In 2012 Radio Lifeline launched our Black Earth Project,
a research initiative designed to evaluate the various benefits of biochar when used as a soil amendment by smallholder coffee farmers in Rwanda. 18 test plots were constructed among six partner cooperatives, representing each of the major coffee growing regions in the country. Results of these trials demonstrated an average of 35% increase in yield and a 50% reduction in input costs within the first year among coffee trees treated with an application of biochar.
What is Biochar?
Biochar is a form of highly-porous charcoal, produced through a process called pyrolization, or the combustion of dried organic waste in an environment of extremely high temperature and very low oxygen. Fuel for this process can be sourced from dried biomass found in a typical farm setting including maize stalks, rice hulls, banana leaves, dried grasses, cow dung, leaves and bamboo waste.
Black Earth -Tanzania
local machine shop in Mbeya was engaged to manufacture six Climate Kilns, made from re-purposed oil drums at a cost of approximately $40 each. The project will eventually create 50 additional kilns to be distributed throughout the region, with training in biochar production techniques provided by MIICO staff members.
In December of 2016, Radio Lifeline partnered with Tembo Coffee and MIICO, a network of community-based agricultural development organizations based in Mbeya, to launch the Black Earth project in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. Funds for the project were provided by the German Development Bank (DEG) as part of its Coffee Partnership of Tanzania program.
Six mature coffee plots were treated with various combinations of biochar, compost and different formulations of NPK fertilizer, with weekly results monitored by field technicians and agronomists associated with Tembo and MIICO. In a separate trial, coffee seedlings planted in both full sun and shade were treated with applications of either biochar or NPK to evaluate the impact of biochar on the early stages of coffee tree development.
First Harvest Results
Last month, after the first round of harvest, results demonstrated significant yield increases in those trees treated with amendments of biochar vs trees treated with traditional NPK fertilizer applications. Among the trees treated with a combination of biochar and compost, yield increases amounted to more than 43 times over those trees with traditional NPK fertilizer treatments.