The B4SS project or Biochar for Sustainable Soils held its final workshop in Indonesia last week. As a member of the Starfish management board, I (CM) was privileged to attend.
It has been a three year international project, supported by the UN, to study the effects of Biochar on soils for a variety of agricultural crops in developing nations. The introduction of carbon into the soil is part of the carbon exchange cycle but other potential benefits are still being analysed.
The trial sites selected were in Peru, Viet Nam, Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia and China. Crops generally varied between locations due to local conditions and climate with maize being the one crop common to all.
The sustainability of the Biochar depends on a reliable source of waste material to burn in the kiln. Sources varied between sites and countries but generally used plant stubble, sawmill waste or other dry plant material. The dryness of the fuel is essential to produce the best outcome with the least air pollution.
The cheapest and most readily available kiln is a cone shaped pit in the ground. Other designs include a small metal drum which also provides a cooking surface, a metal cone shaped ‘kon tiki’ design or a more elaborate brick kiln. The output from each kiln depends on the dryness of the source material and the gradual staging of the burning to increase the temperature and reduce the oxygen. Other materials can be added to the kiln such as dry manure and sawdust.
Research into benefits:
The attributes being researched include
The outcomes of the trials are still being collated with a report to be submitted in a couple of months.
The aim of providing a cheap and readily available soil enhancer seems to be achieved. However some interesting observations from the researchers illustrate how the trial outcomes are very site specific. In areas where the women are the main farmers, they found the physical task of handling the kilns too hard. In another community where they have just enough to survive, they couldn’t see the need to do more work to get a bit extra. They are happy to have enough. Maybe we can all learn from them.
To read more about this ambitious and very worthwhile project follow the link:
More about sustainability projects can be found on the Armidale-based Starfish website:
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