New initiative equips farmers to combat climate change

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Radio Lifeline, a non-profit based in the U.S., announced the launch of the Black Earth Project, a new initiative designed to help farmers mitigate the growing effects of climate change. Radio Lifeline’s partner in this project is re:char, a leading developer of small-scale biochar technologies, based in Kenya. Major funding for the Black Earth Project is being provided by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR), which has its headquartered in Waterbury, Vt.

The Black Earth Project is a two-year research project designed to evaluate the effectiveness of biochar when used as a soil amendment by smallholder coffee and pyrethrum farmers in Rwanda. Biochar is produced through a process called pyrolysis, or the burning of dried biomass in a low or zero oxygen environment. The process prevents combustion and the usual release of carbon dioxide, black carbon and other greenhouse gases associated with traditional charcoal production methods.

“When used as a soil amendment, biochar can increase crop yields, reduce nutrient leaching, help retain moisture, reduce soil acidity and improve surrounding water quality while significantly reducing the need for additional irrigation and fertilizer inputs. Biochar has increasingly been cited as an effective approach to carbon sequestration as it can remain stable in the soil for thousands of years”, said Jason Aramburu, CEO of re:char.

The Black Earth Project will incorporate the use of re:char’s Climate Kiln, making possible a farm-centered approach to biochar production by utilizing various forms of agricultural crop residues, including dried corn stalks, grasses, rice hulls and coffee pulp as well as cow manure and wood chips. A series of test plots will be constructed within Rwanda’s coffee and pyrethrum farming sectors to measure the benefits of using biochar as a soil amendment as compared to traditional petrochemical-based fertilizers. Farmers will be kept abreast of the project’s progress via Radio Lifeline’s weekly farmer-focused programs, broadcast through its network of community radio stations.

“The Black Earth Project could make a significant contribution to GMCR’s continuing efforts to help farmers meet the challenges presented by climate change and food insecurity by helping to increase yields and decrease input costs in coffee producing regions. We are very pleased to support this collaborative and innovative project,” commented Colleen Popkin, GMCR’s coffee community outreach manager.

Peter Kettler, executive director of Radio Lifeline remarked, “This project advances our goal of providing low-tech, locally-appropriate solutions to some of the biggest challenges that farmers in the developing world are facing today, including climate change, increased competition for natural resources, rising input costs and the complex issues related to food security. If successful, the Black Earth Project could eventually lead to the production of the world’s first carbon-negative coffee.”

The Black Earth Project is scheduled to begin construction of test plots and initiate farmer training workshops on March 3 in Butare, Rwanda.

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Almuth Ernsting    
Scotland  |  February, 23, 2013 at 03:29 AM

How genuine and science-based will such a ‘test’ be when Re-char and their partners express such certainty about biochar ‘benefits’? Their confidence is contradicted by findings from many different scientific studies, which show that biochar cannot be relied upon to either sequester carbon or to improve soil fertility and thus crop yields. Indeed, there are examples of biochar use leading to a reduction in soil carbon and others of it actually suppressing crop growth. For more background, see . If the outcome is not what re-char hopes for, will they still publish the findings – or just bury the findings as appears to have been happening with various biochar projects so far? Are they telling farmers that they are being asked to test an unproven technology which could potentially have negative effects? The article does not inspire confidence in this respect. And if the trial is not deemed a success, will participating farmers be compensated for their work and the use of their land? Or will they be abandoned as has happened elsewhere, e.g. in the case of a biochar project by a different company in Cameroon (

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