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Biochar Work in Developing Countries: the 9 Country Projects

IBI worked with organizations and projects in nine developing countries to help them develop and evaluate cost effective approaches for the widespread introduction of biochar. Although IBI was not able to provide funding for this work, the current project scope of the organization can provide project assistance which includes:  

  • introduce biochar and pyrolysis technologies at the household and village/neighborhood level. This includes biochar stoves and small-scale production units.
  • develop common schemes to evaluate the performance of the of production units and the stoves.
  • develop common procedures to analyze biochar and monitor application and plant growth response.
  • develop a methodology to assess the environmental, economic, social and cultural costs and benefits of introducing biochar technology and biochar to soils.

Countries include: Belize, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mongolia, and Vietnam.  Information on each of the country projects will be updated as they progress.

Belize

Carbon Gold, working with Toledo Carbon, a subsidiary enterprise of the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA), is conducting a biochar project beginning with five units. Two of those units will be located in the Golden Stream preserve, a nature reserve where 80 cacao farmers are working in an area with high biodiversity and conservation value. The total available biomass of the area from the 1200 farmer members of the cooperative is about 100,000 tonnes, with an estimated yield of 30,000 tonnes of carbon.

The project will conduct field trials with biochar produced from waste biomass from cacao farming, rice husks, and oranges (waste from juice making).   Crops used in the trials will include corn, beans, cacao, rice, and citrus. The TCGA is a Soil Association licensee and will use its previous experience in field trials to ensure there are good controls and records of the findings. 
For more information, contact Craig Sams.

Cameroon

The Biochar Fund out of Belgium and the Key Farmers Cameroon, located in the South-West Province of Cameroon, are working together on a project to create sustainable soil management strategies in agricultural lands in Cameroon. The project's focus is on subsistence farmers practicing shifting cultivation. The partners are in the process of initiating a small field trial with around 50 farmers, and plan to expand it in 2010 to tap into carbon markets.  The project area is near pristine rainforests that are under pressure from slash-and-burn farming and increasing populations.  The partners plan to expand their existing project to study the use of biochar as a means to reverse the destructive cycle by creating "biochar buffers" that can help protect the forest and its ecosystem services.

At this time the 50 farmers have dedicated small plots of their land for biochar soil experiments. An expanded project would involve anywhere between 200 and 500 farmers dedicating larger parts of land to add 10 to 20 tons of biochar per hectare. Such a project would then require the production of around 1,000 to 10,000 tons of biochar. The project will also look at bundling small projects for potential carbon credits, more centralized energy production, trainings, and future funding. This project recently released results from the first part of the project and had good press with an article by Chris Goodall.
For more information contact Mr. Laurens Rademakers or Mr. Etchi Daniel Jones.

Chile

The University of Tarapaca in Chile, within the framework of its ongoing Convenio de Desempeño, is working for establishing a working table with the government agencies that have a role for promoting and facilitating policies that aim to improve this desert area degraded soils, using the addition of biochar as a key technique for helping stabilize and buffer soil salinity, and increase water retention. The University is working to expand their biochar project (preliminarily selected for being financed at the Chilean level by Fundacion Para la Innovacion Agraria) to promote biochar as an innovative and environmentally sound contribution for alleviating the region's agricultural problems and opening new, unsuspected business opportunities.

Specifically, the working program includes: initially setting up a small scale pyrolysis unit that produces biochar in a lab; studying the availability and applicability of local feedstocks for biochar; evaluating the biochar from the pyrolysis unit and conducting small scale field trials to determine which feedstocks work best. Once this initial work is complete, the project will set up small farm units and conduct further field trials on the farms. Additionally, the project will carry out larger, pilot sized field trials at mid-size farms with larger units and feedstocks. As each phase of the project is finished, it will be scaled up to determine its applicability on a larger scale. The project will work to share information by bringing in specialists and students from around Chile and internationally to share their experience and results.
For more information, please contact Camilo Urbina, Prof. Leonardo Figueroa, or Dr. Hugo Escobar.

Costa Rica

On the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, one of the world's most biodiverse regions, small-scale agriculture is relatively unproductive, resulting in low income levels in most rural communities in the area. Forest Trends, an NGO based in Washington DC with offices in Costa Rica, is working on a Business Development Facility (BDF) to coordinate the implementation of an integrated set of activities by several national and international partners designed to assess the socio-economic and technical feasibility of using biochar. The five main activities include: 1. evaluating the availability of existing biomass which could be used to produce biochar and analyzing the biochar produced from that source; 2. assessing technologies to produce and transport biochar and from that assessment, constructing/purchasing a unit; 3. implementing a mini-scale and a small- to medium-scale biochar production pilot facility including monitoring performance; 4. establishing research plots to for the biochar to analyze costs, application, benefits, and changes in soil organic matter; and finally, 5. analyzing the potential biochar-related revenues such as carbon credits, farming gains, and price of biochar (if sold to outside parties).
For more information, please contact Phil Covell.

Egypt

In Egypt more than 2.8 Mt of rice straw is produced annually, the majority of it burned in the field after harvest. This burning contributes to air pollution and the ashes left after the burning increase soil salinity. The rice straw is seen as a nuisance. Researchers from the University of Mansura in Egypt and the University of Copenhagen are working to solve this problem by constructing bread baking ovens running on syngas from a rice straw gasifier, which also produces biochar. In addition to saving expensive fossil fuels usually needed to run the ovens, this could reduce the problems of burning the rice straw in the fields. The biochar would be returned to the agricultural fields to improve soil fertility and water management.

The team will build flatbread baking ovens in 5 different villages in the Dakahliya region of Egypt. These ovens will be installed in existing bakeries with the baker accepting the risk of trying out a new oven. The oven will run on syngas from a gasifier and extra gas can be used for power generation. It is estimated that with an efficiency of 20% for biochar formation, this would result in around 36 kg of biochar per day. The researchers will then test the oven and gasifier performance and conduct field trials for the biochar.
For more information, contact Prof. Tarek El-Zehery (University of Mansura) or Sander Bruun (University of Copenhagen).

India

RaGa LLC  in collaboration with 2 NGOs in India, ARTI & Janadhar, is pioneering decentralized biochar production using modular pyrolysis kilns in villages and small towns in India from sustainable resources such as waste biomass, organic municipal solid waste (MSW) and bagasse (during harvest season). Latur, a medium sized city in Western India, and nearby towns will be site of their first biochar operation. In 1st phase, ARTI technology - locally manufactured kiln-and-retort systems that are easily assembled and deployed quickly - will convert the organic waste into biochar. Janadhar will manage the day-to-day operations of the production facilities. These groups also will conduct training for farmers to help them test biochar as a soil amendment and perform pot and field trials. For 2nd phase, RaGa is evaluating other pyrolysis technologies for mass-production of biochar. In addition, RaGa is  developing innovative applications for biochar in dryland farming and environment remediation.
For more information, contact Anil Ravi or Gangadhar Jogikalmath.

Kenya

The primary goals of the project are to evaluate and develop sustainable and appropriate pyrolysis cook-stove and biochar systems for rural farming households in Kenya. Research related to the production and use of biochar is presently being carried out in the Nandi district of the highlands of Western Kenya, where we have developed strong collaboration in the region over the past six years and established a working infrastructure. The proposed project for future work includes the participation of 1000 households in the Nandi area.

The project requires a full assessment and feasibility study of the components of the system, such as the resource base, the existing agricultural and land use base, the capacity to expand or change this base, the local transportation system, local industrial engineering and skills base, sales outlets and distribution networks, energy infrastructure and markets. In addition to this assessment, the rural households would be part of a wider set of goals of the project which include: identification and availability of feedstocks for biochar production; identification of household cooking energy needs; design preference of the users for the pyrolytic stove and potential to use stoves; stove testing; dissemination, adoption, and implementation of pyrolytic cook-stoves; monitoring and evaluation of stove adoption and biochar use in the field; analyses of the economic opportunities and constraints; application for the project to be recognized for carbon trading under CDM or other schemes including the voluntary market; and evaluation of the regional, continental and global potential of cook-stoves using various modeling approaches.
For more information contact Johannes Lehmann or Kelli Roberts.

Mongolia

See a write-up of the project in Mongolian.
The work in Mongolia is focusing on pilot projects to test the feasibility of utilizing biochar production by small scale herders, vegetable gardeners, and forestry workers on an individual and community level to increase income, improve soils, and to combat global warming. MoBI (the Mongolian Biochar Initiative) is working with an emphasis on family level low technology production units (5 - 100 t/yr) which utilize feedstock sources common to the rural areas of Mongolia. MoBI will also look at the opportunity to introduce biochar producing stoves in rural households who currently utilize traditional wood and dung burning stoves for heating and cooking and then use the biochar as well for a soil additive for water and nutrient retention to combat the problem of desertification. These cleaner burning stoves will also be introduced in more urban settings where currently smoke from wood stoves causes serious air pollution in the form of thick smog during winter months.

It is estimated that 200 biochar producing stoves and 25 biochar ovens will initially be deployed and the biochar produced will be used for field trials. MoBI is also looking into community level low to moderate tech pyrolysis units which will utilize more concentrated feedstock sources common to the rural areas of Mongolia. They will also study the potential opportunity for the cooperative marketing of carbon credits generated from the individual and community units.  Local MoBI partners include the NGOs People Centered Conservation in Mongolia (PCC); the Mongolian Women Farmers' Association (MWFA); and the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund (SLCF).

For more information, contact Karl Frogner or Lkhamdulam.

Vietnam

The Soil and Fertilizer Institute in Hanoi Vietnam will work with biochar to address the issue of poor soils for agricultural production. At this time, farmers in areas of Vietnam practice slash and burn agriculture in forests to find better soil. This works for a year or two but eventually produces nutrient depleted soils.

It is estimated that 1.2 millions ha of fields are in shifting cultivation with slash and burn agriculture. Burning of forests also releases carbon and reduces biodiversity in these areas leaving agricultural wastelands. Crop residuals are currently also being burnt or left in the field. In addition, crops are often over-fertilized with chemicals or fresh animal manure, potentially causing soil contamination and other environmental issues. To work with the farmers to improve existing soils and agricultural practices, the members of the Soil and Fertilizer Institute and other partners will be trained on correct agricultural methods and develop a methodology to assess the environmental, economic, social and cultural costs and benefits of introducing biochar technology and biochar. They will apply biochar technologies at the household/village level and once applied, develop procedures to analyze the biochar.
For more information contact Dr. Nguyen Cong Vinh (vinhsfri@gmail.com; ncvinh_nisf2003@yahoo.com; vinhthan@fpt.vn)