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Carbon Gold Announces expanded project focus in Belize with cacao farmers

Thu, 02/27/2014
Thayer Tomlinson

SuperChar biochar kilns, designed and supplied by UK enterprise Carbon Gold, are allowing cacao growers to farm sustainably and successfully – slowing environmentally damaging ‘slash and burn’ practices, cutting carbon emissions and adding value to waste stream.

For a recent update on this work, please click here.

Using ten SuperChar 100 Kilns from UK biochar company, Carbon Gold, cacao growers in Belize now have access to a biochar production system that is recognized to:

  • Provide viable, long term, sustainable economic opportunities
  • Deliver a sustainable solution for waste management, water saving and carbon reduction
  • Produce a vital soil amendment
  • Increase cropping and generate reliable, predictable harvests

A successful five year biochar project with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) was carried out to encourage the sustainable production and use of biochar by farmers in Belize, funded by Mondelez International and the GEF Small Grants Programme implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.

Bristol-based biochar company, Carbon Gold – founded by Craig Sams – designed and supplied ten SuperChar 100 kilns to facilitate cleaner and more efficient production of biochar.

Encouraging sustainable farming methods - sustainable waste stream management
Biochar is produced by TCGA farmers in SuperChar 100 pyrolysis kilns, using waste cacao and shade tree prunings as feedstock. In the Toledo district of Belize, cacao trees are prone to the fungal disease monilia, made worse by lack of airflow through the orchards. Pruning the orchards generates a greater airflow but creates a waste-stream of biomass that is generally burnt or left to rot – resulting in atmospheric CO2 emissions. The waste material converted into biochar is taken from areas where the “milpa” system – also known as “slash-and-burn” – was traditionally carried out, with an aim to slow down this environmentally destructive practice and extend land use. The resulting biochar was crushed and added to the soil in cacao orchards and nurseries to examine its potential as a soil amendment.

TCGA farmers were trained by Carbon Gold to operate these small-scale kilns. Mondelez International, project sponsor, provided farmers with a financial incentive – in the form of a carbon payment – to process their agricultural waste to biochar. Biochar sequesters carbon dioxide in the soil for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Increasing yields and reducing irrigation
Biochar has proven to be a highly effective soil amendment and one that is imperative to the successful propagation of cacao seedlings in a nursery environment. The cacao trees show vigorous growth, increased disease resilience,  mature earlier and produce higher yields. The water retention capacity of biochar also meant that  water usage can be cut by 50%.

TCGA farmers will now be propagating all of their cacao plants in nurseries, expanding to nine across the cooperative - each raising 5000 seedlings at a time. 45,000 grafted cacao plants will now be grown in locally produced biochar-enriched, water-retentive soil; resulting in stronger plants, increased yields and quicker and more reliable cropping.

Additional income
The project also brings financial gain to the TCGA. Biomass from the waste stream has become a valuable resource as feedstock, and as the horticultural value of biochar in the cacao growing system has been substantiated, the value of biochar is set to rise.