As the season for burning rice straw kicked off last week, a black cloud started to spread, mostly affecting the Delta area in the north of Egypt.
This black cloud makes headlines every year, along with official pronouncements to crack down on the practice.
In a press statement, Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy said Sharqiya governorate is ranked the highest in terms of rice straw burning rates, and as such, more resources are allocated to this governorate to confront the black cloud.
Attempts to reduce rice straw burning in the area, according to the ministerial statement, include loaning and providing new equipment to facilitate the conversion of straw into fertilizers and fodder. In addition, 60 out of 100 compressors that have been distributed nationally are concentrated in Sharqiya. Similar interventions have reportedly been made in the governorates of Daqahlia and Kafr al-Sheikh.
Mohamed Farag, head of the Farmers Union, told Mada Masr that the rate of rice straw burning has dropped this year, thanks to the compressors, as farmers store the rice straw and then sell it to be used as fodder for cattle.
Support aside, punitive measures for those who burn rice straw have been put in place, with Fahmy telling the privately owned Al-Hayat TV channel that fines will range from LE5,000 to LE100,000 this year. Although he admits they have never been very effective in combatting the problem, as they have only been implemented at a maximum of LE20 in the past.
Gamal al-Saeedy, head of the branches sector in the Ministry of Environment, said in a statement that the government had managed to tackle the problem using new techniques to detect the areas in which burning occurs through satellites.
A number of awareness campaigns were also launched to inform farmers about how rice straw could be used in more efficient ways, and the disadvantages of its burning, EGYnews reported.
But despite governmental claims of the declining practice, citizens from Daqahliya have reported high burning rates, the privately owned Youm7 reported.
Saeedy asserted that over 1,000 contraventions have been reported since the beginning of the harvest season, with only 24 percent of the land harvested so far.