of Animal Nutrition in Egypt, successfully reduced the bales to half their size, using a farming machine that is available on the market. He also managed to convert the straw into animal feed.

The said machine is a kind of chopper invented and patented by an Egyptian scientist last December which cut the rice straws in pieces not more than 2 cm tall. Al Badawi did was to compressed the chopped straw manually in a block of wood to form the new bale and treat it to make it into forage.

“One bale now weighs 25 kilograms and its dimensions are 50 cm × 50 cm × 20 cm," al-Badawi tells SciDev.Net, adding that one tonne of the treated rice straw can be stored in an area of only two square metres.

He explains that the small bales will turn into feed after being treated with the biofertilizer EM1 and wrapped in plastic so that it is not exposed to air or water, and then stored away from the sun for one month in the hot season and one and a half months in the cool months.

Al-Badawi’s method won first prize at the farming innovation contest organised last January by the division of agricultural and biological research where he works.

His innovation could also benefit rice farmers in other rice-growing Asian countries who face difficulties with collecting and storing rice straw in the form of huge bales, and with the cost of transporting these for recycling. A portion of the rice straw is usually fed to farm animals but the bigger portion is often burned for easier disposal.

According to al-Badawi, Egypt grows 1.2 million acres of rice annually that produces two to three tonnes of straw waste. Farmers must dispose of this huge amount of waste within a 70 day period, before the cold season planting period begins.

Mohammed Sabri, a rice farmer from Dakahliya Governorate, says, “I am being asked to transport the rice straw myself to wherever the government wants it, with no compensation for the transportation expenses or labour wages.”

Sabri says the new feed is more appealing to animals: “The results of the study conducted on the feed [processed] using our method showed the protein content had increased to 11 per cent and the fiber [content] to 36 per cent, with an increase in the percentage of soluble sugars.”

"The weight of sheep feeding on it increased by an average of 200 grams daily and the weight of larger animals increased by 1.25 kilograms," Sabri adds.

But Hassan Abbas, dean of veterinary medicine at Assiut University in Egypt, notes that the problem with using rice straw as animal feed is its silica content. Silica is nothing more than filler that gives a sense of fullness and “cannot be relied upon for nutrition,” Abas says. 

Al-Badawi has yet to receive a response from the agriculture ministry on his feasibility study on establishing a production line for the manufacture of animal feed using his method.

This article is based on the original article produced by SciDev.Net's Middle East & North Africa desk.