Masarang has a biochar program, which runs both on North Sulawesi, as well as in West Kalimantan. Biochar is a kind of charcoal, which can be made by a variety of kinds of heating organic material under oxygen-free conditions to more than 350°C. The organic material can be wood, but also plant residues, organic waste and manure etc. Biochar was “rediscovered” through the special dark Amazon soils Terra Preta . These dark soils that retain their fertility, even without additional fertilizer input, were found to contain much biochar. These were the places where Indians had lived in the past.
The following film gives more information about the large-scale use of Biochar. But on a smaller scale Biochar works as well and gives farmers an alternative way to not having to burn each year their land. Watch the film about Biochar made by Raymond Hartman and Daniel Nijenhuis (in English).
More information aboutBiochar
Benefits of Biochar, what Biochar does
Biochar increases in the tropics crop yields sometimes up to 75%, especially in nutrient-poor and acidic soils. Among others the soil structure is improved, improving both the “breathing” of soil better and retaining more water, and also soil fungi and bacteria seem to benefit, and thereby contributing to higher crop yields. Also the application of biochar increases the acidity of the soil (and bring the pH up) which for the tropical soils leads to a higher availability of nutrients. Another important added value of Biochar is that carbon can for a long time be captured in the soil, so Biochar can be used as an additional tool against climate change.
Additional benefits for farmers
For farmers, the use of biochar has a number of other important advantages. In stead of burning their land every year according the ‘slash and burn’ method and emit large amounts emit of CO2, the year after they can start sowing. This saves time, and in addition, it is not necessary to use fertilizer which saves the farmers money. So lower spending, higher yields, less land use, and a means to combat climate change, a win-win situation for everyone!
Project West Kalimantan
Thanks to winning a contest of the Foundation Fietsenscoort (in Dutch) we could make a sample garden where compost was applied enriched with biochar (see photo below).
The project shows the local people that we can grow rice and various kinds of vegetables, fruits, and other useful plants and trees without first burning the land (‘slash and burn’ agriculture). Farmers can see the positive effects with their own eyes. The experimental rice field where rice is planted and the soil is worked with compost and biochar attracts many visitors. There is no clear difference in how quickly the rice grows compared to the rice planted in the traditional ‘slash and burn’ method, but that is already a very good result, because rice normally grows only good if the land is first burned. This is an eye opener for many farmers. The advantage of the biochar will be even more visible next season, if the rice can be planted again on the same piece without the need for compost, biochar or (artificial) fertilizer. Willie Smits has already done several tests with biochar in East Kalimantan with spectacular results.
Biochar Adam Retort
We also have together with a group of progressive farmers financed and built a so called “Biochar Adam Retort”, an example of such a retort can be found here. The unit can produce about 400 kg of biochar per week (enough to fertilize about 0.5 hectares). We also put compost bins down on the locations of the farmers. The biochar, mixed with the compost is used in two pilot sites, which are strategically chosen because farmers from miles around come here and see the results.
The first in the village Upit is located near an intersection of two roads, where many daily traffic passes by, and the second is in the village of Tembak where we have been working with local people to protect the forest of the nearby mountains and surrounding areas, for the benefit of humans and animals. Also in the Tengkawang factory in Tembak Biochar is made.
Cooperation with the University in Sintang, West Kalimantan
The biochar also has attracted the interest of the local university in Sintang, where the students study the benefits of biochar in more detail in combination with compost in experimental nurseries around the university. We hope that the new generation will adopt this new way of farming as a sustainable alternative to traditional ‘slash and burn’ agriculture! Learn more about collaboration with the university find here.
Project Noord Sulawesi
In 2017 Masarang starts teaching the use of biochar to students of ITM University on North Sulawesi. The aim is to use biochar to improve the production of sugar palm seedlings, and to use this in a reforestation project in a new location in Pinaras.The ITM students who participate in the training are mainly Masarang scholarship program students. They learn how to make a small biochar unit from old oil drums, so they can produce biochar for use in college and to pass on their knowledge to their fellow students.
For the production of biochar only wood waste is used which is collected from the garden and from the forest. The wood is first dried and then cut into small pieces. The timber is then loaded into a closed metal container with holes in the lid which in turn is positioned within the larger oil drum. The space between the two drums is filled with firewood, and this material is ignited The wood inside the small drum is thus heated by the surrounding heat until wood gas evaporates and through the holes together with the surrounding burning wood causes even more heat, creating biochar.