by Tran Thi Thu Hien
Vietnam, an agricultural country, is the third largest in Southeast Asia region in terms of biochar potential. Each year, total biomass production from wood industry and crop cultivation is about 118 tons (Table 1), which is the mainly primary source of biochar feedstocks (Stefan Jirka, 2014). In recent years, the awareness about biochar benefits of Vietnamese people is increasing following to a global trend as more large scale field studies show the benefits of biochar use.
Total population in Vietnam in 2017 is approximately 95 million (“www.worldometers.info,” n.d.) and is expected to grow in the future. Given this population growth, the cultivated area per capita is continuously reduced each year and it is already very low in Vietnam (0.25 ha) compared with the world average (0.52 ha) and ASEAN average (0.36 ha). To ensure food security as well as sustainable development, a national target of both enhancing crop yield and quality together with environmental protection are necessary. In 2011, the Vietnam government announced a programme to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission from agricultural activities by 20% by 2020 compared with 2010 levels (or about 19 Mt CO2-equivalent).
Burning biomass to solve waste problems, to cook and keep warm during winter are common activities related to biomass. In addition, in some area, farmers also use charcoal for soil amendment to improve soil as well and protect crops from pests and diseases. However, uncontrolled burning contributes to increased GHG emissions into the atmosphere and the goal of improving soil is often not as expected.
Using a variety of biochar feedstock resources, with a goal of improving awareness about biochar benefits for Vietnam officers and farmer as well as to reduce poverty and develop rural area, especially in upland areas, some biochar projects have been conducted with the assistance of international and national experts as the starting point of biochar research, production and utilization in Vietnam.
Started in 2007, the project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and implemented by the Agricultural Science Institute for Southern Central Coastal Vietnam in collaboration with the Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales, Australia was conducted in Ninh Thuan province, located in central coastal Vietnam with large areas of sandy soils with the goal of improving income for low income farmers. The project results showed that with more than 100 households using rice wafer stoves (Figure 1), a 30% yield of biochar was obtained using these cooking stoves. Blending this biochar with manure and compost enabled an increase in the average peanut yield of two crops up to 102% (Table 2) (Scholz et al., 2014).
The project implemented in Thai Nguyen and Thanh Hoa province during 2011-2012, which undertaken by CARE Denmark/Vietnam, the Population, Environment and Development Centre (PED), the Soil Fertilizer Research Institute and Thai Nguyen University, the women’s union and farmers unions, Cornell University, and the University of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Funding were provided by the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP) for Mekong, Government of Finland, and CARE Denmark. This project resulted in more than 400 stoves (DK-T2M) being built and sold, the new stove DK-T3M (Figure 2) were designed to suit Vietnamese households’ conditions. Research indicated that, total CO emissions of the DK-T3M were approximately 50% lower than from an open fire and the DK-T2M emissions were 18% less than the open fire. In addition, field trials utilizing biochar and biochar compost mixtures for rice paddies in spring and summer, home garden trials for green vegetables in summer were carried out in both provinces Thai Nguyen and Thanh Hoa. Data showed that compost with 5% of rice husk biochar (by weight) mixed with NPK fertilizer enabled an increase in rice yield (in both spring and summer) and green vegetables (during summer) significantly compared with that of control (Table 3 and Table 4) (Figure 3) (S Joseph et al., 2012)
The ongoing Biochar for Sustainable Soil project (B4SS) funded by The Global Environmental Facility and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme is now conducting biochar trials in Bac Kan, a mountainous province located in the Northeast highland area of Vietnam. The expected results are that up to 20 households will be provided with a biochar-making stoves for their daily use, and an additional 500 - 1,000 people will benefit from sharing a community pyrolysis reactor to produce biochar which will benefit an anticipated 2,000 people indirectly (see “biochar.international/the-biochar-for-sustainable-soils-b4ss-project/vietnam/,” n.d. for further details)
In recent years, Vietnam has hosted many different types of research on biochar manufacturing and application conducted by different research institutes, universities, and companies. The Institute of Agricultural Environment had succeeded in producing biochar from wood chips, sugarcane, sawdust straw, rice husk maize waste, coffee waste. Mai T. L. Anh from Thai Nguyen University of Science created a new type of fertilizer made from rice straw, wood chips, and corn cob biochar. The Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry designed a pyrolysis system with a capacity of 50-300kg biochar per batch, which saves time and labor, reduces smoke and re-product capacity achieved 95-99%. The company of Fertilizer and Server Binh Dinh Joint stock (Biffa) in collaborated with Japan to produce biochar from planted eucalyptus, etc. (Tùng, 2015). However, there is still lack of an official Biochar Research Association in Vietnam, a lack of evaluation reporting on biochar manufacturing and use and a lack of standard evaluation of biochar projects once they are completed. Further research on biochar should be conducted to determine effective biochar production scenarios suitable for conditions in Vietnam, especially in rural regions. In addition, it would be most helpful if the Vietnamese government would help promote a policy of biochar production and utilization, since this would not only help launch a national-wide biochar industry but could also help the country to reach their GHG emission targets..
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