GMCR-backed project to look at use of biochar as fertiliser on coffee farms.

Radio Lifeline, a non-profit based in the United States, announced on 18 February the launch of the Black Earth Project, a research project that will look at the use of biochar on coffee and pyrethrum farms in Rwanda. Radio Lifeline’s partner in this project is re:char, a 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), headquartered in Waterbury, Vermont, in the United States. The Black Earth Project is a two-year research project that will evaluate the effectiveness of biochar when used as a soil amendment by smallholder coffee and pyrethrum farmers. 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 fertiliser inputs,” said Jason Aramburu, CEO of re:char, in a statement. “Biochar has increasingly been cited as an effective approach to carbon sequestration as it can remain stable in the soil for thousands of years.”  The Black Earth Project will incorporate the use of re:char’s Climate Kiln, making possible a farm-centered approach to biochar production by utilising 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 fertilisers. 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 is scheduled to begin construction of test plots and initiate farmer training workshops on 3 March in Butare, Rwanda. 

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