Thursday, November 6, 2008

BIOCHAR - FOOD SECURITY & NUTRITION

by Ruy Korscha Anaya de la Rosa

fsnforum-l@mailserv.fao.org>
Conversation : [FSN Forum] Responding to the challenges of climate change
and its linkages to food security and nutrition - reply by 07.11.2008

I would like to elaborate a little bit on the concept of Biochar in soils.

GoodPlanet/ Action Carbone, together with GEO, an Indian NGO, are building knowledge on this innovative measure called Biochar to not only fight global warming but ALSO (and this is my main interest for this Forum) to improve soils¹ fertility and therefore increase crop yields. Ongoing research aims at characterizing the use of biochar. Several variables have been identified (type of pyrolysis technology and its various factors, type of soils, depth at which this biochar is dug into the soils, amount of biochar per hectare, type of biomass to produce the biochar, etc. , etc.).

I have been doing research on Biochar for the carbon market for almost two years now and my interest skyrocketed when visiting a Biochar amended field in India 7 months ago. The Biochar was put into a rice paddy field and the difference between the treated and untreated fields was HUGE. I could not believe my eyes, the rice plants from the treated field had much more branches, the roots were bigger and kept their moisture for a longer time than the untreated plants when taking them out of the water. Therefore we decided to finance a Biochar holistic scheme (I explain below) as a pilot project, which I hope would serve as a solid basis to create the platform for
Biochar projects to become eligible for carbon finance and claim Emission Reductions in the future.

I explain you briefly our Biochar project in India.

In rural areas in India and in most developing countries women cook their food with biomass (mostly wood and charcoal) in highly polluting stoves, which represent a number of problems (Deforestation, lots of time spent on wood collection and on cooking, back pains and other life-threatening risks from wood collection, respiratory and eye diseases from Indoor Air Pollution, high fuel prices if the wood is bought, etc.).

Furthermore, charcoal is inefficiently produced in the earth-mound kiln, which is a pile of earth, leaves, hay, grass, etc. acting as an oven to heat in the absence of oxygen the wood cut (sometimes illegally) from forests and releasing considerable methane emissions. This process is called pyrolysis and, nowadays (because of Biochar¹s long-term potential to take carbon out of the atmosphere) a strong emphasis is put on technologies to improve this process. There are different technologies available. From just some drums to the big expensive industrial machines.

And finally, soils are pretty much degraded and farmers still believe that adding extra chemicals is good for the Earth.

Having written this, GoodPlanet/ Action Carbone is mainly looking at financing the diffusion of what is called the 3rd generation stoves and these are merely the so-called Charcoal-Making stoves. So, while cooking normally with wood, this technology converts part of the wood into charcoal which is then recuperated after cooking. There are different designs and our partner GEO has developed different models ranging from 2 USD to 20 USD. Moreover, GoodPlanet/ Action Carbone will finance approximately 10 small-scale efficient kilns (around 500 euros per kiln) to pyrolyse or carbonize the cotton stomps which are left and otherwise burnt openly on the fields of cotton farmers.

The Biochar (in this case charcoal) will then be produced as a by-product while cooking more efficiently and from agricultural waste (the cotton stomps). Then, the biochar will be added into degraded soils to enhance their productivity. GEO has been experimenting with approximately 5 tons of biochar produced from Prosopis Julifora/ hectare at a depth of about 20 cm. The results are very positive, nonetheless, we are still testing.

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