News and knowhow for farmers

Make Biochar, increase your yields 5X, and enter our Sh5,000 Biochar competition

Biochar increases the fertility and water retention of soils for thousands of years, delivering immediate five-fold increases in yields and removing the need for fertiliser. It is also simple to make, which is why FarmBizAfrica is offering prizes for your Biochar-making videos as well as helping improve your farm yield and income for years to come. 

In the Amazon in South America, farmers added biochar to soil more than 2,000 years ago, creating strips of soil called Terra Preta that are still highly fertile today, compared with very poor soils around them.

In Kenya, farm trials in Kwale recently saw maize yields jump from ten 90kg bags per hectare to 49 bags per hectare after adding biochar, while a mass of studies, some of which are given below, show biochar increases water retention, plants’ resistance to diseases, and a host of other gains.

To make your biochar, dig a pit trench of any size, fill it with old stems and leaves, chicken droppings, and any husks or other waste from your plot. Light it at the top (if you light it from the bottom, it will make masses of smoke and reduce your quantity of biochar). 

When it has slowly burned through to the bottom and everything has reduced and turned black – which can take from minutes to hours, depending on how dry your waste stems are – pour water over the entire fire remains and trench, or cover it with soil until it has stopped burning and gone cold.

When the remains are cold, mix them, half and half, with manure and compost – you can even add bits of old bones and broken pottery, which also improve it.

Let it sit for two weeks, and then dig it into your soil. Ideally, you can dig it in at up to 2 meters deep, add some soil back, then another layer of your biochar mix, then more soil, all the way up to the surface.

If you take a video of each step and send it to us, we will choose the three best videos, and run a reader’s vote on them to choose the best, which will get a Sh5,000 prize, while the two runners-up will get Sh1,000 each, on top of all the extra farm earnings ahead.

Our competition runs until 15th April 2024.

If you also want to know more about the science of just how much difference it will make to your farm, here are some extra links too:

  1. Crop yields– Kwale maize yields increased five-fold
  2. Soil fertility– Biochar improves soil quality by increasing soil pH, its moisture-holding capacity, carbon exchange, phosphorous, nitrogen, beneficial microbes, and minerals – ammonium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium- crucial to the supply of nutrients to plants.
  3. Reduced soil acidity– Biochar decreases soil acidity by up to 95 per cent with liming potential that enhances soil fertility and productivity in acid soils.
  4. Water retention and drainage – Biochar increases available water in soils by up to 45%increasing the water retained during rains and the gradual release of water to plants in droughts
  5. Plant disease resistance – Biochar stimulates plants’ defenses against diseases.
  6. Absorption of pollutants– even a minimum application rate (0.1%) of biochar in soils absorbs organic pollutants, decreasing their uptake by plants, and reducing the accumulation of organic contaminants and pesticides in plants.
  7. Capturing carbon– Biochar removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, slowing global warming and climate change,  with the potential to reduce human-made CO2 emissions by 12% by 2050, by storing up to 2 bn tonnes of carbon dioxide a year

To enter our biochar-making competition:

  1. Follow our biochar-making instructions
  2. Record yourself making the biochar
  3. Send us the video, as a link or attachment, to [email protected]

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