Final B4SS Workshop in Jimma, Ethiopia (June 2018)

Final B4SS Workshop in Jimma, Ethiopia (June 2018)

The Final B4SS Workshop took place at Jimma University, Jimma, Ethiopia on 12th June 2018. The workshop was organised by Jimma University staff, notably by Milkiyas Ahmed who has been instrumental for the success of the B4SS Project in Ethiopia. Prof Berhanu Belay has worked hard to advance biochar projects and research in Ethiopia and joined us as well. The 58 B4SS participant farmers were invited to the workshop to learn about the biochar research work that is being conducted in Ethiopia and the results of the B4SS project. The Workshop was opened by Dr Amsalu wh supervised the students that were supported by the B4SS to do biochar experiments.

Milkiyas Ahmed discussed the B4SS project achievements and ongoing activities. On average, the biochar formulation that consists of biochar produced from coffee husk, co-composted with coffee husk and animal manure has resulted in savings of about 40% NPK fertiliser. One PhD candidate and two Master students also presented the results of their biochar experiments on green beans. On average, biochar has increased the yields of green beans. Workshop participants could learn the details of these experiments during the poster session.

Before lunch, Prof Berhanu Belay had a nice surprise for us. He brought champion farmer Aynalem Teshale Ayana from Injibara to share his experience in charcoal-making combined with traditional agriculture in Injibara. The farmers in Jimma were delighted to hear about the fact that char has been used traditionally for soil improvement in other regions in Ethiopia. In order to exchange views and experiences with biochar in Ethiopia, Prof Berhanu mentioned that he will now invite Jimma’s biochar champion farmer Ibrahim Aba Fita to Injibara to talk about biochar in Jimma to the farmers in that region. Moreover, farmers and Jimma University’s researchers had the opportunity to listen to Prof Johannes Lehmann’s presentation: “ Biochar: Beyond Soil Nutrient and Water Availability”. Dr Getachew had an interesting intervention since he conducted his PhD on the effect of biochar in greenhouse gas emissions in Australia with field work in Ethiopia. After the presentations, Bayu gave us a tour to the laboratory facilities where he is carrying out biochar experiments with various students.

Similar as with the B4SS projects in other countries, Starfish Initiatives distributed Australian Burke & Willis hats to male farmers and Jimma University staff, and Aboriginal designed scarfs to female farmers who were all grateful about this gesture.

Thank you very much to Berhanu, Milkiyas, Johannes, Amsalu, Bayu, Jibril and Jimma University’s students and biochar researchers for attending the final B4SS Workshop in Ethiopia. Special thanks, notably, goes to the farmers who participated throughout the three years of the B4SS project and made a success out of it. Amasegenalo!!

Final B4SS Meeting in the Quang Chu commune, Vietnam (May 2018)

Final B4SS Meeting in the Quang Chu commune, Vietnam (May 2018)

The Final B4SS Meeting took place in the Quang Chu commune, Cho Moi District, Bac Kan Province, Vietnam in May 2018. The meeting was led by Mrs Mai Lan Anh and Mr Hoang Trung Kien from Thai Nguyen University of Sciences (TNUS) who were also in contact with the farmers involved in the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) project.

About 50 people participated in the final B4SS meeting in Vietnam; most of the participants were farmers, but also representatives from the commune and district governments and a private charcoal/biochar production company joined the meeting. The vice director of the Agriculture Department of Cho Moi district, Mr Ha Van Chin, mentioned that he first heard about biochar when doing his Master studies in Nanjing, China. He is happy to have come back to Vietnam and found out that the B4SS project is taking place in his district. The head of government in the Quang Chu commune, Mr Luru Van Duyen, welcomed the participants and thanked Lan Anh, TNUS, Ruy and Starfish Initiatives. Mr Duyen was very supportive throughout the whole B4SS project. Mr Linh Nguyen Hoang, the director of a local charcoal/biochar production company is interested in selling biochar to the farmers involved in the B4SS project, and expand their business to other areas in Vietnam.

As a modest gesture to thank farmers for their participation in the B4SS project, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa handed out Australian Burke & Willis hats to male farmers and Aboriginal designed scarfs to female farmers who were all happy to receive these gifts. We also gave them one sac of a biochar formulation developed during the B4SS project. Farmers were happy to have participated in the B4SS project, and showed interested to continue using biochar in their fields. However many of them said that they would prefer to buy the biochar-fertilizer product at the market instead of producing their own biochar, because of the additional physical labour involved.

Thank you very much to Mr Duyen, Mr Chin, Mr Linh and Mr Kien for the facilitation of the Final B4SS Meeting in the Quang Chu commune. Special thanks goes to Lan Anh who organised a wonderful meeting with various stakeholders interested in the development and commercialisation of biochar technologies in Vietnam.

ESP MENA Conference in Jordan (April 2018)

ESP MENA Conference in Jordan (April 2018)

During the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP)9 Conference in Shenzhen, China, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa met various participants from Jordan including Oliver Schlein, from GIZ, and your Highness Princess Basma bint Ali who invited him to present the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) Project at the 1st ESP Conference in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region. Ruy then submitted his abstract, which was accepted for an oral presentation. The ESP MENA Conference took place at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, Jordan, on 22- 25 April 2018.

The conference’s theme was: “Enhancing ecosystem services through ecological restoration for nature and people”.

Interestingly, in her keynote speech, Princess Basma said that they were not fully aware of an ecosystem service that could be harnessed from dry regions, such as the Wadi Rum desert in the South of Jordan. She mentioned that the movie “The Martian” was filmed in the region, and so the local people and the Jordanian government were benefiting from that unique dry landscape. She also mentioned that tourism in the region is also increasing due to the various activities that have been developed for that ecosystem, such as camel riding.

Photo credit: ESP MENA Conference organizers

In the hall, Ruy talked to Princess Basma who recommended him to have a dip in the dead sea and cover his body in mud, and that this would make his skin smoother. Of course, Ruy took time in the afternoon to get covered in mud, and his skin actually got softer … for only few days though. He should come back for another treatment.

Oliver Schlein, the conference organizer from GIZ, introduced Ruy and the B4SS project in a very enthusiastic way. At the beginning of his presentation, Ruy asked the participants if they had heard about biochar before. About half of the people raised their hands. He then went on to explain the potential benefits of biochar, the objectives of the B4SS project, the achievements and lessons learned. A participant from Lebanon asked several questions about biochar production in the Kon Tiki soil pit kiln and also shared a story with us. He said that when he was a child his grandmother used to throw olive pits into the fire when cooking and once the fire had extinguished, she would then recover the carbonised olive pits (which he called something like “dae”) and apply them to the soil in her veggie garden. We discussed that the practice of using charred biomass for growing crops is not new. He also noted that the difference between the B4SS project and his grandma’s activities was the much larger scale of the B4SS project.

Ruy also took the opportunity to present the B4SS animation that has been recently produced in Australia. The video was received well and people got very interested in biochar.

The 1st ESP MENA Conference was a success, and participants are looking forward to have the 2nd ESP MENA Conference, possibly in two years. Many thanks to Oliver Schlein, Princess Basma and all the organisers for facilitating this ESP conference at such magnificent venue!

B4SS Good Practice Guides Videos in Peru (March 2018)

B4SS Good Practice Guides Videos in Peru (March 2018)

During the Final B4SS National Workshop that took place in Lima in March 2018, the four Good Practice Guides Videos that have been developed for the project in Peru were presented.

Biochar Adventure Experience and Final B4SS Workshop in Peru (March 2018)

Biochar Adventure Experience and Final B4SS Workshop in Peru (March 2018)

Mr Shewaye Deribe Woldeyohannes was the winner of the 2018 B4SS Biochar Adventure Experience in Peru. Shewaye was very kind to briefly describe his personal experience below.


In October 2017, I, Shewaye Deribe Woldeyohannes, found a web-based call for applicants to go into a draw to participate in the 2018 B4SS Biochar Adventure Experience in Peru, South America. It was my first time to read the term “biochar”. I was eager to know about biochar, and so I started to investigate about biochar in the internet and found a lot of information. One of the topics that absorbed my interest was the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) Project implemented in Jimma, Ethiopia, in partnership with Jimma University and local farmers involved in biochar production and application. Then, I decided to apply for the competition and face the adventure in Peru. In January 2018, I got an email from Dr Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, the Project Director of B4SS, informing me that I was the winner of the competition and entitled for full sponsorship to attend the biochar adventure experience. I accepted the invitation and agreed to participate in the event. Ultimately, through the invitation and sponsorship of Starfish Initiatives / B4SS project, I traveled to Peru and participated in the B4SS trip on 17-23 March 2018. This brief report describes my exposure to the B4SS event.

Expectations from the Biochar Event in Peru

  • Understand the concept of biochar, which is a relatively new technology for agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability;
  • Know the method of biochar production, preparation and application; and
  • Learn firsthand information from the farmers of Peru on the benefits of biochar for agriculture.

The Journey to Peru

It was not easy to decide to travel such a long distance from Ethiopia to Peru (South America), which is located at the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean, for a person who cannot construct even a simple sentence in Spanish and communicate with the locals. It was also a tough decision to trust web-based calls in the current world and travel with persons whom I have not previously met or had any working relationship or agreement. However, I trusted the invitation and organizer, and decided to travel to Peru. Some of my colleagues and family members were hesitant regarding my decision to do such a long trip to a country where I cannot understand the language or has not known any person before. Even more, the organization that invited me, Starfish Initiatives, is not based in Peru; it is based in Australia! However, it was indeed an adventure, which succeeded with rewarding results.

Tour in Lima (Saturday, 17 March 2018)

The visit of Lima was lovely. Being guided by a local tour guide, Ruy, Kathleen Draper and I visited churches, government centers, markets and the historical buildings of Lima. Ms. Kathleen was another participant from New York, USA. After the city tour, Starfish Initiatives invited us to a memorable lunch at a restaurant located at the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean; at this lunch Brenton Ladd and Adam Blakester, CEO of Starfish Initiatives, joined us. Having lunch at such a location was really breathtaking; this site is one of the wonders of Lima to be visited.

Visit to the B4SS research station in Lurin (Sunday 18 March 2018)

On Sunday morning, Ruy, Kathleen, Santiago, another participant from Ecuador who joined us that day, and I traveled to Lurin (some 40 km from Lima), where Dr. Brenton Ladd is producing and evaluating biochar formulations and production technologies.

In addition, Brenton showed us a biochar demonstration experiment with eucalyptus trees. Noticeably, the trees that have been treated with biochar are bigger than those without biochar.

We saw the operation of two methods of biochar production at the research station: the Kon Tiki kiln and the Roo Batch pyrolyzer. The two types of pyrolysis or biochar-making ovens are usable; the Kon Tiki kiln is cheaper than the Roo batch pyrolyzer and can be practiced with minimum expense. The advantage of the Roo batch pyrolyzer is that it is relatively clean and produces low emissions.

We also learned that the Kon Tiki kiln can be modified and is now being used by farmers in a cone-shaped pit in the ground in Peru, Ethiopia and other countries participating in the B4SS project. At the research center, we grasped the various benefits of biochar, such as prevention of heavy metal pollution in water bodies; creation of a large surface area in the soil for retaining nutrients, hosting microorganisms and improving soil fertility; and keeping carbon for many years in the soil.

Trip to San Ramon (Monday 19 March 2018)

The next day, we traveled to San Ramon to learn about farmers’ biochar practice in San Ramon, in the central jungle of Peru. The flight from Lima to Jauja over the top of the Andes mountain range was very fascinating; the grace of snow and cloud covered Andes throughout its undulating landscape shows its majesty over the low-lying shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. From Jauja, we traveled to San Ramon by taxi crossing the valley of the Andes. Flying over the Andes and driving through its valley bottom are two quite different experiences. Landslide from the steep slopes and roads curving over the edges of deep and sharp valleys were among the catchy events of the road. At this moment, it was appropriate to admire the highly-skilled drivers of Peru for their careful and responsible driving at that sharp and twisting landscape. The similarity between the landscape of the Andes and the Ethiopian highlands is another issue to mention. At some points I felt as if I was at the top of the Northern Ethiopian mountains; the similarity between the Andes and the Ethiopian highlands (North Central and Northern highlands) was one of the instances that fully absorbed my mind. We stayed three nights in San Ramon.

Learning with the B4SS participant farmers in San Ramon

Mr. Rogelio Gomez and Mr. Dennis Castro are the champions of B4SS biochar practices in San Ramon. Participants of the B4SS Biochar Adventure Experience visited the farms of these two farmers.

Mr. Rogelio has applied biochar mixed with phosphorous powder on his coffee plantation and obtained a remarkable difference between coffee plants treated with biochar and not treated with biochar. During the field visit in his farm, the participants observed that the biochar-treated coffee plants developed dark green leaves and sturdy stem, whereas the untreated ones developed yellowish leaves affected with rust and had relatively lower physical development.

In addition, the participants saw the biochar prepared by Mr. Dennis for application when transplanting his coffee seedlings. According to his explanation, he started biochar production based on the training given by B4SS. He is highly committed to continue field-level experiments on the benefits of biochar. He is also willing to share his knowledge and benefits of biochar to his fellow farmers and has plans to start a biochar distribution business. The participants of the B4SS project have appreciated the enthusiasm of these two farmers to produce and apply biochar and their receptiveness to a new technology.

Visit to Peru (January 2018)

Visit to Peru (January 2018)

Ruy Anaya de la Rosa visited Peru in January 2018. The activities included various meetings in Lima with international cooperation agencies, FAO, film makers, coffee and cacao producers and exporters, academics and NGOs. The main purpose of these meetings was to raise awareness about the use of biochar for Sustainable Land Management and communicate the findings of the B4SS project in Peru. Furthermore, we were able to identify the actors that were most interested in learning more about the B4SS activities in Peru for us to invite them to our final country workshop in March 2018.

In addition, Ruy traveled to San Ramon, the central jungle, to see the progress of two of the four new biochar field trials on maize that Sebastian Dumler has established in the land of two beneficiaries: Gaida and Rogelio. This was the second experiment in Rogelio’s farm; the first experiment was established two years ago and it failed mostly because the maize plants were attacked by lorikeets. Besides looking at the second experiment, which is now being attacked by ants, Rogelio invited us to see the area of the first experiment where he later planted some banana trees. Interestingly, Rogelio informed us that the banana trees have been growing vigorously compared with other banana trees grown elsewhere in his farm. He said that this effect on increased plant growth was probably due to the biochar that had been previously incorporated into the soil during the first experiment. Rogelio is not waiting for us to tell him what to do or think, and he is experiencing the benefits of biochar by himself.

Still in San Ramon, APRODES organised a biochar training workshop with 70 farmers who are part of a parallel project on climate change that they have with the German cooperation agency, GIZ. The 21 beneficiaries of the B4SS project have been talking to their neighbours and friends about using biochar to improve their soils’ health, and therefore the other farmers asked APRODES to conduct the workshop. Renato Gambarina (APRODES) introduced Ruy and Sebastian to the new farmers who were attentive to the presentation.

The highlight of the workshop was the demonstration of the operation of the soil pit Kon Tiki kiln. This workshop was particularly interactive since Ruy encouraged the farmers who have been trained before to show the new farmers how to produce biochar. There were some discussions and plenty of laughs about the enthusiasm of some farmers to share their knowledge with the rest of the group. Ruy strongly believes that this participatory process is more likely to increase the rate of adoption of biochar if it is conducted in a fun and respectful way. Finally, we ended the biochar training workshop with the traditional Pachamanca (food cooked in a whole in the ground), which has become an important component of our workshops in Peru.

This time, the special thanks goes to Sebastian, Brenton, Estefany, APRODES staff, especially Ronald and Reyna, Rogelio and the new farmers that showed interest in learning and diffusing the knowledge of how to produce biochar to the remaining 470 farmers involved in APRODES’ projects in the region. There is still a lot of work to do.

Presenting the B4SS project at the ESP9 conference in Shenzhen, China (December 2017)

Presenting the B4SS project at the ESP9 conference in Shenzhen, China (December 2017)

The 9th Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) World Conference took place in Shenzhen, China on 11-15 December 2017. The theme this year was “Ecosystem Services for Eco-civilization: Restoring connections between people and landscapes through nature-based solutions”. The ESP9 program consisted of plenary subdivisions with keynote speakers, break-out sessions and a field trip. The sessions at the ESP9 Conference were clustered according to the ESP Working Groups, Regional Chapters, and General sessions.

Under the “Biome Working Group” and “B.9 Growing rural ecosystem services” session, Dr Ruy Anaya de la Rosa presented the B4SS project and the potential benefits of using biochar to the international ecosystem services community. Coincidentally, Dr Edmundo Barrios, the coordinator of the B4SS project in Kenya, participated in the same session and talked about “Agroecology and the sustained provision of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes“.

Ruy’s presentation “Biochar to enhance rural ecosystem services: learning from the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) Project” summarised current knowledge of biochar and shared achievements and lessons from the B4SS project. It was a bit surprising to see that very few participants of this international conference knew that the production and use of biochar can play a major role in enhancing ecosystem services. Therefore, the presentation was very well received.

The ESP9 conference proceedings can be found here.

Biochar Training Workshop in San Ramon, Peru (December 2017

Biochar Training Workshop in San Ramon, Peru (December 2017)

On 18 December 2017, Sebastian Dumler, a student of Environmental Engineer who is helping APRODES with the dissemination of the knowledge on biochar in San Ramon, conducted a workshop on biochar production in the farm of Rogelio, one of our most motivated farmers in Peru. Sebastian was a student of Dr Brenton Ladd, the local coordinator of the B4SS project, and his thesis is based on the biochar research work he conducted for the B4SS. Nine people, mostly Rogelio’s neighbours, attended the workshop. They all showed interested in learning more about producing biochar by themselves in order to use it to improve their crop yield.

Rogelio previously gathered some wood from coffee and Inga (Pacay) tree prunings to use as feedstock for biochar production. The Pacay tree, a nitrogen fixer, is commonly used as a shade tree for coffee and cacao, and is well adapted to red acidic infertile soils, typical of the lowland humid tropics of the Amazon forest. Rogelio made sure that the feedstock was covered and dry for the day of our workshop. This was very important, especially in December during the rainy season. Sebastian and farmers all contributed to the construction of the soil pit. The production of biochar was reported to be clean since the wood was very dry, and it only took them around 2 hours to complete the task. The next step for Sebastian is to show the farmers how to apply biochar to their land.

Final B4SS Farmers’ Workshop in Kapsabet, Kenya (November 2017)

Final B4SS Farmers’ Workshop in Kapsabet, Kenya (November 2017)

The Final B4SS Farmers’ Workshop took place in Kapsabet, Nandi county, Kenya in November 2017. The workshop was led by Dr David Lelei from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Henri Biwott, the son of a local farmer, who has been key in keeping close communication with farmers participating in the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) project.

David Lelei presented the results of the experimental biochar trials and farmers were divided into groups to discuss their experience with biochar. The results show that the treatment that promoted the highest crop (maize) growth was biochar and cow manure, followed by biochar and diammonium phosphate (DAP). In the B4SS project in Kenya, the biochar was not mixed (“charged”) with fertilisers prior to application, but rather incorporated into the soil soon after fertiliser application.

As a modest gesture to thank farmers for their participation in the B4SS project, David Lelei and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa handed out Australian Burke & Willis hats to male farmers and Aboriginal designed tea towels to female farmers who were all happy to receive these gifts.

During the feedback provided, all farmers showed interest in learning how to produce biochar by themselves. Therefore, we took the opportunity to run a demonstration of the Kon Tiki soil pit kiln. The local area is a large producer of tea, and so wood from tea bushes often becomes available. This time, a tea company had uprooted large quantities of tea bushes, which had reached maturity, and gave us this feedstock for free. Henri made sure that the wood was dry, and we chopped the trunks that were too large to fit in a small soil pit. The production of biochar was clean and relatively fast.

The final B4SS farmers’ workshop in Kenya was successful mostly due to the leadership and guidance provided by Dr David Lelei and Henri Biwott. The farmers were grateful to Starfish Initiatives and the B4SS project, and expressed motivation to continue experimenting with biochar and fertilisers by themselves to grow maize and other crops, such as beans and capsicum. The B4SS project in Kenya will soon communicate the results through the B4SS good practice guides and a scientific article. Stay tuned.

Training in biochar production and filming the B4SS video in Peru (October 2017)

Training in biochar production and filming the B4SS video in Peru (October 2017)

We went to San Ramon to meet the 21 B4SS project participant farmers and train them in biochar production. During the previous trips to the central jungle in Peru, we have identified that the most appropriate technology for the local farmers to make biochar is the soil pit Kon Tiki kiln. Brenton Ladd (B4SS project coordinator in Peru) presented the results of the biochar field trials, and stressed that biochar must not be produced from standing trees and raw biochar should not be applied directly to soils. This was also a good opportunity for Brenton, Renato Gambarina (APRODES local manager) and Eduardo Lavalle (APRODES general director) to discuss the creation of the B4SS good practice guides and the sustainability of the biochar project in Peru.

As part of the good practice guides, the B4SS hired a Peruvian film production company to help us make short videos and communicate, in simple words, the benefits of using biochar for sustainable land management in Peru. Estefany Loret de Mola and Sebastian Dumler, Brenton’s students, volunteered to talk about biochar and the B4SS project in the videos. Since they are not professional actors, it took us some time to record the scenes. This activity became exhausting because of the mosquitoes and other bugs annoying us, while we were operating a soil pit Kon Tiki kiln in an ambient temperature of 39oC. Fortunately, the students and the film makers are young and fit, and so this task was also successful.

Back in Lima, we met with Pedro Carbajal who is in charge of planting and landscaping of the public gardens and parks of the municipality of Lurin, which has provided the B4SS project with the green waste generated in the municipality for producing biochar. Furthermore, the municipality of Lurin is getting a biochar formulation back from the B4SS for application to the public green spaces. We took Pedro to the B4SS research station in Lurin where Brenton showed us how the biochar site has been improving and expanding quite rapidly.

Muchas gracias a Brenton, Eduardo, Renato, APRODES staff, Estefany, Sebastian, Dennis, the 21 B4SS participant farmers, Pedro, and the filmmakers at “En el Blanco” for advancing the concept of biochar in Peru. It was a surprising pleasure to find out that there are 500 new farmers interested in knowing more about producing and using biochar for sustainable land management in the central jungle.