Monday, July 27, 2015

Biochar and "Green Charcoal" Gaining Momentum in LAC

Green charcoal created by CRI and Makouti
The U.N. has designated 2015 as the Year of Soil, and over the 24 years that Partners has been running the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program, our volunteers have often worked with farmers throughout the tropics on these critical topics: soil conservation and fertility management. Soil conservation and fertility management are important everywhere, but they are absolutely critical in tropical countries with heavily weathered soils like Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. While a number of recommended best management practices (reduced tillage, mulching, etc.) have proven to be effective in many situations, one seemingly ancient but relevant practice is beginning to gain momentum in the sustainable agriculture arena: biochar.

 A terra preta do indio site in the  Brazilian Amazon






Biochar – biomass that has been charred in a low oxygen environment for agricultural use – was first “discovered” by scientists that were investigating unusually fertile plots of soil in the Brazilian Amazon, called terra preta do indio. The fertile soil, which was carbon-dated between 450 BCE and 600 CE, is rich in charcoal and is thought to have been created by indigenous groups inhabiting the region.

Although it remains a mystery exactly how to recreate terra preta do indio, it is clear that charcoal is a key ingredient. Research indicates that biochar has a number of benefits such as increasing soil nutrient holding capacity, water holding capacity, and ability to buffer pH. Furthermore, as charcoal is resistant to decomposition, making biochar is considered a carbon negative process and farmers can reap the agricultural benefits of one biochar application for hundreds, or even thousands of years.

Partners has been working with charcoal initiatives in Haiti since 2012. For Haiti, green charcoal production means not only reduced deforestation by creating charcoal for cooking, but also improved soils and greater plant yields with the biochar byproduct.  Carbon Roots International (CRI) is championing this technology in Haiti. CRI encourages and enables the adoption of sustainable charcoal technologies in Haiti and the broader developing world.

CRI assists farmers to produce biochar from agricultural waste, such as sugarcane bagasse, bean stalks, or corn stover by converting it through the process of pyrolysis, or heating organic biomass in an oxygen-starved environment. With little oxygen, the waste can’t burn; instead, it chars. This enables biochar production at locations where biomass is otherwise burned in a heap or left to decompose. With the help of Makouti Agro Enterprise, CRI  has refined the process and introduced the technology to an ever-increasing number of communities in Makouti's and Farmer-to-Farmer's network. 

For more information on biochar, please visit: http://www.biochar-international.org/ or
http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/.

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