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.

On Tuesday 20 March 2018, the final B4SS farmers’ workshop was conducted. Male and female farmers who participated in the B4SS project attended the event. The B4SS Good Practice Guides, in a flyer format, were disseminated and read out loud. Dennis and Rogelio also shared their experience with biochar and helped to answer questions from other participants. Santiago Gangotena explained us the biochar work that he is conducting in Ecuador. Furthermore, Ruy and Sebastian Dumler, who worked hand-in-hand with farmers to help them understand biochar production and application, distributed some Australian souvenirs.

In addition, during the workshop, a step-by-step biochar production in the Kon Tiki soil pit kiln was demonstrated.

Wednesday 21 March was our free day to do some tourism. We went to a restaurant located next to the main river and the view was nice. Ruy, Santiago and Kathleen went to a natural reserve to see the Tirol waterfalls. They enjoyed talking about biochar while walking in the jungle.

Trip back to Lima (Thursday 22 March 2018)

On Thursday, we traveled from San Ramon to Jauja to take the afternoon flight back to Lima. On the way to Jauja, we stopped at a farm that produces inca berries for export, mostly to Germany. On the farm, there is a big tree, called “El Abuelo” (The Grandfather), which is older than 100 years old. This was a nice opportunity to take a group photo.

Final B4SS Workshop in Lima (Friday 23 March 2018)

The final B4SS workshop was conducted in Lima on 23 March 2018. The workshop was attended by several high-level professionals from Lima and farmer representatives from San Ramon. Dr. Ruy, Dr. Brenton and Mr. Sebastian presented their progress on B4SS project implementation in Peru. Ruy’s presentation explored the B4SS projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Ethiopia, Kenya and Peru. Brenton and Sebastian focused more on their activities and achievements in Peru. One of the research results presented by Sebastian and Brenton showed that biochar application resulted in increased crop yield with reduced amount of chemical fertilizer (75% fertilizer and 25% biochar) compared with the trial with 100% fertilizer without biochar. This study reflected the importance of biochar in agricultural development (improving crop yield) and its potential in reducing fertilizer-related costs, environmental pollution problems and loss of fertilizer from the soil by leaching.

Results/ Lessons

The current results of using biochar for sustainable land management are promising. Farmers, practitioners and professionals have witnessed the value of biochar in agricultural development, land reclamation and environmental protection in Peru. Biochar is a method for reducing nutrient loss from the root zone, improving habitat for agricultural micro-organisms, preventing leaching of heavy metals into the water system and thereby protecting human health. Moreover, biochar preserves carbon in the soil for many years. In many poor countries, land degradation is a major cause of expansion of agriculture into biodiversity rich forests and wetlands. This expansion of agriculture is also the cause of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. In this regard, the potential of biochar to improve soil fertility, halt land degradation and reduce agricultural expansion into biodiversity rich ecosystems is a matter of discussion and future research.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank all (individuals and organizations) who contributed and helped me to attend the 2018 B4SS Biochar Adventure Experience and created a safe moment for me in Peru.

First, I would like to thank the Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) project and Starfish initiatives for proposing and realizing this wonderful initiative, and for arranging the prize process. My sincere and friendly appreciation and thanks go to Dr. Ruy, Dr. Brenton, Mr. Adam, Mr. Sebastian and Ms. Filipa for their unreserved assistance to me. I also thank the B4SS participant farmers in San Ramon and the staff of APRODES for their kindness and respect for guests. Last but not least, my gratitude goes to my colleagues Kathleen and Santiago.

Thanks to you Shewaye!

In order to share this experience, that he lived in Peru, with his Ethiopian compatriots, Shewaye has been invited to the Final B4SS Workshop in Ethiopia that will be conducted in Jimma on 12 June 2018. See you there Shewaye!