As we wrap up 2011 and look to another New Year with our friends in biochar, I wanted to once again thank the international biochar community for supporting IBI and helping to build and grow a strong, vibrant biochar movement. We’ve seen continued amazing growth and participation in IBI over the past 12 months, which is both gratifying and humbling, particularly thinking back to 2006 when we first discussed starting an international organization devoted to this emerging field. It is with great excitement that I want to share some of the strides we’ve taken in the past year – due, in large part, to the support that you have given our organization.
During 2011, we’ve been tracking some figures that speak to the growing global interest in biochar – one that we are so pleased to be a part of. IBI currently has over 4,250 newsletter subscribers and a growing number of dues-paying members. We tracked nearly 74,000 unique visits to our website in the past 6 month period, coming from 197 countries and territories. We have 39 affiliated regional and national biochar groups around the world, including in China, India, Malaysia, Japan, Europe, and the US. In short, IBI is large and growing rapidly.
With our membership support and the generous support of our funders, we have a great deal of progress to report from 2011. We heartily thank those members who have joined and renewed their membership in 2011. And we especially wish to thank our funders who have generously supported us this year and in the past, including: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the blue moon fund, the Putnam Foundation, and the Wellspring Foundation. We are proud to report the following successes in 2011:
- Guidelines for Specifications of Biochars: Through an open, transparent, globally inclusive process and with the expert guidance and contributions of many of you through working group participation and open public comments, we have had a busy and productive year of work on guidelines for the material specifications of biochars. We are now in the final stages of revisions to the guidelines, and have extended the public comment period due to the many changes we are incorporating based on your excellent and thorough input. Also, we have successfully raised the funds for a legal review of the final guidelines document, which we now anticipate will be available and published in March 2012. The voluntary guidelines are intended to provide certainty and assurances to the marketplace, and to help build confidence in the biochar product globally. We fully anticipate and hope that regional and national biochar groups and governments will utilize and adapt the guidelines for their purposes. We will post all related materials and summaries of the input and deliberations that have occurred throughout this process so that others can benefit from the expertise, documentation, and experience that has led to the development of the guidelines.
- Research Support: We expanded our IBI publications list to include a series of information papers and technical bulletins on critical issues in biochar use and testing. We maintained and expanded our directory of research institutions worldwide and saw our online searchable bibliography expand to include nearly 700 citations.
- Biochar Conferences and Workshops: We participated in the 2nd Asia Pacific Biochar Conference, and particularly wish to thank Dr. Yoshiyuki Shinogi and Dr. Akira Shibata, their staff and colleagues, and the people of Japan for graciously hosting this conference even after the tragedy of the March 2011 earthquake. Our thoughts remain with our colleagues there as they continue the recovery process. We also supported and attended numerous regional and national biochar conferences, meetings, workshops and seminars, and we remain grateful to the many organizers and implementers who work so hard to plan and host all of these great events.
- Biochar Project Resources: Our staff made presentations at national and international meetings to support biochar project development. We also participated in the development of a World Bank (WB) Typology Report, including a global survey of developing country biochar projects,
- Biochar Projects and Member Directory: IBI staff continue to work to connect biochar project developers with others, including funders and potential funders, to enable projects to develop and succeed. Specifically, IBI staff assisted two biochar projects in gaining funding of over $140,000 from world-renowned National Geographic. IBI collected details on potential projects and then narrowed down the selection to best fit National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic opted to fund two projects: the Estufa Finca project in Costa Rica and the African Christians Organization Network (ACON) in Kenya. IBI helped the projects in Costa Rica and Kenya to articulate their ideas and write full proposals. National Geographic decided to fund both programs and each group has received a grant of $72,000 to expand their respective biochar stove programs. We continue to publish project profiles on a monthly basis. We also have a directory for projects to enter their data and which can help connect a project to others by letting our staff know about the project work and partners.
- Our IBI Member Directory allows our IBI members to highlight their projects and organizations with personal profiles. Both IBI members and the public can perform searches to find biochar projects, people and organizations. New Directory features facilitate the ability for IBI members to connect with one another. However, only IBI members have access to create full profiles, read other’s full profiles and take advantage of networking features.
- National and Regional Biochar Groups: We helped new regional groups form and now host web pages for more than half of those groups.
- The IBI Website and Database: One area we paid particular attention to this year was our website and database management system—one that we know is most important to you, our core supporters. IBI totally revamped our website design with a fresh new look throughout the site. We created a rotating photo block on the home page which makes the website look much more like a professional organization compared to the static front page design we had in the past. Additionally, this rotating block can highlight up to 5 projects at a time. IBI staff also added RSS feeds to our blog, news, and industry updates on biochar so our membership can subscribe directly to those (if you’re not a member and would like to join and enjoy even more new member-only features, please click here). IBI also added a “Business Member Directory” section to our website along with a large button visible from all pages as a part of a broader launch of a new “Business Member” membership category.
The International Biochar Initiative website is now the second listing with a Google search of “biochar” (behind the Wikipedia entry). Previously, IBI’s website came in at number 4 or 5; we attribute this partially to an expanded, often visited website that is continuously updated. Additionally, we have seen approximately 20% more traffic to the website in the past four months since the website was updated, compared to the previous four month time period.
Our website includes daily updates of announcements and news items, a complete, searchable research bibliography, a calendar, a member bulletin board, and a searchable member project directory. Information resources include reports on IBI programs, short informational articles and FAQs, a list of biochar research institutions and programs, links to the latest biochar reports by governments and multilateral agencies, links to videos and biochar multimedia, and links to social networking sites that are engaging in biochar discussions. We publish project profiles on our website and in our monthly newsletter—which reaches over 4,250 electronic subscribers.
- Biochar Media Coverage: Hundreds of biochar news stories and many magazine features appeared in 2011. You can find links to all of these stories on the IBI website, and we provide summaries of many stories in the IBI monthly newsletter. We sent press releases out for meetings and events that resulted in news coverage, and have been interviewed for many articles. We have seen a steady improvement in the quality of media coverage on biochar as reporters gain knowledge about biochar and about IBI.
- IBI Membership Program: We were really excited to improve and expand our 2011 membership program. We continue to have our Sustaining ($1000), Professional ($60), and Student ($30) memberships, but did launch both a Professional Developing Country Membership (ranging from complimentary to $30) as well as a Business ($500) membership group this year and have 11 current Business members with many more interested. Business members benefit from a special array of benefits like special announcements in newsletters, the ability to post a logo, and brief description of their business on the website, as well as advertising space in our Business Member Directory. Our current paid membership includes more than 340 members from 44 countries.
- IBI Staff: I would also like to publicly thank our hardworking staff for their continued excellent efforts and devotion to IBI and the biochar cause. This includes Thayer Tomlinson, IBI Communications Director, who, like me, has been with IBI since our 2006 beginning, and who continues to serve our members and participants in countless ways, and who monthly develops and delivers our information-packed newsletter; Kelpie Wilson, IBI Project Development Director, who joined IBI in 2008, and has worked with other staff members on the biochar guidelines and on communications with Thayer; Shiva Scotti, our Administrative Director, who joined in 2010 and has been amazing in revitalizing and updating our bookkeeping and accounting, and who also completed a 3-year financial review for IBI, and has begun developing a marketing plan for IBI. We also want to warmly welcome our newest staff member, Lourdes Haro, IBI Member Services Coordinator, who led an overhaul of our database management system by improving, fine-tuning, and growing our service to members in countless ways, and who is quickly contributing in many other important IBI endeavors.
- IBI Board: Our expanded Board has been very active, and has formed working subcommittees to promote greater progress in critical areas of development for the biochar arena and for IBI. The new subcommittees include fundraising and finance, projects development, and events, communications, and trainings. Also, in addition to monthly Board conference calls, most of our Board members participated in an in-person Board meeting in Kyoto, Japan, graciously hosted by Board Member Dr. Yoshiyuki Shinogi and his colleague Dr. Akira Shibata of the Japan Biochar Association.
- IBI Advisory Committee: Our 35 IBI Advisory Committee members have been faithful reviewers of our draft publications as well as contacts for technical, policy and project inquiries. We look forward to working with our returning and new Advisory Committee members who will start in 2012.
In the next year, IBI plans to focus our work on continued support for the successful implementation of sustainable biochar endeavors at all scales, to benefit soil health and productivity and to combat global climate change. We believe that strong, well designed projects will most benefit biochar implementation and acceptance worldwide by providing operational models that can be replicated. As part of this project focus, we will
- Continue to support policy efforts which can increase support for biochar R&D, at national and international levels.
- Finalize the Guidelines for the Specifications of Biochars, and begin planning the IBI Certification process, that will be founded on the final published guidelines.
- Continue working on a Biochar Offsets Protocol, with our partners, including The Climate Trust, who is leading this effort.
- Work on developing successful biochar projects and markets in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (United States) with other partners in the area, seeking to address water quality and waste utilization, on-farm economic opportunities, and other critical issues.
- Continue to publicize biochar news, projects, practitioners, events and research through our website, newsletter, and regional and national conferences.
- IBI will also continue to support and participate in the many international biochar conferences, including the 4th IBI International Biochar Congress from September 16-20 in Beijing, China, being hosted by China Agricultural University (CAU), Chinese Society of Soil Science (CSSS), China Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS), China Academy of Forest Science (CAFS), and China Biochar Network for Agricultural and Environmental Management (CBN); and the US Biochar Initiative conference being held in Sonoma, CA from July 29 – August 1, 2012.
We at IBI extend our warmest wishes to you all as we look to the New Year and to continued successful collaboration and engagement with the global Biochar community. We hope you will continue to support us as we expand the services we offer. Help us raise the resources we need to support greater development of sustainable biochar—please start a new membership or renew your existing membership today, and if possible, please consider contributing at a higher level.
Thank you again for your support of IBI and biochar. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments on IBI.
Executive Director, IBI