How can we engage farmers in bioenergy development? A social innovation approach to rice straw bioenergy in the Philippines and Vietnam

Student thesis: Phd


Rice straw is one of the largest agricultural by-products globally. However, only a small portion of this is utilised and majority continues to get burnt in open field, causing local pollution with negative impacts on the environment and farmers' health. Harnessing energy from straw could offer an alternative to open field burning while also addressing energy challenges of rural communities and potentially providing wider socio-economic benefits. To understand how this potential could be met, this study explored the case of selected rice farming communities in the Philippines and Vietnam -- two of the top rice producing countries in the world, where at least 80% of rice straw continues to be burnt every year. While most research on bioenergy focuses on technical aspects, this project offers a different perspective by focusing on the role of farmers and their communities, who, to date, remain marginalised in the bioenergy development process. Furthermore, with the increasing importance of social innovation in rural development, exploring the social aspects of bioenergy allowed for an understanding of how farmers could co-design solutions that meet their development needs. This research, therefore, answers a two-fold question: first, how can bioenergy offer an alternative to rice straw burning; second, how can farmers and their communities be engaged in this process? In doing so, this research proposes a social innovation pathway in order to engage critical actors in rice straw bioenergy development. Using a qualitative network approach in social network research, a mixed-method approach that combines participant observation and in-depth interviews with social network analysis, this study mapped how farmers make decisions during rice postproduction. This allowed the development of both an understanding of the needs, preferences, and motivations of farmers, and the identification of the relevant actors and resource movers within their communities. Thus, providing insight on how actors in farmers' networks can support a bioenergy social innovation and help deliver wider sustainable development benefits in rural communities. This research also explored the potential of rice straw as feedstock by comparing rice straw management practices, energy uses, and challenges in the Philippines and Vietnam. The results also show that despite differences in rice straw management in the Philippines and Vietnam, farmers' practices are mostly driven by social factors, especially since farmers greatly value relationships within the community. Together, these results suggest that: first, potential bioenergy solutions need to be integrated in current community activities; second, resource-sharing within communities could be further developed to support farmers in adopting alternatives to burning; and third, influential actors to farmers such as lenders, traders and cooperatives could be relevant in enabling a livelihood-based rice straw management activity around bioenergy. These consequently open opportunities for government and businesses to collaborate with farmers and build capacities to transform their current practices to provide income to the local community, in addition to addressing energy security. The research provides insights into how a prospective rice straw bioenergy system could be shaped -- one that is informed by current needs and considers the preferences and livelihood characteristics of rice farmers. Furthermore, findings of this study offer insights for policy and industry actors on what could be key to deploying rice straw bioenergy; where, ideally the main stakeholders -- farmers -- are not mere recipients of technology but active participants in the process.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarly McLachlan (Supervisor) & Sarah Mander (Supervisor)


  • rural development
  • agriculture
  • farmers
  • rice straw
  • bioenergy
  • social innovation

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