Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils

 
$12,413
$12,587
Raised
Remaining
Charcoal production in rural Uganda
Charcoal production in rural Uganda

Dear Friends,

I recently had the great fortune to visit Uganda, a very different landscape and climate from our home site in the Peruvian Amazon.  What brought me there was the opportunity to help develop a community reforestation project, and the trip was a great success.  Native Seeds is poised to be one of the most important native species reforestation initiatives in northern Uganda.  It was humbling and inspiring to get to join Wise Women of Uganda-- a community-based organization of women traditional healers-- in developing an ecologically and culturally vital action plan. Apwoyo matek!  

To my surprise, the visit was also a chance to see firsthand an unlikely connection to bio-char.  With essentially all Ugandans relying on firewood and charcoal for their home cooking, a bustling charcoal trade was visible everywhere I went.  Unfortunately, the pressure on trees and the resulting ecological degradation from over-harvesting of available wood was frankly scary.  I was encouraged to hear from young and old alike that there's an awareness of the need for reforestation, but it was also obvious that much action is needed to achieve energy sustainability in Uganda.

One way to help secure people's very real energy needs in the future is through improved charcoal production that makes more efficient use of wood and produces more charcoal pound for pound.  One of the best ways to do that is by using an Adam Retort charcoal oven like the one that I've described in previous reports for making bio-char as a soil ammendment.  Although Ugandan charcoal production is outside the realm of this Amazonian project, don't be surprised if you see a new page up on GlobalGiving in the near future.  Besides, all the residue and debris leftover from fuel charcoal production can be used as bio-char!

Meanwhile, it's great to be back home in the Peruvian Amazon.  I'm grateful for your support and interest in our work.  Thanks for helping create a greener future.

Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers
Wise Women of Uganda - traditional healers' co-op
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
Julian Moll-Rocek with an African mahogany
A shea tree, threatened by charcoal production
A shea tree, threatened by charcoal production
Low quality charcoal is the norm
Low quality charcoal is the norm
Seeds of native trees of Mpango, Uganda
Seeds of native trees of Mpango, Uganda
Distilling essential oil in Tambopata, Peru
Distilling essential oil in Tambopata, Peru

Dear friends,

Recently I read that here in the Peruvian Amazon, an illegal thousand-hectare oil palm plantation was detected in satellite images.  (You can read the article here.) Oil palm plantations mean deforestation and tremendous biodiversity loss in many areas of southeast Asia, and the news of their arrival to Peru is a scary omen.  Alarmingly, it's estimated that in Peru over 13,000 hectares of rainforest have been leveled for oil palm so far.  

Grappling with problems of this magnitude can feel hopeless, and I've seen many activist friends grow embittered through years of "tenuous, temporary victories and permanent defeats" (as one of them described the environmentalist's predicament).  Especially at a time of year when we've recently honored the power of gratitude, it feels important to focus not on what's wrong, but rather on the possibility of doing something about it.

But back to the oil palm plantation nightmare.  With the brainstorming energy of several allies, and in keeping with the permaculture maxim that the problem is the solution, we sought out an alternative vision to the oil palm monoculture; the result is what we've been calling an oil polyculture.  Think of a forest rather than a plantation-- native trees that branch out to meet ecological goals as well as diverse and reliable productivity in order to provide decent livelihood for the human caretakers of the system-- in this case, farmers rather than plantation hands.  

The oil polyculture we envision includes over 20 species of trees providing a diverse range of edible, medicinal, and aromatic oils.  Remember rosewood?  Think of those richly perfumed trees interplanted with cacao, native palms, brazil nuts, and more.  The seedlings that make up the first 2-hectare oil polyculture demonstration site are literally on the boat right now on their way to our reforestation center.  We are celebrating the holidays and the coming of our rainy season by planting over 2500 trees in the next two months.  This first model plot will pave the way to planting the oil polyculture with participating farmers in coming years.  Can you tell I'm excited?

This is a time of great productivity and growth-- and is also a time when organizations like ours receive the great majority of our funding.  It's my pleasure to share some of our many advances and to reach out to our supporters and friends to ask that you include us in your holiday giving this year.  Plant a tree (or ten) in honor of a loved one and help us keep the Peruvian Amazon diverse and resilient. 

And now, for a limited time, donate $30 or more and get a Camino Verde t-shirt, or donate $50 to receive a dram of our completely unique Amazonian essential oil of moena alcanforada, distilled on site at our reforestation center-- the only source in the world of this essential oil. 

Thank you for helping us grow!  Warm greetings from Tambopata,

Oenocarpus mapora- an "oily" palm
Oenocarpus mapora- an "oily" palm
Our essential oil
Our essential oil
Vanilla in flower
Vanilla in flower
The Camino Verde team in Tambopata
The Camino Verde team in Tambopata

Dear Friends,

I mentioned in my last report how we'd identified what we believe is our best option for creating bio-char-- charcoal that improves soils for farmers while locking the CO2 stored by plants into a stable molecular structure that doesn't re-release the carbon.  Excitement about bio-char's potential is evident everywhere on the internet, in the world, and in the Peruvian Amazon we call home.  

That "best option" for making bio-char is the Adam Retort-- an oven or kiln designed by appropriate technologist Chris Adam-- which turns a great variety of raw materials into agriculturally useful charcoal.  I've had the pleasure of being in touch with Dr. Adam, and he's shared some of the exciting success stories of the Adam Retort around the world.  I'm including here several of the photos he sent me from projects in many different countries.  

We're excited to bring the Adam Retort to Madre de Dios, Peru, where abundant biomass will ensure an ongoing source of raw material.  Turning debris and industrial wastes like sawdust and brazil nut shells into charcoal is a win-win-- otherwise discarded or burnt (combusted) materials such as these represent an environmental problem.  As bio-char, these "waste" products become black gold.

You'll notice that interspersed with the photos of Adam Retorts from many continents are photos of the Camino Verde team in Peru flashing our new t-shirts!  Made in Peru of pima cotton, an ancient Peruvian heirloom variety, these shirts represent a tangible commitment to climate change: the tree you wear on your chest is a tree that we plant together in the Amazon.  Donate $30 or more and receive a Camino Verde t-shirt today.  (And yes, women's shirts are cut differently than the men's-- our female team members made sure of it.)

I'm excited as always to share with you our progress, and thankful for your support.  Together we're building a greener future for the Amazon, one tree at a time. 

An Adam Retort in Slovakia
An Adam Retort in Slovakia
Friends of CV
Friends of CV
An Adam Retort in Sweden
An Adam Retort in Sweden
Staffer don Juan and son
Staffer don Juan and son
Bio-char produced in Palestine
Bio-char produced in Palestine
Tree seedlings with biochar soil substrate
Tree seedlings with biochar soil substrate

Dear friends,

The first phase of our bio-char project, Turning carbon footprints into healthy soil, has been successfully funded, and successfully completed!  If you've had a chance to look at past project reports, you have a sense of what the impact potential for using charcoal agriculturally can be.

So in honor of hitting our first fundraising milestone of $10,000 (Thank You!), here's a bit about where we're at and where we came from...

1. Bio-char test plots-- We've planted several test plots of bio-char enriched soils in order to show proof of concept at a regional level and expose our farmer neighbors to the potential of bio-char.  Familiar Amazonian crops like corn and yuca (cassava) have been given the bio-char treatment with glowing results in even the most degraded soils.

2. Establishment of bio-char material "forests"-- Because bio-char is literally charred biomass, we've taken great strides to establishing sources of raw material as future char input so that we will be able to produce bio-char without affecting wild forests or biomass better left untouched.  After extensive research in the literature, we opted for bamboo as the ultimate bio-char source material-- fast growing, infinitely renewable, and secuesters more CO2 per kilo than even hardwood trees.  Additionally, our chosen local bamboo varieties are clumping types, meaning no worries about invasive runner roots taking over the neighbors' yard.  We have planted thousands of bamboo clumps, now over a year old and beginning to thrive in production of mature shoots (see photo below).

3. Research in input materials-- In addition to planting bio-char input forests of bamboo, we've identified additional sources of raw material for the production of bio-char: materials that would otherwise be burnt or dumped in rivers such as sawdust from the region's many sawmills and brazil nut shells left as a waste product from the significant brazil nut processing facilities in our region.  We've found over a dozen partners willing to provide us with these otherwise-would-be-trash source materials.

4. Research into bio-char best practices for our region of the Amazon-- There are many different ways to produce charcoal, and not all are created equal.  For example, some new technologies release 75% less methane than traditional charcoal-making techniques.  After extensive research in the literature, we've opted for our favorite bio-char production system: the Adam Retort charcoal oven.  The Adam Retort makes using a variety of materials simple, and the "retort" part means the oven is self-fueling, reducing waste and combustion of input materials.  The next chapter of this project will involve the actual construction of our first Adam Retort oven.  Future community ovens to come!

We are so grateful for your help in creating charcoal that has secuestered over 40 metric tons of carbon so far, and in so doing improving and enriching fragile Amazonian soils.

Warm greetings from the Peruvian Amazon,

Amazonian farm products can be grown with biochar
Amazonian farm products can be grown with biochar
Fragile and degraded soils of Amazonia
Fragile and degraded soils of Amazonia
Crops grown with biochar in soils
Crops grown with biochar in soils
Bamboo grown for charring
Bamboo grown for charring
a scarlet macaw at Camino Verde
a scarlet macaw at Camino Verde

There are few spectacles as visibly transformative as the rainy season in the Amazon.  In our home in Tambopata, Peru, intense rains can change the course of rivers and alter landscapes literally overnight.  These last few months have brought the most potent rainy season in the last half a century to our area, and the feeling of transformation is still palpable.  The highest river rise in 50 years has changed the face of Tambopata, part of the extraordinary cycle of life and death that is ongoing in the rainforest. 

But currently there are other winds of transformation in our area as well.  Illegal gold miners in our Madre de Dios region have taken to the streets of the department's capital of Puerto Maldonado, demanding the government make laws more lenient and permissive to their mercury-heavy and ecologically heavy-handed gold mining.  The current laws are poorly enforced, and are somewhat cursory in their ecological protections.  As I write, our city is paralyzed by a miners' strike that has closed schools and access routes and shut down all commerce.  In the uncertain scales of environmental justice balance the needs of thousands of working men and women in the mining zones, and the ecological integrity of one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth.

For us at Camino Verde, there is a remarkable feeling of calm through these storms.  Our business is planting trees and conserving forests, and happily things are business as usual at our center.  One of the most effective and efficient teams of reforestation and agroforestry workers in our region is actively restoring degraded ecosystems and helping keep the green lung of our planet green.

Even so, the river rise meant that several hundred of our trees were killed by these rare water levels.  A lesson well learned-- to replant the affected areas with water-loving trees, but we need your help to do that.  We are seeking support from our donors now in order to bounce back from our losses, small in comparison to so many of the farmers in our region who lost whole fields of crops to the river.  Please help us in this work alongside our region´s farmers, to plant trees resilient to the wildly varying conditions of our region.

Despite the intensity of this time of year for reasons ecological and social, as ever I'm filled with a sense of gratitude for the life of the forests of the Amazon.  Recently I had a chance to greet a unique visitor to our reforestation center, a scarlet macaw who came to land outside our kitchen and was even willing to grab onto my hand.  The astonishing gifts of life are with us always.

Warm greetings from Tambopata,

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Organization

Camino Verde

Concord, MA, United States
http://www.caminoverde.org

Project Leader

Robin Van Loon

Concord, MA Peru

Where is this project located?

Map of Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils