Agricultural and environmental Benefits from Biochar use in ACP Countries

Challenge
Important processes of soil degradation jeopardise the African continent’s sustainable economic growth. Deforestation, primarily due to the conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at an alarming rate in the great tropical forests of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). An increase in the demand of wood fuel, coupled with the lack of alternative resources, has contributed to an increase in felling of trees to ensure adequate wood fuel supply. Moreover, health problems are derived from wood fuel production and use, such as fever, eye pains and upper respiratory tract infections.

Focus
The project will contribute to lessening pressure on forested areas in Togo, Ghana and Sierra Leone while increasing soil fertility of croplands. It will also ensure integrated, sustainable growth (e.g. reducing health risks for the population) by promoting the use of more efficient crop residues and, to a lesser extent, wood-adopting pyrolysis processes in innovative, low-cost, biochar producing stoves.

Rationale
The problem of deforestation is common to all three SSA countries involved in the project. A scientific network for the promotion of agro-forestry and soil conservation in the context of the Regional Action Programme from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to combat desertification in Africa was launched in 2001. It began the identification and the dissemination of technologies which are efficient in soil fertility improvement and water conservation as a key activity. This is in order to facilitate the establishment of integrated pilot projects throughout the continent, to document the performance of various agricultural practices and their response to drought, and to capitalise on the existing gains with respect to soil and water management. In this context, many options exist to conserve or enhance soil fertility in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services. This strategy has failed because of political, economic and cultural reasons. In fact, by adopting appropriate actions and technologies in soil management, it is possible to reverse land degradation over the next few years, but the changes in policy and practices required are substantial: people, farmers, land owners, etc. remain unaware of strategies and techniques that could improve yields and reduce risk, and efforts to extend scientific knowledge towards political institutions, and socio-economic actors (e.g. farmers) are required.

BeBi adopts a multidisciplinary approach (scientific, economic and social), actively involves scientific organisations, political institutions, the business community and civil society, decision makers and local authorities, local NGOs, other research organisations and farmers and landowners. These are actors who can promote the adoption and improvement of both sustainable production of renewable energy (i.e. bio-energy for food cooking) and sustainable soil management knowledge and technologies at the local level. Up-to-date knowledge (i.e. agro-forestry, crop management) needs to be locally verified, taking into account socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions; more innovative technologies (i.e. biochar based systems for energy production and soil fertility improvement) require more insight research actions prior to wide-spread use.

Links with public and private bodies will be a strategic objective of the project since university partners could become ‘regional poles of attraction on sustainable energy and soil management technologies’ for national policies and programmes. Other universities, research centres, public administrations and private institutions, as well as international organisations, will be the main target groups of the dissemination and mainstreaming of activities, as will citizens who can benefit from improved environmental quality and regain possession of their ecosystems’ resources through the adoption of such technologies.

Method
Identification of the potential use of biochar-energy production system through studying socio-economic and environmental traits

  • Survey of study areas.
  • Assessment of potential production and use of biochar-energy system based on biomass availability (crop residues and wood) and socio-economic (cultural) factors of each study area.
  • Selection of demonstration sites to develop successful activities, taking into account the interests of local stakeholders and local development priorities.

Demonstration of the biochar-energy system: stove usability, acceptability and efficacy

  • Implementation of the carbon (C)-credits certification of biochar application.
  • Stove adaptation to local feedstocks and people needs.
  • Stove distribution.
  • Survey on stove usability and acceptability by local people.
  • Studying the effect of feedstock quality on energy-biochar production.

Evaluation of the biochar use for soil fertility improvement

  • Research on soil processes as a result of biochar application.
  • Demonstration of soil improvement by addition of biochar to croplands.

Networking, horizontal and vertical mainstreaming through local and international initiatives

  • Development and improvement of communication tools.
  • Creation of ‘local partnerships’.
  • Enhancement of international relations.

Outputs

  • Potential production and use (acceptability, usability and suitability) of biochar-energy system assessed, based on biomass availability and socio-economic factors in each study area.
  • Report on feedstock quality on energy-biochar production.
  • Indoor air quality assessed of traditional way of cooking (i.e. coal or wood) and of improved pyrolitic stoves.
  • Best management practices in using biochar in cropland soils.

Outcomes

  • Traditional and well-known, environmentally-friendly techniques in agriculture of ‘slash-and-biochar’ optimised and promoted
  • More efficient use of crop residues and, at a lesser extent, wood, to contribute to the fight against unmanaged deforestation.
  • Improved soil fertility to enhance agricultural yields.
  • Co-production of heat to be used instead of wood fuel for cooking.
  •  Reduction of the health problems related to the traditional use of wood fuel or common charcoal by using improved cook stoves. 
Grant: FED/2009/221814
Project duration: 36 months (from 10/11/2009 to 09/11/2012)
EC funding: EUR 839,738.15
Total budget: EUR 987,927.24
Project contact:

Prof. Alessandro Peressotti
Università degli Studi di Udine
Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie e Ambientali (UNIUD-DISA)
via delle Scienze 208
33100 Udine
Italy
Tel: +39-0432-558.616 / 600
Fax: +39-0432-558.603
E-mail: peressotti [at] uniud.it
Web: http://www.disa.uniud.it/

BeBi project
Lucia Brusegan
Giulia Righetti