The Biochar for Sustainable Soils (B4SS) project – Sharing knowledge on the use of biochar for sustainable land management (SLM)

The main objective of the B4SS project is to demonstrate and promote the adoption of sustainable land management (SLM) practices involving the use of innovative organic amendments based on biochar, that improve the capture and efficient use of nutrients, and enhance productivity, improve climate resilience, support rural livelihoods, and contribute to watershed management.  The B4SS project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) over three years (2015-2018), whereas the United Nations Development Program (UNEP) is the implementing agency. Starfish Initiatives, a not-for-profit organisation based in Australia, coordinates the execution of a diverse range of knowledge-creating and sharing biochar activities in six countries: China, Indonesia, Peru, Vietnam, Kenya and Ethiopia.
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B4SS in Kenya

In partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Cornell University, the B4SS project will allow the establishment of field demonstrations to evaluate biochar formulations developed to enhance soil fertility and productivity, and minimize nutrient and carbon loss. It will also allow the installation of the world-wide first watershed study on biochar. Building on seven years of detailed pre-intervention data of water, nutrient and carbon losses by stream water, yield effects, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, biochar will be added to one set of four catchments, while a second set of four catchments will be kept as a control (paired catchment approach). These catchments are located in Kapchorua, Nandi district in Western Kenya. The selection of agricultural catchments of different ages since conversion from forest provides the opportunity of using existing gradients of degradation to further study the impacts of biochar and fertilizer formulations in reversing the soil productivity decline observed with farm age.

B4SS in Ethiopia

The preliminary investigations conducted by Jimma University and Cornell University since 2012 have demonstrated positive effects of biochar-based fertilizers on soil productivity. In collaboration with partners, Jimma University is testing biochar-making stoves in workshops/labs and under farmers’ conditions. A range of biochar formulations, consisting of different ingredients including compost from coffee husk, coffee husk-derived biochar, and cattle and chicken manure, are being evaluated. The B4SS project will advance vegetable crop-cereal-legume intensification and investigate the role of biochar systems to increase soil fertility and diversify crop production by including vegetables, soybean and maize in plots managed by researchers and in homestead gardens of smallholder farmers in South Western Ethiopia. The B4SS project also promotes the dissemination of the biochar knowledge generated through farmers’ field days, where farmers, researchers and stove-making small enterprises have the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from each other.

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