Click here for a Japanese translation
Translated by Hiroaki Kato
Proyecto Estufa Finca (The Farm Stove) project began in September 2009 when Costa Rican coffee grower Arturo Segura, owner of Sol Colibrí Organic Coffee, encountered SeaChar (the Seattle biochar group) co-founder Art Donnelly promoting biochar and his biochar producing gasifier cook-stove technology at an organic harvest fair in Seattle, WA, United States. In this chance convergence of people and ideas, Art saw an opportunity to implement his simple and elegant technology in the real world and Arturo saw a solution to a problem—every year in Costa Rica, approximately 150,000 migrant workers and their families come from Nicaragua and Panama to pick coffee. They live in tin-roof shacks, generally without electricity or running water, cooking over open wood fires—a notorious source of upper respiratory health problems and driver of habitat destruction from overharvesting wood. The related respiratory disease is one of the leading causes of death in children under ten in this population. Arturo is a member of La Alianza, an organic coffee grower’s cooperative, and he invited Art to bring his stoves to Costa Rica to help improve living conditions for the families that he and other members of the cooperative employ during the harvest season. Laboratory testing conducted at the Aprovecho Research Center has shown these stoves burn with 91% lower emissions of particulate matter than a base-line open fire.
In January of 2010, Art traveled to Santa Maria de Dota, Costa Rica as a guest of Arturo and the members of La Alianza. Occurring during the height of the coffee harvest, this was the perfect opportunity to conduct a feasibility assessment for the introduction of biochar producing TLUD (top lit up-draft) stoves to this population. They evaluated living conditions, family size, cooking styles and available fuels. In an effort to accommodate the abundant supply of coffee plant trimmings as a sustainable input and the needs of the large household sizes, it was decided that the project would adapt Dr. Paul Anderson’s 5-gallon bucket TLUD stove for the job. Design alterations improved the stove for the local conditions making improvements to increase convenience, safety and the performance of the stove. The stoves were built using commonly available scrap materials, such as corrugated zinc roofing. This hybrid design was debuted at an ad-hoc stove-building workshop, held for 16 Australian college students and the community members of a local village: Providencia. The students were working in the village on an ISV (International Student Volunteers) volunteer service project. That day, the group constructed 15 Estufa Finca cook-stoves from all recycled materials, demonstrating that the low-tech design could be locally produced.
Upon returning to Seattle the lessons learned in Costa Rica were incorporated into a finalized stove prototype. At the same time a group of local women in Costa Rica who were interested in producing and marketing the stoves formed under the name APORTES (the Givers).
Art returned to rural Costa Rica in the company of noted stove designer Paul Anderson (Dr. TLUD) in May 2010. With support from Arturo and a generous grant from Paul’s Bloomington-Normal Illinois Rotary club they worked with organizer Carolina Abarca Calderon to outfit a basic stove building shop complete with materials for the first 40 stoves. APORTES members were trained in the operation of the stoves, basic tool use, and fabrication techniques. Education in biochar was included in the training and additional stove building workshops were held.
Thanks to Arturo and Carolina’s hard work during the summer of 2010 more funding was obtained for the project. Community workshops led to more interest in expanding the project regionally. As a result of this groundwork; during the 2010-2011 harvest season, SeaChar worked with the women of APORTES to produce stoves for distribution to indigenous Ngöbe coffee pickers from Panama. With support from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives, Seattle International Foundation, Plant-It 2020, Rotary International and Groundwork Opportunities, SeaChar worked with the National University of Costa Rica, and numerous dedicated volunteers, to implement a complete program of stove distribution, monitoring and evaluation. Testing results on a study group of 32 households indicated an average 50% gain in fuel efficiency, an average 33% reduction in cooking time, and increased satisfaction (as reported by the cooks) with the cook-stoves. A detailed report on this Estufa Finca-Santos Pilot project is available by request (see contact information at the end of the article).
The stoves distributed so far are each capable of producing 10 to 30 kg of biochar a month, but the migrant coffee pickers will not produce biochar without an incentive. Arturo is incentivizing his coffee pickers by paying for the biochar they produce for use in his organic fertilizer. He pays them $5 for a 10 kg sack, a few dollars less than what he pays the commercial charcoal producers. This amount of biochar is not sufficient for his coffee farm, but it is enough to make a noticeable difference in his vegetable garden. Charcoal is already used in soils and is an accepted practice on many organic farms in coffee country, but currently the farmers are sourcing their charcoal from inefficient traditional charcoal makers. And the local environment is paying the price through deforestation and erosion.
Both SeaChar and their partner APORTES are holding stove building and biochar workshops for community and volunteer groups in North and Central America. As of late May 2011, over 250 individuals have built biochar-producing cook-stoves in these SeaChar sponsored events.
In this coming year SeaChar’s organizers will be working with partners in various areas of Costa Rica on biochar trials with crops such as coffee and cocoa. SeaChar is already successfully prototyping the appropriate scale technology needed for making the larger amounts of heat and biochar required by commercial agriculture. This larger scale technology could offset the use of almost $10,000 in diesel fuel annually, which the organic cocoa producers co-op APPTA use for drying cacao beans or the thousands of hectares of hardwood now used to dry coffee in the Santos region. The project includes expanding the scope of the stove program to the 1200 members of the APPTA co-op and the increasing the scale of the work with the migrant agricultural workers in coffee country.
For more information on this project, please contact Art Donnelly