Possible Ethiopian Dark Earths and B4SS progress in Jimma (April 2017)

Prof Berhanu Belay, local B4SS project coordinator in Ethiopia, moved from Jimma to Injibara since he has been recently appointed President of Injibara University. In April 2017, Ruy Anaya de la Rosa visited Prof Berhanu and saw the construction of Injibara University. Furthermore, they visited an area close to Injibara where several farmers have been managing acacia tree plantations to produce charcoal in earth-mound kilns, and about 20% of the charcoal residues (mostly in the form of powder) is incorporated into soils to grow cereals, such as teff and barley, intercropped with acacia trees.

Although the Ethiopian farmers in the region have not heard the word “biochar”, they have been adding charcoal to soils for many years. Berhanu and Ruy wondered if these soils could be called “Ethiopian Dark Earths”, as compared with “Amazonian Dark Earths” where the concept of biochar originated.

Ruy also visited Jimma University and saw positive results from the ongoing field trials and from the theses of three MSc students that the B4SS supported. The students have found positive effects from the addition of different biochar formulations to soybean, tomato and chili pepper grown in pots, and are currently preparing the manuscripts to submit to scientific journals for publication. Moreover, Jimma University is experimenting with biochar added to chicken feed. They said that the chicken houses where the biochar-feed has been introduced produce less unpleasant smell than the chicken houses that have not received biochar.

We also visited some B4SS participant farmers and Ruy was very happy to meet Ibrahim, a local champion farmer who has successfully adopted biochar production and use. Ibrahim received training in biochar production in Kon-tiki kilns from Jimma University and is now making biochar from different available feedstocks. Besides using biochar to grow maize and soybeans, as part of the B4SS project, he is adding biochar to more land and is also teaching neighbours and relatives how to produce and use it.

Finally, we travelled to a new site, about 25 km from Jimma, where biochar is being introduced by Jimma University to the local farmers since the current project farms are being threatened with the expansion of Jimma and may be converted into human-made infrastructure in the near future. The B4SS partners are working with the agricultural extension officer who organised the construction of a Kon Tiki kiln prior to our visit for us to demonstrate its operation. We used feedstocks that are locally available, such as leaves from the enset tree (also called false banana) and some cacti that are grown and placed as fences for cattle and properties. Several people from the community gathered to learn about biochar.

Many thanks to Berhanu, Milkiyas, Amsalu and Gebirieli for showing Ruy that the B4SS project in Ethiopia is making good progress!