Biochar is charcoal produced through the burning of dried biomass in a low- or zero-oxygen environment, a process called pyrolysis. The process prevents combustion and the usual release of carbon dioxide, black carbon and other greenhouse gases associated with traditional charcoal production methods.
The Black Earth Project will devote two years of research to evaluating the effectiveness of biochar when used as a soil amendment by smallholder coffee and pyrethrum farmers in Rwanda. Radio Lifeline’s project partner Re:char, a Kenyan developer of small-scale biochar technologies, will use agricultural residues such as dried corn stalks, grasses, rice hulls, coffee pulp, cow manure and wood chips as feedstock for the biochar production.
Green Mountain says that the project could make a significant contribution to its goal of helping farmers meet climate challenges through higher yields and lower input costs.
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, according to Re:char.
Radio Lifeline will construct a series of pilot projects 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. The non-profit will keep farmers informed of the project’s progress via weekly radio programs, broadcast through its network of community stations.
The project is scheduled to begin test plot construction and farmer training on March 3 in Butare, Rwanda.
In January, Green Mountain announced a collaboration with corporate sustainability consultancy SustainAbility aimed at the further development of the coffee company’s corporate social responsibility program.
In December 2011, Green Mountain announced that it was working with University of North Dakota researchers and bioenergy specialist Wynntryst LLC on a project aimed at using the waste from its coffee processing plant to produce energy. The university’s Energy & Environmental Research Center and the two Vermont-based companies said they would develop a gasification power system fueled by coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth, burlap and Keurig single-serve plastic cups.