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GMCR-Funded Project to Test Biochar as Soil Amendment in Rwanda

With major funding provided by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the U.S.-based nonprofit Radio Lifeline is launching a new initiative to help farmers in emerging countries mitigate the effects of climate change. Known as the Black Earth Project, the initiative is also being led by re:char, a Kenya-based developer of small-scale biochar technologies.

biochar soil replacement

biochar-based soil replacement, courtesy re:char

Specifically, the two-year research project will involve evaluating 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, said re:char CEO Jason Aramburu said in an announcement of the project. “Biochar has increasingly been cited as an effective approach to carbon sequestration as it can remain stable in the soil for thousands of years.”

Here’s more on the project from Radio Lifeline:

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.


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