ALOR SETAR: As the sun bakes the land to a crisp, scorched padi fields spanning the horizon throughout Kedah and Perlis bear the evidence of open burning.
The authorities are not happy with this.
“No, they are not allowed to do it,” said Kedah Agriculture committee chairman Datuk Suraya Yaacob stonily.
“We know they need to. Burning rice fields after a harvest is the fastest way to kill off all the insects and fungal spores before the next planting,” she said in an interview.
The fires that farmers start have a tendency to go out of control.
Along the 40km-long Jalan Kangar-Alor Setar route, where padi fields line both sides of the road, many trees have been charred by fire.
One such tree on the 16th km marker burnt for a week until it fell a few days ago.
The tree snagged telephone wires when it fell.
It now leans at an awkward angle, supported by the wires.
Motorcyclist Abdul Khadir Said, 65, who rides along the route daily, said he saw the padi field on fire over a week ago.
“The wind swept the fire up to the dry bushes by the road and then this tree caught fire,” he said.
The padi plot’s farmer Ahmad Md Nor, 75, who lives across the road, said he had been burning his field every dry season for decades.
He didn’t expect the tree trunk to burn for a long time.
Ahmad admitted that when the fires were raging a few days ago, smoke had obscured the road and caused a minor car accident not far from his house.
In Arau, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute station manager Othman Ismail said dried padi stalks left on the field were usually burnt as it was the most cost-efficient method of pest control.
He recalled that in previous decades, the intentional burning was so severe that farmers could end up setting whole villages on fire.
But they have learned to take turns and stagger the burning to avoid an all-out conflagration.
“If the padi stalks are left to rot, bacteria will fester and attack the next batch. There are also many damaging insects hiding in the stalks that will thrive with the next planting.”
State Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yong Kong said padi farmers were allowed to burn their fields under the supervision of an agriculture officer who would set certain conditions.
“They should make an appointment with the Agriculture Department to have an officer present when they burn their fields. Otherwise, it’s an illegal burning.”