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.