Improving the production of biochar from green waste in Lima (January 2017)

Improving the production of biochar from green waste in Lima (January 2017)

The principal research site for the Peruvian component of the B4SS project is in Lurin on the southern fringe of Lima, which is the second largest mega-city in a hyper arid environment after Cairo in Egypt. Although the environment is extremely arid, much of Lima is built in the rich valleys that receive alluvial runoff from the Andes. It is estimated that Lima has 3m2 of green space per capita. Multiplying this by 9 million (a low estimate of Lima’s population), there should be at least 27 million m2 of green space in Lima. At present, only 3% of the biomass residues collected from this green space (grass clippings, branch prunings, etc.) is recycled; the rest is burnt or sent to landfill. Therefore, the B4SS in Peru has focused on the development of an approach for the efficient processing of this waste stream. Our local partners have been trialing a simple classification of green waste in which large trunks and branches are converted into BBQ charcoal, whereas grass clippings and small branches are converted into biochar.

Fig 1. The B4SS research site in Lima

The technique for efficiently converting trunks and large branches into BBQ charcoal (Figure 1) was developed by Eusebio Ocana (el gordo) who has been working for the B4SS in Peru producing biochar, establishing experimental trials and securing the biomass feedstocks. The B4SS in Peru has found the portable Kon-tiki reactors (Figure 2) to be extremely efficient for converting municipal green waste into biochar because little or no processing of the municipal green waste is required before feeding the feedstock into the Kon-tiki reactors. A life cycle assessment, however, is needed to quantify the potential economic and environmental benefits of the green waste strategy that the B4SS is developing for Peru.

Fig 2. Kon-tiki reactors produce biochar from green waste in Lima

B4SS baseline survey, lecture and visit to IBI-Asia (November 2016)

B4SS baseline survey, lecture and visit to IBI-Asia (November 2016)

B4SS project director, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, visited Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU) on 22-27 November 2016. Dr Xiaoyu Liu welcomed Ruy with a 3 hour presentation on the biochar-related activities that NAU has conducted since 2009. To their knowledge, NAU has been conducting the longest biochar field trial in China and has now expanded their research into almost all provinces in the country. It is very interesting to learn about the specific context in China for understanding that certain activities here, such as large-scale production and application of biochar-compound fertilisers, cannot be compared with the small-scale approaches implemented in the other B4SS participating countries. The project in China is a case study on its own.

Dr Xiaoyu Liu presenting NAU's biochar activities since 2009

The following day, Ruy gave a presentation on the carbon footprint of agricultural products and biochar to about 40 NAU graduate students and staff. The students showed great interest in understanding that all products and services have carbon footprints, and the consumer is typically responsible for the climate-change impacts that occur along the whole supply chain. Although the suggestion of becoming 100% vegetarian to reduce greatly their carbon footprint was not welcomed with joy by the Chinese audience, some students expressed agreement in reducing their meat consumption for the sake of their children’s future.

Ruy talks about the carbon footprint of agricultural products and biochar

In the afternoon, Prof Genxing Pan, Dr Xiaoyu Liu, Ruy and three students visited Qingeng company, which was under renovation due to a large investment recently made to increase the safety measures of the factory and improve the pyrolysis systems. We visited this company during the B4SS inception meeting, and so it was interesting to see how fast the biochar activities move forward in China.

Few kilometers from the Qingeng company’s site, NAU established the new Asian Centre of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). This NAU campus will also include student and laboratory facilities, staff offices, kitchen, bedrooms, pyrolysis machines and a library with a range of biochar and bio-oils samples, including an exotic sample of a whole pig head-derived biochar. The Asian Centre of the IBI will help to promote biochar research and development activities in the Asian countries and serve as a platform for generating and sharing knowledge on the use of biochar for sustainable land management.

The next day, Dr Xiaoyu Liu, 5 NAU students and Ruy travelled by high-speed train from Nanjing to Huaibei, Anhui province, where the 20 participating farmers were selected due to their proximity to one of the established B4SS demonstration sites and their interest to join the B4SS. We were welcomed by two colleagues of Xiaoyu who work at Huaibei University and will serve as local partners for the B4SS project. Then we travelled by car to the village to interview the 20 farmers.

The 20 farmers were waiting for us in a building. It was extremely cold, they said that it was about 0oC, and there was no space heating available. Most farmers smoked one cigarette after the other to keep themselves warm. Because of this cold weather and the high speed of our Chinese colleagues, Dr Xiaoyu Liu and the 5 students interviewed the 20 farmers in about 1 hour. The farmers were extremely interested in the biochar-based fertiliser, and even more farmers were willing to participate but unfortunately we only carried 20 surveys with us. After the survey, we explained further the objectives and activities of the B4SS in China and they were very attentive.

Finally, we also visited the B4SS demonstration site and were very happy of having finished such an intense day of work.

Xiè xie Xiaoyu for such an interesting and active trip!

International biochar workshop and training course in China (October 2016)

International biochar workshop and training course in China

The international workshop on biochar and sustainable agriculture and the China-ASEAN technology training on biochar and sustainable agriculture were jointly held in Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU) on 19-25 October 2016. The objective was to share the knowledge and achievements on biochar technology for biowaste treatment and soil management in agriculture among China and the southeast Asian countries. Around 100 people from 15 countries attended the workshop and 35 people attended the training course.

Prof Genxing Pan welcomes the participants

This was also a great opportunity to officially launch the Asian Centre of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) that will be hosted by Nanjing Agricultural University.

Prof Lehmann launches the Asian Centre of the IBI in Nanjing, China

Numerous renowned biochar scientists attended the event and shared their knowledge of biochar with an interesting presentation of their most recent research findings.

Local B4SS project coordinator, Dr Xiaoyu Liu, led the field tour in Luhe district, Nanjing, to show the participants the paddy fields that have been amended with biochar and biochar-compound fertilisers.

Dr Xiaoyu Liu leads the biochar tour

The workshop participants also visited the NAU demonstration plant of large scale biochar production, which is managed by Qinfeng company in Luhe district, Nanjing.

Participants visit Qinfeng biochar company in Nanjing

Many technology companies are developing and testing a range of pyrolysis systems for different purposes in China, and several engineers took advantage of this event to show their most recent developments in biochar production.

APBC 2016

3rd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference (October 2016)

Members of the B4SS Scientific Panel, Johannes Lehmann, Stephen Joseph, Lukas van Zwieten and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, attended the 3rd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference (APBC) 2016 A Shifting Paradigm towards Advanced Materials and Energy/Environment Research that was held in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, Korea.

Prof Johannes Lehmann gave a plenary speech on biochar-microbe Interactions. Application of biochar to soil has often resulted in an increase in microbial biomass and scientists are trying to understand why. Recent studies at Cornell University and elsewhere confirm that biological nitrogen fixation in soil can be enhanced in the presence of some biochars. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi has been significantly promoted by biochar application, which has also resulted in greater phosphorous uptake. Some biochars have been found to enhance survival and infection of beans with rhizobia after repeated drying events. Prof Lehmann suggests that another field in which biochar is ready for wider commercialisation is the design of inoculant carriers based on biochar properties that enhance survival of beneficial microorganisms during storage and even after soil application.

Prof Stephen Joseph’s plenary speech was about the commercialisation of biochar for green agriculture in the Asian Pacific Region – a history of innovation over the past 10 years. Prof Joseph talked about the history of charcoal production from using simple traditional kilns and ovens to large scale modern pyrolysis plants. In the last five years, the number of pyrolysis companies and biochar-based products has increased probably due to government support and advances in research and development. Production of biochar in the Asian Pacific region now should be above 100,000 tonnes and there are over 40 companies selling technology and products. While there are many biochar-based fertilisers available (mainly in China), few studies have determined whether a return on investment would be made from using these products. Prof Joseph presented some case studies in which the return on the investment of the production of biochar-based organic and inorganic fertilisers was very attractive to farmers. He also discussed some other opportunities for investment and innovation to drive economic and environmental sustainability for the producers and users of the biochar-based products.

Prof Lukas van Zwieten gave two keynote speeches on 1) a field evaluation of biochars with contrasting properties: greenhouse gas emissions and soil functional change, and 2) can pyrolysis cookstoves improve (indoor) air quality and produce agronomically beneficial biochar? The research work of his second presentation began years ago when Brenton Ladd, coordinator of the B4SS project in Peru, contacted Prof van Zwieten to evaluate the feasibility of using biochar-making stoves for reducing deforestation and air pollution currently caused by burning wood in 3 stones cookstoves in the Amazons. A biochar stove that was developed in Vietnam (together with TNUS, our B4SS partners in Thai Nguyen) was transferred to Peru and further adjusted as per local conditions. Several challenges were found during the biochar-making stoves pilot project evaluated in that Amazon region in Peru and recommendations were made for identifying barriers at the early stage of project development. Prof Lukas’ keynote speech was basically the only presentation at the APBC 2016 that focussed on biochar-making stoves in developing countries.

Most of the research work presented at the APBC 2016 evaluated the adsorbent potential of biochar for its use in nutrient dynamics alteration, soil remediation, heavy metal immobilisation, phytostabilisation of mine wastes, and wastewaster treatment. Some of the effects of biochar on soil organic matter and soil biota were also presented as well as the persistence of biochar in soils. In the Asian Pacific region, the paradigm is actually shifting fast towards the engineering of biochar-based products for specific applications in energy production and environmental remediation.

Field trip in Indonesia (September 2016)

Field trip in Indonesia (September 2016)

Ruy Anaya de la Rosa (B4SS), Gerard Cornelissen (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, NGI), Erlend Sørmo (NGI), and Jan Mulder (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) visited the biochar project in Indonesia in September 2016. The trip involved a lot of traveling in three islands, and plenty of traffic in Jakarta.

In Bogor, we met with Bu Neneng (Indonesian Soil Research Institute, ISRI), a local partner, to plan the activities for this trip. In the evening, we had the opportunity to meet Nils Borchard (CIFOR) who has published biochar peer-reviewed articles with Brenton Ladd, the coordinator of the B4SS project in Peru. We discussed the possibilities for collaboration with NGI and B4SS to do biochar research work.

The next day, Jan, Bu Neneng and Ruy went to Lampung, where some of the B4SS project activities will take place. NGI and ISRI have conducted biochar experiments at ISRI’s research station in Lampung. They have investigated the effects of biochar produced from cacao shells on maize, and the results seem to be promising. The B4SS project will extend ISRI’s biochar field trials and work now with some farmers in the area to increase their knowledge on using biochar for sustainable land management.

It was very interesting to walk through the biochar field trials and observe the effects of biochar produced from cacao shells on maize yield. This was the second season of the experiment, and the effects of biochar on maize were still noticeable in some treatments. Further research is needed to elucidate the longer-term effect of this biochar on maize planted at ISRI’s station. The B4SS project will contribute to the extension of these trials and to the establishment of new biochar experiments on adjacent land that potentially has different soil characteristics.

In the evening, we went back to Jakarta and joined Gerard and Erlend to prepare for another meeting. The next day, we met with another local partner that is collaborating with NGI to implement biochar projects in Sumba. One of the purposes of the meeting was to plan the activities of our trip to Sumba in the following days. Then, we went to Sumba and visited three potential villages that could be part of NGI’s biochar work with the local partner.

At the end of the trip, we decided that the B4SS project activities will be mainly conducted by ISRI and NGI in Lampung, and the plan now is to introduce biochar to more farmers in East Java where ISRI is also very active. It was a pleasure to visit the B4SS biochar project with our partners in Indonesia. Thank you to Bu Neneng and to the Norwegian group of biochar experts!

Field trip in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam (August 2016)

Field trip in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam (August 2016)

We started the trip with a meeting with Lan Anh, the B4SS local project coordinator, and her team at the Thai Nguyen University of Sciences (TNUS) to discuss:

  • the agenda of the B4SS project’s mid-term meeting that will take place on 8-10 March 2017 in Thai Nguyen;
  • a research training workshop designed for selected students and TNUS staff to improve their writing skills for publishing scientific articles and presenting project proposals;
  • the possibility of hosting an international biochar tour in the B4SS project’s village similar to the Climate Farming Workshop organised by the Ithaka Institute in Nepal; and
  • the B4SS project activities conducted so far.

    Lan Anh (left) and her team at TNUS

    Lan Anh (left) and her team at TNUS

We visited the Thai Hai Tay ethnic village to have lunch, do ecotourism of the area where they grow organic food for the restaurant and get singing lessons. Then we went to the site where the so-called hybrid kiln has been established. The kiln is based on Australian design but has been adapted to meet Vietnamese conditions. The hybrid kiln produced good biochar and it was relatively clean. In the B4SS in Peru, we have noted the relative difficulty in loading this kiln with the green waste available in Lima, but in Vietnam we see that the loading of the kiln with rice straw is very easy for the team.

The next day, we took a field trip to the project area to see the two B4K B4SS brick kilns that have been established in the village and visit the two demonstration sites. One kiln is located next to the maize demonstration site, whereas the other kiln is in close proximity to the rice demonstration site.

Luckily, when we arrived in the village, we found that the farmer was planting seeds with and without biochar at the maize demonstration site. Lan Anh and her team will evaluate the potential of using biochar to grow maize and rice while reducing chemical fertiliser use. The biochar used in maize fields is produced from corn stover, whereas the biochar used in rice fields is produced from rice residues. They mix biochar with different rates of superphosphate fertiliser and apply the biochar formulation to observe changes in fertiliser use and crop productivity.

We also ran one of the two B4K B4SS brick kilns that have been established in the village. In the morning, the temperature was about 38oC and it was hard work to produce biochar under these conditions. Therefore, we waited until 4pm to run the kiln although it did not get really much cooler then. The B4K B4SS brick kiln operated for about 1 hour and 30 minutes and produced good biochar with relatively low emissions.

Lan Anh and her team were exhausted — these guys work really hard and no one hesitates to get their hands dirty – this biochar village in Vietnam is a very good place to host the B4SS mid-project meeting and a biochar tour!

PARTRIDES Workshop in Kapsabet, Kenya (June 2016)

PARTRIDES workshop in Kapsabet, Kenya (June 2016)

The Participatory Trials Design Workshop (PARTRIDES) took place in Kapsabet, Nandi county, Kenya on 6-10 June 2016. The workshop was led by Dr Edmundo Barrios from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Dr Edmundo Barrios led the PARTRIDES Workshop

Dr Edmundo Barrios led the PARTRIDES Workshop

The workshop started with an activity designed to get to know the participants and build the knowledge-sharing space. Each participant wrote down on one side of a piece of paper a physical description of himself/herself (without indicating any names), and on the other side of the paper they explained their expectations of the workshop. The participants introduced the paper into a balloon, which was then inflated and tied up. Next, one participant chose a balloon at random, made it explode and read out loud the description noted on the paper. The rest of the participants had to guess who wrote the description. After being identified, this person read out his/her expectations of the workshop. This exercise was repeated for all participants who agreed that this was a fun way to introduce each other.

Getting to know the workshop participants in a fun way

Getting to know the workshop participants in a fun way

The workshop participants were carefully selected by Dr Edmundo Barrios in order to involve a group of representative stakeholders that ranged from local farmers and village chief through NGO and agricultural extension staff to government researchers, PhD students and academics. By engaging with this broad and representative group of stakeholders and experts, the participatory approach adopted by Edmundo aims at enhancing the relevance, credibility and legitimacy of the information compiled during the workshop and of the activities to undertake during the B4SS project. Dr Richard Coe from ICRAF explained the research principles of participatory experimental design, whereas Prof Johannes Lehmann from Cornell University helped participants to understand the most recent findings and gaps in biochar research.

Dr Richard Coe and Prof Johannes Lehmann during the PARTRIDES workshop

Dr Richard Coe and Prof Johannes Lehmann during the PARTRIDES workshop

The B4SS project in Kenya aims at introducing biochar technologies to farmers situated around three water catchment areas that have been converted from forest to cropland 12, 17 and 57 years before present. However, since the detailed pre-interevention data on water, nutrient and carbon fluxes, yield effects, and greenhouse gas emissions were collected 7 years ago, the three study catchments are presented as if they had been converted from forest to agriculture 5, 10 and 50 years ago. Biochar will be applied to one set of these three catchments, while a second set of the three catchments will be kept as a control (paired catchment approach). The B4SS project in Kenya is the world-wide first watershed study on biochar and provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of biochar on carbon and nutrient exports on a watershed scale.

Watershed surrounded by cropland that has been previously converted from forest

Watershed surrounded by cropland that has been previously converted from forest

Due to the challenge of evaluating biochar application in a large and dynamic landscape such as a watershed it was necessary to work hand in hand with local farmers and stakeholders. Prior to the PARTRIDES workshop, the B4SS baseline survey was conducted with 34 farmers to understand their socioeconomic and farming characteristics, and identify the soil-crop constraints to address with biochar application. Dr David Lelei and PhD student Solomon Kamau from ICRAF conducted the B4SS baseline survey and explained the findings to the workshop participants.

The PARTRIDES workshop was based on the InPaC-S: participatory knowledge integration on indicators of soil quality – methodological guide (Barrios et al., 2012) and further expanded to incorporate principles of participatory experimental design. After explaining the basic tools of the InPaC-S methodology, the 34 participating farmers were organised in five groups to share their local knowledge on indicators of soil quality through a series of exercises. The soil-crops interactions were recognised, classified and prioritised according to local knowledge; the local indicators of soil quality were linked to soil properties; and then the information was integrated with the technical knowledge provided by scientists. One objective of this process is to minimise the trade-offs and maximise the positive synergies/interactions potentially resulting from biochar application to soils.

The B4SS project will supply the 34 farmers with biochar, which will be made from sugar cane bagasse that currently represents a problem for disposal. Farmers will contribute to the project by supplying other inputs such as animal manure, chemical fertilisers, and labour. Depending on farmer’s current practices, the biochar will be formulated with either manure or diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser and applied at a rate of around 10t/ha to land where maize and/or beans are grown. On the last day of the workshop, participants visited the watersheds to discuss with the entire team the conclusions reached and evaluated how to set up the biochar field trials. ICRAF will also conduct follow-up visits to ensure farmers’ active participation and increased knowledge on using biochar for soil improvement.

Participants also visited the demonstration site, which will be established next to a school. The strategic location of the demonstration site will allow the primary school students in the area to learn about biochar application and the B4SS project. Three soil scientists, including Prof Johannes Lehmann, walked around the demonstration site and collected soil samples to have an idea of the history of the site. At the demonstration site, the same experiments conducted by farmers will be replicated to assess the effect of two biochar formulations on the yield of their preferred crops (maize and beans) and additional experiments will also evaluate the effects of low application rates of biochar on alternative high-value crops, such as potatoes, capsicum and finger millet.

The PARTRIDES workshop was a big success thanks to the leadership and guidance provided by Dr Edmundo Barrios and Dr Richard Coe. Furthermore, the high social skills from Dr David Lelei are acknowledged since he mobilised farmers efficiently and engaged in discussions with them in a very sensible manner. In addition, all workshop participants were very committed to the participatory process. Finally, special thanks go to the local farmers who were open to share their knowledge and showed great interest in learning about the use of biochar in sustainable land management.

B4SS baseline survey in San Ramon, Peru (May 2016)

B4SS baseline survey, demonstrations and establishment of biochar field trials in Peru (May 2016)

We went to San Ramon, the central jungle of Peru, to conduct the B4SS baseline survey, demonstrate the operation of Kon Tiki kilns and establish two biochar field trials. The work concentrated in APRODES site although we also walked for several hours in the jungle to find the beneficiaries. It has been warm recently and there were plenty of bugs during our visit. In spite of the misfortunes encountered– one student got a swollen eye from a bug that bit her and another student lost her bag – the visit to the B4SS project was a success!


APRODES site in San Ramon, central jungle of Peru

Vicky Palomino, Angie Flores and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa interviewed 21 smallholders to define their baseline knowledge on biochar. The answers will be compared with those of the survey conducted at the end of the project in order to assess farmers’ potential increased understanding of using biochar for sustainable land management. No respondent had heard about biochar before, and they all showed interest in learning more about its use in agriculture and possible heat recovery options when using Kon Tiki kilns to produce it. One participant farmer breeds guinea pigs and was interested in mixing their manure with biochar and do experiments.

Most farmers replied that they would have to test the biochar themselves at a small scale before applying it broadly across their land. Therefore, we provided each participant farmer with 10 kilos of a biochar formulation that was prepared in the research and demonstration kiln established in Lima. All farmers grow coffee, banana and/or citrus. The most significant problems they perceive are lack of nutrients in the soil and the “coffee rust” fungus called roya. The rust pathogen is believed to originate from the same high mountains in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan where coffee originates. However, roya is now widely spread in Latin America, Africa and tropical Asia. The farmers will do their experiments and observe if these formulations can help the coffee plants to resist the roya fungus.

Ronald delivers 10 kg of a biochar formulation to Dennis, a participant farmer -- Ruy and the dog behind are just there for the picture

Ronald delivers 10 kg of a biochar formulation to Dennis, a participant farmer — Ruy and the dog behind are just there for the picture

Two other students, Mariela Leveau and Sebastian Dumler, established two field experimental and demonstration sites. One experiment has been established at APRODES site and the other is conveniently located (next to the road) at a farm managed by a participant farmer. Both sites have been planted with coffee and maize, but one site received a biochar formulation with chicken litter, whereas a biochar formulation with pig manure will be tested in the other site. All feedstocks are also accessible in San Ramon.

Biochar field trial established in APRODES site

Biochar field trial established in APRODES site

Drawing from the knowledge learned at the Climate Farming Workshop in Nepal, we took advantage of this trip to train APRODES staff in the production of biochar in Kon Tiki kilns, both in metal and in soil pits. Initially the demonstration was intended for APRODES staff only, but somehow four participant farmers found out about it and showed up. It was difficult to tell them to wait. At the end, 23 people participated in the B4SS training workshop. The temperature got above 35ºC at some point and farmers suggested that they would have to operate the Kon Tiki kiln from late afternoon.

The soil pit kiln was easy for the people in Peru to understand, construct and operate because they relate certain of these activities with those required to cook in their traditional pachamanca oven (from Quechua language, pacha “earth” and manka “pot”), or “pot of earth”. The pachamanca is used in special occassions when a group of friends, relatives, colleagues, etc contribute a certain amount of money into a pot that serves to buy food and drinks, and enjoy themselves. The pachamanca uses hot stones to cook usually chicken, pork, beef and guinea pig, marinated in spices, and Andean crops such as potato, corn, sweet potato, green lima beans, and sometimes yuca (cassava). More than having a meal or baking in a “pot of earth”, the pachamanca is a communiy ritual in the Andes and neighbouring cities. It was fun to have lunch and talk about biochar with the people around the fire coming from the kiln. Next visit, APRODES agreed to organise a real pachamanca as well.

Biochar systems for Africa Workshop (March 2016)

The Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) and the Biochar Plus projects joined forces to organise the Biochar Systems for Africa workshop in Nairobi, Kenya (March 1-2, 2016). The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), as the main partner leading the B4SS project activitites in Kenya, hosted the workshop at its headquarters. The B4SS project in Kenya extends from a long-term cooperation in Western Kenya with Cornell University and University of Nairobi.

From left to right: Alessandro Peressotti (Biochar Plus), Nancy Karanja (University of Nairobi), Edmundo Barrios (ICRAF), Johannes Lehmann (Cornell University), and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa (B4SS)

From left to right: Alessandro Peressotti (Biochar Plus), Nancy Karanja (University of Nairobi), Edmundo Barrios (ICRAF), Johannes Lehmann (Cornell University), and Ruy Anaya de la Rosa (B4SS)

The workshop started with a brief presentation of the Biochar Plus and B4SS projects by Prof Alessandro Peressotti and Dr Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, respectively. Prof Johannes Lehmann, member of the B4SS scientific panel, talked about the current situation of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI). Lessons learned in the IBI may be useful for the establishment and development of the Africa Biochar Partnership (ABP). The workshop then included presentations from different organisations that are conducting biochar research and development activities in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and Zimbabwe. Various researchers from other African countries and some representatives of the African Union Commission contributed to the discussion as well.

Edmundo Barrios and Johannes Lehmann

Edmundo Barrios and Johannes Lehmann

Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, B4SS project director

Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, B4SS project director

Berhanu Belay

Berhanu Belay (Jimma University) is one of the African researchers that has conducted long-term biochar research in Africa. Berhanu is also the coordinator of the B4SS in Ethiopia.

Alessandro Peressotti, Biochar Plus

Alessandro Peressotti and Tiziana Pirelli, Biochar Plus

The workshop also provided the opportunity to launch the Africa Biochar Partnership (ABP), which is an open platform that will encourage and facilitate the development of biochar systems in Africa. The ABP will focus on research, promotion, technology transfer, advocacy, incentives and policy tools, training, market uptake, end-users’ adoption, and networking. Since the production and use of biochar can be a multifaceted technology that can offer a wide range of benefits in different sectors, biochar is typically studied from a systems perspective. Therefore, the work of the ABP will include activities across the agricultural, energy, biomass management, health, and sanitation sectors. The introduction and dissemination of biochar-making stoves to rural areas in Africa is on top of the agenda. In addition, the potential of biochar systems to mitigate climate change will be evaluated. Initially, the ABP will be based in the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), Cape Verde, until the partners agree where to establish its hadquarters. For more information, please visit ECREEE’s website.

Launch of the Africa Biochar Partnership (ABP) during the workshop

Launch of the Africa Biochar Partnership (ABP) during the workshop

Climate Farming Workshop in Nepal (March 2016)

Climate Farming Workshop in Nepal (March 2016)

The Ithaka Institute organised a Climate Farming Workshop in Nepal from  March 26th to Saturday April 2nd 2016. About 15 participants from 7 countries, including B4SS project director, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa, had the opportunity to learn how some Nepali farmers are improving resilience and creating new rural jobs through biochar-based agroforestry.

Ithaka Institute organised the Climate Farming Workshop in Ratanpur, Nepal in March 2016

The workshop included:

  • construction of affordable round houses using local materials;
  • simple production of lacto-fermented fertilisers to enhance crop productivity and health;
  • design of combination plantings, such as milpa, for diversifing ecosystem services and diet;
  • construction and operation of kon tiki kilns in the ground;
  • production of biochar formulations using cow urine and bones;
  • different methods for application of biochar formulations;
  • planting trees with biochar formulations;
  • establishment and monitoring of biochar field trials; and
  • heat recovery from a Kon Tiki kiln in the ground to produce essential oils – in our visit, they used cinnamon leaves from trees in the village.

First we visited Bandipur village where a group of women showed us how to produce biochar in a Kon Tiki kiln in the ground. An increasing number of Nepali men is migrating from their rural villages to foreign countries, or to Kathmandu, in search of opportunities. We learned that many men from Bandipur and Ratanpur have migrated to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and may be receiving “appalling treatment”. Women have to organise themselves to do most of the daily work required in the villages. Therefore, the Ithaka Institute focussed their efforts on women and trained some of them to construct Kon Tiki kilns in the ground to produce biochar-based fertilisers, which they use for growing their crops. The high skills and experience in producing biochar of some women leaders in Bandipur was evident … they fired and operated the Kon Tiki kiln in the ground with only one match! They also quenched the biochar, in a very natural way, with cow urine.

Then, the workshop took place in Ratanpur village, which has about 120 households located in close proximity to each other. Hans-Peter Schmidt explained the principles of the Kon Tiki kilns, during a demonstration of how to build Kon Tiki kilns in the ground.

We operated the Kon Tiki kiln in the ground that a very skilled man constructed during the demonstration.

After running the Kon Tiki kiln, the biochar was quenched with water.

We also produced biochar in Kon Tiki kilns made out of metal.

Kon Tiki kiln

Biochar production in metal Kon Tiki kilns

Ratanpur is now being called a biochar village, and this was an opportunity for 22 farmers to show off their farming practices. Each farmer showed us their farm that included a Kon Tiki kiln in the ground and biochar trials with crops grown with and without biochar formulations. The results have been positive. Most farmers have goats, cows and/or buffalos, and so most of them have installed a pit with biochar next to the animals’ shed to recover the urine and “charge” the biochar with nutrients prior to application to soil.

Pit with biochar collecting urine

The pit with biochar (left-hand side) collects the urine that comes out of the animal shelter

Workshop participants were divided into two groups, each group visited 11 farmers. Initially, we were supposed to compare farmers’ practices and select the “best” farmers to be rewarded during a public meeting in the evening. It became clear, however, that farmers’ conditions were not equivalent (some farmers have more resources than others) and therefore they could not be evaluated with the same criteria.

Judging farmers practices was difficult

Selecting the “best farmers” was difficult because some farmers have more resources than others

At the end of the day, all the participants were very impressed with the collective work observed in the biochar village, and this was acknowledged during the meeting. Everyone was happy!

Multiple reasons exist for the successful promotion and adoption of biochar technologies in Ratanpur. Ruy considers that the most important reason for success in Ratanpur is the participation of numerous “champions” throughout the different levels of the project.

Thank you Ithaka Institute!

PS You can find more information about the Kon Tiki kiln and download the operating manuals at the Ithaka Institute website: