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The Story of Phosphorus: Global Food Security and Food for Thought… The miracle mineral the world needs… TERRA PRETA — AN INEXPENSIVE, IF NOT PROFITABLE, SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEMS OF GLOBAL WARMING AND DEVELOPING WORLD HUNGER

I think it’s fucking hilarious… I honestly do now! … the future trajectory this civilisation is currently on… full speed towards something between Mad Max and The fucking Handmaids Tale!

“Dana Cordell… she’s probably one of the only people on the planet publicly talking about this…”

The Story of Phosphorus: Global Food Security and Food for Thought

Abstract
Food production requires application of fertilizers containing phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium on agricultural fields in order to sustain crop yields. However modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus derived from phosphate rock, which is a non-renewable resource and current global reserves may be depleted in 50–100 years. While phosphorus demand is projected to increase, the expected global peak in phosphorus production is predicted to occur around 2030. The exact timing of peak phosphorus production might be disputed, however it is widely acknowledged within the fertilizer industry that the quality of remaining phosphate rock is decreasing and production costs are increasing. Yet future access to phosphorus receives little or no international attention. This paper puts forward the case for including long-term phosphorus scarcity on the priority agenda for global food security. Opportunities for recovering phosphorus and reducing demand are also addressed together with institutional challenges.

The miracle mineral the world needs

You can’t grow crops without phosphorus. To get it, farmers often rely on expensive, frequently unavailable fertiliser. But there could be a better – and easier – way.

By Sibylle Grunze and Kerstin Hoppenhaus in Malawi
4 February 2019
In Blantyre, Malawi, a group of farmers are assembled around a pile of material that could help shape Africa’s future. It doesn’t look like much: a two by two metre pile of alternating layers of moist organic matter like corn stalks and chicken manure.
But over eight weeks of microbial activity and periodic turning, the unwieldy, slightly smelly mass will transform itself into compost – a low cost way to improve soils and reduce dependency on mineral fertilisers, which are at best expensive and at worst often not available at all.
“This is not your ordinary backyard compost pile, where you throw your kitchen scraps,” says Johann van der Ham, who runs the demonstration farm, as he watches his students watering the next load of manure in a wheel barrow.
“It’s a thermic compost pile. We teach how to build it systematically and to scale it to the needs of every farm.
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The farmers learning how to make this compost, and the other people in their communities that they will bring this information back to, are smallholder subsistence farmers.
Explore the compost workshop with our 360 video below:

“For them, one failed harvest means hunger and misery – or worse,” says van der Ham. “So for them, improving soils is not an add-on, not just something to raise the bottom line.
“It’s a matter of survival.”

Johann van der Ham leads a group of farmers at the compost workshop in Blantyre (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

Fertiliser’s future
Most African soils are inherently poor. Over millions of years, younger, more fertile layers have weathered away, leaving large parts of the ancient shield exposed. In sub-Saharan Africa, widespread maize monoculture has depleted soils further.

Africa tends to have inherently poor soil (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

To grow properly, plants need water, light and air. They also need nutrients from the soil, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. All of these are important – but phosphorus especially, because it affects the plant early in its life. The plant needs it to build its root system, which is the basis for taking up other nutrients. Without enough phosphorus, plants are stunted and yield little.
Putting phosphorus back into the soil in Africa, therefore, is particularly important for farmers – and, by extension, for much of the population: eight out of 10 Malawian workers are employed in farming.
Watch local women shuck maize in our 360 video below:

These days, most phosphorus in agriculture worldwide comes from mineral fertilisers. But the future of these mineral fertilisers has become uncertain.
The first phosphorus price shock came in 2008, when the commodity price of rock phosphate, the raw material that is mined, spiked 800%.
“That’s when people started to pay attention,” says Dana Cordell, a research director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney and co-founder of the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative. She is studying how Malawi can adapt to the emerging phosphorus challenges. “Before 2008, phosphorus was pretty much taken for granted.”

Today, most phosphorus in agriculture comes from mineral fertilisers, sold in shops like this one near Blantyre (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

Since then, there have been several assessments of global rock phosphate reserves, with widely differing results. Estimates for when “peak phosphorus” will occur – the moment just before extraction will begin to decline, thanks to depleted high-quality reserves and higher costs of mining the remaining deposits – range from 30 to 300 years. (The numbers vary because of different judgments about quality of deposits and progress in extraction technologies, and because many producers keep a close lid on their data for fear of tipping off the competition.)

Deposits of rock phosphate, the raw material that is mined, are unevenly distributed around the world (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

But even if there may be enough phosphorus to last centuries, there are other problems with relying on it – like the very uneven distribution of its deposits. “Phosphate resources are more geopolitically concentrated than oil,” Cordell says. “While all countries and farmers need access to phosphorus, only five countries combined control 88% of remaining phosphate reserves.” Morocco alone has 75% of estimated global reserves, some of it in the occupied territory of Western Sahara.
For importing countries, this supply concentration creates both a short-term business risk and a long-term national security risk, Cordell warns.
The situation is especially problematic for a small landlocked nation like Malawi, which is entirely dependent on imports – making it vulnerable to global price spikes and a difficult world market.

In Malawi, farmers are entirely dependent on phosphorus imports (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

Making matters more difficult, for fertiliser to be helpful, it needs to be bought early in the season – but they won’t know at that point if other factors, like weather and pests, will work out. They may spend their little savings on fertiliser only for pests to ruin the crop late in the season. As a result, for many farmers, each bag of fertiliser is a gamble. Each time, they have to ask themselves whether buying phosphorus is worth the risk.
See farmers shopping at a fertiliser store in our 360 video below:

To help farmers access fertiliser, the Malawian government launched a comprehensive subsidy programme in 2005. Coinciding with favourable weather, it brought some improvement in its first years. But over time, yields have stagnated.
The solution to Malawi’s phosphorus problems, it turns out, requires more than just pouring mineral fertiliser onto the land.
Compost chemistry
The problem is chemistry. The soils in Malawi and in much of sub-Saharan Africa are acidic. This means most phosphate ions quickly bind with iron or aluminium oxides and are no longer available for plants.
This means that, even when there is a lot of phosphorus around, much of it is practically useless for agriculture. As a result, before mineral fertilisers can be fully effective, the structure of the soils needs to change.

Because of the acidity of the soil, phosphate ions quickly become unavailable for plants after they’re put in the ground (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

A mineral fertiliser can’t do that. But compost can.
That is because compost can do something that mineral fertiliser cannot. It doesn’t just provide phosphorus and other vital nutrients – it can also restore the soil structure by adding organic matter.
Healthy, productive soil is not just dirt with some nutrients; it is a living ecosystem, explains van der Ham. And keeping this ecosystem alive means keeping enough organic matter in the soil to keep microbes, mites, fungi, worms and assorted other critters who live there happy, well fed and able to do their jobs. One of their jobs? Solubilising – which means freeing phosphorus and other nutrients from their bonds and making them available for plants.

Unlike a mineral fertiliser, compost can restore the soil structure by adding organic matter (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

Back at the workshop, van der Ham is trying to drive the point home. “How many people live in Malawi?” he asks. The answer is about 19 million.
“You see,” he says with a smile, “there are more organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people in all of Malawi.”
Van der Ham practises what he preaches. On his own fields, he hasn’t used mineral-based fertiliser for over six years. Instead, his crops get all their phosphorus and other nutrients from compost, manure, and mulching.
Ease of access
There is also yet another benefit of compost compared to mineral fertilisers: it is more accessible.
Billy Bray leads the Malawi branch of a Dutch NGO called Waste, which focuses on sanitation. “We need to generate value from waste,” he says, “so we create new sources of income, and discourage illegal dumping and other practices. And compost is a very valuable product here.” His group works closely with Blantyre’s city government and is currently building a pilot facility at one of Blantyre’s water treatment plants. “Our idea is to reduce the risk for local entrepreneurs. If we can prove that compost can be profitable, that there is a market, others will follow,” he says.

Because compost comes from organic waste, it’s not only valuable, but accessible (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

But raising awareness about the issue isn’t always easy.
“Nutrient recovery is not on people’s mind at the moment,” says Emmanuel Kanjunjunju, Blantyre’s director of health and social services. “They have so many other problems. But as the city, we have to think ahead. You can’t work in a crisis. You will always be failing. These systems have to be planned 10, sometimes 30 years ahead…
“It’s difficult in the sense that you have a current situation, where you just want to address the problems of today. But people forget: for these problems to reach the way they are today, it may be because we did not plan.”
At the moment, the team from Waste is building drying beds for fecal sludge. In the end, the dried sludge will make up about 5% of the finished compost. The rest comes from market waste, like spoilt fruit and vegetables, as well as chicken manure from a nearby poultry farm.

Market waste is one important potential source of compost (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

The NGO’s goal is to produce about 1,000 tonnes of compost per year for the wholesale market. “The smallholders won’t buy from us,” says Bray. “But they will follow the example of the big farmers once they see the results.”
“Technological fixes alone won’t solve the phosphorus problem,” says Johan Six, professor for sustainable agroecosystems at ETH Zürich. “We need a much more integrated approach to the way we do farming.”
Explore a local market in our 360 video below:

He and his colleagues are analysing how farming methods like agroforestry, intercropping and conservation agriculture affect the composition of soils. “We have known for a long time that these methods can be beneficial for the nutrient balance in soils,” Six says.
But until recently, the focus has been mostly on nitrogen and carbon. “Phosphorus availability is much more difficult to measure and has been somewhat neglected,” he says. “This is beginning to change, but there is still a lot we don’t know about how phosphorus is actually behaving in the soil.” This information will be vital if these new methods are to be deployed at a larger scale.

More research is needed on how phosphorus actually behaves in the soil (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

In Malawi, Six and his colleague Janina Dierks study the effects of faidherbia trees, a local type of acacia, on maize. The farmers like these trees because the plants shed their leaves during the rainy season, so they compete less for sunlight with the crops. Faidherbia trees have rich communities of symbiotic mycorrhiza, fungi that live in the root system. Greenhouse experiments show that the tiny organisms facilitate the uptake of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus not just for their hosts, but for other plants, too.
Six and Dierks want to find out if this is true in the field as well – and if so, to what extent.
Ultimately, to manage phosphorus sustainably, one has to consider the entire system: from microorganisms to trees, local farmers to fertiliser manufacturers, regional governments to global traders.

In order to manage phosphorus sustainably, one has to consider the whole system, including local farmers like these in Ndindi village (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

“And to be able to do this, you have to know what goes where,” says Frank Mnthambala, a PhD student at the Malawi Polytechnic at the University of Malawi, who works with Dana Cordell and other scientists.
Mnthambala is currently tracking the flow of phosphorus through the Malawian system. He notes that there are many unused sources of phosphorus in the system – like fecal sludge, runoff from fisheries or different kinds of compost. “But nobody has ever quantified them before,” says Mnthambala, and without being quantified, it’s hard to prioritise which ones should be tapped into.

Runoff from fisheries could be another source of phosphorus (Credit: Sibylle Grunze)

Once Mnthambala has found the most promising sources for phosphorus recovery, figuring out how to access them will be his next step.
“Our goal is to make Malawi more independent from imports,” Mnthambala says. “And managing our nutrients will help us to achieve this goal.”
This story was reported with support from the European Journalism Centre (EJC), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Soil erosion may threaten global food security

In many places, soils are being lost faster than they are being naturally made
Rises in rock phosphate prices may cut the availability of inorganic fertiliser
More efficient food distribution and nutrient recycling are needed to end hunger
By: Joe Turner

Global soil erosion has reached levels that will endanger humanity’s ability to feed itself if nothing is done to lower it, a study warns.

“I don’t think we worry enough about conserving soil resources for the long term.”
Tim Benton, University of Leeds
The review, published in Science last week (7 May), says soils are being lost faster than they are being naturally produced in many parts of the world. In addition, there is increased pressure on farmland from non-food uses, such as crops being grown for biofuels, and there may be future shortages of rock phosphate, which is used to make fertiliser, it says.

“The increases in food production in the developed regions of the world are plateauing,” says Ronald Amundson, a soil scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States, and one author of the study. “There are opportunities to increase food production in underdeveloped nations, but this will require expenditures for fertilisers to bring their yields up to what the regions can potentially produce.”

The phosphorus needed to create fertiliser is mined. This raw material has risen in price recently, according to the paper, prompting worries about the availability of inorganic fertilisers for farmers in developing countries.

The paper’s authors say that, instead of relying solely on fertiliser to increase yields from conventional farming, more efficient food distribution and nutrient recycling are needed to end hunger — one of the UN’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The degradation and loss of soil around the world
Soil erosion is caused by the overuse of land, deforestation, desertification and water runoff — all of which are, to some extent, caused by farming. The Science paper comes as many scientists worry that soil protection targets in the draft SDGs may be removed from the final list of goals.

Since January, which marked the start of the International Year of Soils, scientists have been calling for greater political focus on soil management.

Tim Benton, a population ecologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, says better soil management could go a long way towards producing enough food in the future.

“I don’t think we worry enough about conserving soil resources for the long term,” he says.

In traditional farming systems, food production can be increased by using various techniques to reduce soil erosion, says Rattan Lal, a soil scientist at The Ohio State University in the United States. For example, he says farmers can preserve their soils using agroforestry and by covering it with crop residues.

But it is a major decision to switch to such methods, he says, as these are more labour intensive and can be less economically efficient, considering many farmers use agriculture to meet household needs for feed, fodder and building materials.

According to Lal, around 500 million farmers worldwide depend on farms of less than two hectares. If soil management were included in the global agenda to address climate change and food shortages, much could be done to help the two billion ‘hidden hungry’, who are not eating enough nutrients in their food, he says.
References
Ronald Amundson and others Soil and human security in the 21st century (Science, 8 May 2015)

 

TERRA PRETA — AN INEXPENSIVE, IF NOT PROFITABLE, SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEMS OF GLOBAL WARMING AND DEVELOPING WORLD HUNGER

Abstract ~
The fundamental problem with most tropical soils is their low organic matter contents, and hence low fertilities, relative to relatively fertile temperate soils. As a result, nutrients in tropical soils tend to be leached out or mineralized, resulting in low fertilities and long fallow periods in tropical croplands and grazing lands. Amazonians discovered the solution to this problem at least 7000 years ago, and then spread their technology to 1-10% of Amazonia. This is the only known instance in all of human history in which humans have permanently and beneficially changed soil fertilities over a significant area. The technology was never transferred to European immigrants to the new world. Patches of ancient fertile tropical soils were discovered in Brazil around 1870, but did not attract international scientific attention until around 2001. As a result, soil scientists from around the world now work to discover how to replicate the still-fertile ancient soils (“Terra Preta”) that Brazilians extract and sell. Success seems certain, given the scientific capabilities of modern-day soil scientists relative to those of ancient Amazonians. Success would reduce, or eliminate, the hunger being experienced by about 0.8 billion of the world’s population, most of whom are part of the 75% of the world’s population that live in tropical countries. Converting tropical cropland soils to terra preta would also reduce, or eliminate, the need for shifting cultivators to abandon their cropland every three or so years and clear new patches of tropical forest.
Success would also create an additional carbon sink large enough to hold all current and future anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions out to around the year 2100. Photosynthesis would draw atmospheric greenhouse gasses into tropical vegetation. Tropical farmers would incorporate such vegetation plus “biochar” into their cropland soils to create terra preta where there the half-life of such organic matter and “biochar” would be increased to over 5000 years as compared to the normal half-life of 3-30 years. The result would be a large carbon sink. Farmers would be rewarded for their efforts by a doubling or tripling of their soil’s fertility. The net cost of the sink to mankind would be virtually zero. This sink could restore global mean surface temperature to that prior to start of melting of the Greenland ice cap and prior to the shrinking of the bulk of the world’s glaciers. This would largely eliminate the two “big ticket costs” of global warming.
An examination of the five main alternative strategies for addressing global warming finds that even the combined results of all five strategies could not, realistically, eliminate the “big ticket costs.” Even worse, aside from the terra preta alternative, only one other alternative, the forest biomass alternative, is even theoretically capable of eliminating the “big ticket costs” of global warming. That alternative comes with an impossibly large cost and four serious risk factors that virtually insure failure. It seems safe to conclude that there is only one or fewer viable alternatives for addressing global warming. The terra preta alternative is that one. By a stroke of good fortune, that alternative comes with the lowest price tag, the least risk, and the most beneficial side-effects of all the known alternatives for addressing global warming.
~ Context ~
Soil science, even just the portion related to the sequestering of organic carbon in tropical soils, is a complex science. This author makes no claims regarding formal training in that field. The science below reflects only that assimilated during this author’s three or so decades of review, analysis and data-compilation related to the degradation of the world’s soils (07S2), croplands (07S2), forest lands (07S1), grazing lands (07S3), irrigated lands (07S4) and fisheries (07S5). This author also makes no claim to being the originator of a possible link between terra preta and global warming. Soil scientists have been suggesting, for at least the past 6-7 years, that terra preta might be used to reduce or eliminate global warming. This document merely contributes the following to that issue:
This author’s prior work on the degradation of the world’s soils and croplands was found to contain some data that enables one to estimate the capacity of the soil sink for carbon that conversion of tropical cropland soils to terra preta provides. It also enables one to estimate the rate at which greenhouse gasses could be extracted from the atmosphere.
This same prior work also pointed to a simple, low-cost method for spreading terra preta technology (once it is developed) to tropical farmers, thereby making the terra preta strategy by far the least expensive strategy for eliminating global warming.
The inherently low fertilities of tropical soils, relative to temperate soils, largely explain the geography of the divide between the developing world and the developed world. One should not be surprised, then, when studies of possible ways of increasing tropical soil fertilities lead to several substantial effects on the future evolution of human cultures. This document points out several of these possible effects.
~ [1] ~ Modern History and Potential Benefits of Terra Preta Technology ~
The first published mention of fertile “dark earth” in Amazonia was in 1870 by James Orton of Vassar (04D1). In the last quarter of the 20th century the discovery precipitated occasional scientific papers mainly related to the curiosity value of the discovery. However the significance of terra preta (Portuguese for “dark earth”) in Amazonia did not achieve international awareness until 2001-2002 (04D1). It was probably around then that scientists realized the potential of this ancient technology in terms of:
Its ability to alter the evolution of human cultures by increasing the fertility of tropical soils to levels comparable with (better than?) temperate soils.
The possibility that terra preta could reduce, or eliminate, global warming.
As a result, scientists from many parts of the world are now trying to reproduce the technology, including the ability to spread the technology for creating these fertile tropical soils over large areas. An organization has been formed to coordinate the research of scientists working to better understand terra preta science and to improve on terra preta technology.
The discoveries of 1870 also re-ignited interest in ancient reports by Spanish explorers. These reports alluded to the “golden” cities of El Dorado in Amazonia. These reports tended to be discounted by the argument that Amazonia’s soils could not support such advanced civilizations. The 1870 discovery eliminated this argument. The “golden” part of the reports was almost certainly false. However later reports contended that the impact of European diseases on Native Americans in the region was far greater that previously conjectured. These later reports suggested that these diseases destroyed a network of complex urban civilizations with a total population of over 100 million. These may have been the urban civilizations that the early Spanish explorers referred to as “El Dorado.” Such civilizations would have required soils more fertile that typical tropical soils – such as terra preta.
Success on the part of these modern-day soil scientists seems assured, since one can hardly imagine such scientists being unable to accomplish what ancient Amazonians were able to accomplish. It appears that among the first outcomes of this success could be the elimination of global warming. This would be a result of the improved tropical soils creating a carbon sink capable (via photosynthesis) of capturing and sequestering the past, current and future anthropogenic releases of greenhouse gasses for many decades. This would suggest that the elimination of global warming via sequestering of greenhouse gasses in tropical soils could be accomplished at low cost. Section [11] below examines the other strategies for addressing global warming and finds that even utilizing all of them together could not realistically reduce global mean surface temperatures. Soil sequestration of carbon in the terra preta of tropical croplands makes negative net carbon release rates, and hence a falling global mean surface temperature, possible.
Another likely outcome of success on the part of modern soil scientists is major economic benefits to developing nations in the form of significant increases in tropical soil fertilities that could produce major reductions in human hunger. The benefits to tropical farmers could compensate these farmers for converting their cropland soils to terra preta. This would make the net cost of creating a huge cropland soil sink for carbon small or negative. Whether soil fertilities as far north as the southern US could be enhanced by terra preta technology has apparently not yet been determined. An experiment in Sweden suggests that it might not be (08S3).

Back to the Future: Terra Preta – Ancient Carbon Farming System for Earth Healing in the 21st Century

Terra Preta, meaning “Black Earth” in Portuguese, is a soil building technique developed by ancient Amazonian civilizations at least 7000 years ago as a solution to permanently solve the problems of poor tropical soil fertility. Large deposits of this black earth are still found today with depths of up to 2 meters. The first deposits where discovered in 1870, but it has only been in the last 10 years that significant interest and study have been initiated.
This soil is attributed to the complex civilizations that reportedly once thrived in the Amazon. Prior to the onset of diseases brought on by the western settlers, this expansive web of communities is estimated to have totaled over 100 million people. It is speculated that Terra Preta soils are what sustained them in harmony with their ecosystems.
With increasing tropical populations, rising malnutrition and increased deforestation due largely to swidden (slash-and-burn) agriculture, urbanization and other pressures, the rediscovery of Terra Preta techniques will be crucial to creating human sustenance in harmony with our earthly organism. Beyond that, many are looking to Terra Preta for its potential in sequestering carbon and helping reverse associated anthropocentric climate change related to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon.

We have yet to figure out exactly how ancient civilizations produced Terra Preta, but what we do know is that the soils contain high amounts of char-wood (also referred to as bio-char). Char-wood is basically a form of charcoal produced by burning wood or agricultural residues in an environment very low in oxygen. This process is called pyrolysis.
Char-wood, like charcoal, is a carbon source that has extreme stability in soil. In addition, it is extremely porous and therefore offers a large surface area for the formation of stable and long lasting organo-mineral complexes – the chemical bonding of soil organic matter with soil minerals. Terra Preta soils have been found to contain organic matter content that are 50x greater and contain 3x more Phosphorus and Nitrogen as neighboring forest soils. In addition, even the heavy tropical rains do not leach nutrients out of this soil.
Could this mean that the solution to the fertility problems of the tropical regions of the world is as simple as adding char-wood to our mulch and compost? Many scientists believe that its benefits are even far greater with the potential to halt and reverse anthropocentric climate change.
Success [in the replication of Terra Preta techniques] would reduce, or eliminate, the hunger being experienced by about 0.8 billion of the world’s population, most of whom are part of the 75% of the world’s population that live in tropical countries. Converting tropical cropland soils to terra preta would also reduce, or eliminate, the need for shifting cultivators – swidden agriculturists [commonly referred to as slash-and-burn farmers] – to abandon their cropland every three or so years and clear new patches of tropical forest. Success would also create an additional carbon sink large enough to hold all current and future anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions out to around the year 2100. Photosynthesis would draw atmospheric greenhouse gasses into tropical vegetation. Tropical farmers would incorporate such vegetation plus “char-wood” into their cropland soils to create terra preta where the half-life of such organic matter and “char-wood” would be increased to over 5000 years as compared to the normal half-life of 3-30 years. The result would be a large carbon sink. Farmers would be rewarded for their efforts by a doubling or tripling of their soil’s fertility. The net cost of the sink to mankind would be virtually zero. This sink could restore global mean surface temperature to that prior to start of melting of the Greenland ice cap and prior to the shrinking of the bulk of the world’s glaciers.” – http://www.home.windstream.net/bsundquist1/tpgw.html – read full article for a detailed breakdown on how this is possible

There is already is extensive production of wood-char in the region of the Amazon where Planet People Passion’s site is located, but the production is not in any way contributing to the health of the soil. Instead, in this area of the Amazon, most people are cooking with this bio-char. In fact in the city of Iquitos (60km away), nearly 400-500k people cook with his material.

Bags of Wood-char on the street of Iquitos being sold for cooking fuel.
The wood-char is produced in the rural areas, and then shipped to the city where it is burned for cooking. So, wood-char is being created as a commodity in itself without investing it back into the land. Largely because the high profit farmers make on wood-char exports relative to local agriculture profits (and frustrations), many of the farmers have transformed from “slash-and-burn” to “slash-and-char” but this char is not being put into the soil – it is being sold in the cities and exported. Therefore the forest is being cut and left bare and untended, with the small amount of soil previously maintained by the rainforest being washed away and eroded almost instantly.

We have always felt that there was a missing link in the production of wood-char. The missing link is the soil! Before, exploring the concepts of Terra Preta, we wanted nothing to do with it – but as Permaculture teaches us, the problem is the solution. Perhaps the system itself is backwards, could an effective process be to create wood-char in the process of cooking rather than use wood-char for cooking? Then this wood-char could be invested in the land for long-term profits rather than sold for short-term profits. Furthermore, how can we create systems of land management where wood-char production is integrated in a food-forest, where the materials required are sustainably harvest and also in a proportion and process that reduces atmospheric carbon rather than adding to it (since the production of wood char does release a certain amount of CO2 in the atmosphere when created).
Planet People Passion is exploring these questions and more in the development of their education site in Peru and in the Permaculture Design Certificate Course June 22 – July 6th lead by Andrew Jones. This course will be an exciting opportunity to be involved in the initial design planning of the site, which will be transforming degraded jungle land into an abundant food forest. In addition there will be a concentration on medicinal plants and the shamanic culture of the region.

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