Mar 3, 2017

Breaking ground and groundbreaking Biochar

What is biochar?

Something you’ve never heard of could save the world.  So what in the heck is “biochar” anyway?

When I first started researching and then writing about biochar – the agricultural use of charcoal – the resources were few and mainstream exposure to the idea almost nil.  Fast forward to 2017, and you can watch no fewer than a half dozen TED talks on biochar – touted as a profound game changer, and something you may very well never have heard of. 

The astronomical rise of innovation and practice in biochar is extremely gratifying to see – it’s not always that obscure, sensical answers to deep problems are able to surface productively of their own viral accord.  And yet today it seems that biochar has indeed broken out.  You can watch hours of careful explanations of why biochar works and why it matters by leading experts – probably a better option than trawling our past GlobalGiving reports for morsels of understanding.

Thank goodness: biochar has hit the big time. 

We’re celebrating the crossover in the most appropriate fashion – by breaking ground on our region’s very first Adam Retort, an environmentally sound charcoal production oven.  Starting now, the dedicated team of farmers and foresters that is Camino Verde will be producing more and cleaner charcoal to feed our reforestation efforts. That’s right, charcoal goes with tree planting, from the pots holding over 100 species in our native tree nursery to the acres and acres of reforestation we manage. 

Now, if you’ve spent these first few paragraphs repeating the question I asked at the start – “so what is this stuff anyway?” – don’t worry, the TED talks aren’t your only solution. Here’s biochar distilled down to 30 seconds.  

Ancient Amazonian Indians turned compost and charcoal into their fields and in so doing achieved perhaps the greatest longevity of soil fertility ever known to man.  Charcoal improves soil for farming over the long term, not just for one season.  And it’s also an amazing carbon sink – the CO2 captured by plants is held in a stable form for over a millennium when those plants are pyrolyzed, or turned to charcoal.  The whole process – growing plants, charring them, incorporating the resulting char into the soil – acts as a carbon pump a million times more efficient than high tech solutions meant to sequester carbon by other means.  

In times like ours, with atmospheric carbon rising apace with the thermometer’s mercury, biochar is nothing short of a miracle.  

As we lay the foundation for our first Adam Retort – thanks to your support – we look forward to taking on a more active role in the global research and implementation of biochar.  Research: to find out exactly how much carbon is captured in the charcoal produced from different plant species, to accurately measure and literally weigh our impact.  Implementation: to expose Amazonian farmers to the benefits of a technology piloted by their ancestors and provide a powerful low-cost soil amendment that really works. 

Together, we’re taking back the air. Thank you for your support of Camino Verde’s Amazon community ecology outreach work and biochar innovation.  It’s our honor to sink carbon in your name. 

Biochar is used in the soil mix at our nursery!
Biochar is used in the soil mix at our nursery!
Nov 28, 2016

Amazing opportunity with the Gates Foundation!

CV researcher Olivia Revilla in the veggie garden
CV researcher Olivia Revilla in the veggie garden

Dear Friends of Camino Verde,

I'm writing because tomorrow, Tuesday we have a unique opportunity to help restore the world's forests with Camino Verde. If you have a dollar to give, we'll get a buck fifty, thanks to the Gates Foundation.

What is it?  It's the biggest matching bonus day ever on GlobalGiving, where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given half a million dollars in matching funds available for one day only. Any donations received on Tuesday, November 29th will be matched at 50%. So you give $100, we get $150.  This is the link to donate.

Matching funds kick in right when Tuesday, November 29th begins – tonight at 12:01 am midnight when Monday ends. Whatever the time of day you're able to be online tomorrow, Tuesday, please take advantage of this great opportunity to hit up the Gates Foundation for matching funds.  There will even be prizes given out to organizations with the most donations. Please share with friends!

If you’re thinking of a year-end contribution to Camino Verde and would like to maximize its impact, this is the way to do it.  Here's our project page on GlobalGiving, where you'll be able to donate on Tuesday: 

https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/cv-1000-trees-a-year-1000-acres-of-rainforest-forever/

Camino Verde is a small organization that leverages our resources to make a great impact in the restoration of the Amazon. This Bonus Day is also a chance to make a little go a long way.  If you only donate once this year, please make it Tuesday.  And please forward this to a friend who might be interested in contributing to the effort to regenerate the Amazon. 

And now on to our regularly scheduled report...

When is a forest a forest? (and when is it a plantation?)

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the amiable representative of an institutional investors' group that had a stake in a reforestation scheme in Madre de Dios, the region of the Peruvian Amazon that is arguably the world's greatest remaining treasure in terms of a relatively intact, relatively large area of tropical forest. The investors were turning their money into teak trees, which will turn into more money. They had reason to be confident about this: teak is one of the most valuable timbers in the world and its growth and reforestation are ubiquitous in a number of areas of the tropics, including Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Teak is so popular as a species for commercial reforestation it part because it's timber is highly valuable and in part because its growth rate is known – investors know what to expect for their ROI.  Similarly, known quantities for species of pine and eucalyptus encourage the reforestation of these exotic trees on a grand scale, while many native trees remain poorly studied and little planted.

While it's hard to expect an investor to take a wild leap of faith – and reforestation is already a risky business – it's also somewhat unconscionable that the greatest impediment to massive restoration of native tree species around the world is our ignorance about how they grow.  We don't know what Return on Investment to expect, and therefore we leave these trees to the side. Unfortunate, as many of the native trees are highly valuable and in some cases can give the exotics a run for their money.

Take Amazonian ironwood, Dipteryx micrantha, a tree whose eligibility as an endangered species was recently questioned by a timber interest group mainly because they wanted to keep logging it. This emergent rainforest giant is the preferred nesting place of the harpy eagle, the world's most powerful raptor and as such an obvious conservation target. Somewhat surprisingly for a tree with wood so dense, the ironwood grows quite quickly, showing amazing vertical gain even without lateral competition for light, a property that makes it well-suited for inclusion in agro-forestry systems.

If it's true that the key ingredient missing for more reforestation of native species is more knowledge, the Peruvian Amazon's own organization, Camino Verde, is working to bridge the gap with an ever-growing body of research about the performance of over 300 native tree species.  With 2 forestry nurseries producing more than 100 species of trees a year, it is our small team's mission to push the agenda of native species restoration throughout the Peruvian Amazon and beyonod. 

Camino Verde's forest nursery manager Manuel Huinga shares, "There are tree species that when I was growing up were abundant, and now are found only deeper and deeper in the forest.  It's our work to find the seed-bearing trees and propagate more of these species that will be extinguished without our intervention.  Many of these trees grow surprisingly well, making us question why we always prefer the exotics.  If we have all the facts, native species will be able to speak for themselves."

Our nursery is a living commitment to giving native trees – fruits, medicines, timbers, and more – the chance to speak for themselves. The chance for ecologically restorative strategies to demonstrate their value. This year our nurseries will produce 20,000 seedlings representing 120 species. Next year, we hope to do more.

We couldn't do any of this without your support. And tomorrow your support will count extra. If you plan to donate any time this year, please Donate tomorrow

Thanks so much for your interest and support!

Manuel Huinga and co. at the La Joya Nursery
Manuel Huinga and co. at the La Joya Nursery
Nursery workers Elvis and Percy at La Joya Nursery
Nursery workers Elvis and Percy at La Joya Nursery
Eating pineapple at the nursery
Eating pineapple at the nursery
Nov 28, 2016

Incredible opportunity with the Gates Foundation

Camino Verde staff at our new nursery
Camino Verde staff at our new nursery

Dear Friends of Camino Verde,

I'm writing because Tuesday is a unique opportunity to help restore the world's forests with Camino Verde. If you have a dollar to give, we'll get a buck fifty, thanks to the Gates Foundation.

What is it?  It's the biggest matching bonus day ever on GlobalGiving, where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given half a million dollars in matching funds available for one day only. Any donations received on Tuesday, November 29th will be matched at 50%. So you give $100, we get $150.  This is the link to donate.

Matching funds kick in right when Tuesday, November 29th begins – at 12:01 am midnight when Monday ends. Whatever the time of day you're able to be online on Tuesday, please take advantage of this great opportunity to hit up the Gates Foundation for matching funds.  There will even be prizes given out to organizations with the most donations. Please share with friends!

If you’re thinking of a year-end contribution to Camino Verde and would like to maximize its impact, this is the way to do it.  Here's our project page on GlobalGiving, where you'll be able to donate on Tuesday: 

https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/turning-carbon-footprints-into-healthy-soils/

Camino Verde is a small organization that leverages our resources to make a great impact in the restoration of the Amazon. This Bonus Day is also a chance to make a little go a long way.  If you only donate once this year, please make it Tuesday.  And please forward this to a friend who might be interested in contributing to the effort to regenerate the Amazon. 

And now on to our regularly scheduled report...

I recently had a chance to walk under the hot Amazonian sun with Manuel Huinga, the manager of a unique tree nursery in the Southern Peruvian Amazon. Camino Verde's second tree nursery in the region, the La Joya nursery has been in existence for a couple of months, but is already home to dozens of species of seedlings.  Different sizes and shapes of leaves compete for our attention as Manuel points out the names and uses of trees rarely planted anywhere. 

The La Joya nursery is unique in many ways. Its list of native species propagated will hit 100 this year. And it's managed through entirely organic means. In 2017, new nursery equipment will be installed, including a bio-digestor to make organic probiotic fertilizers. Also to be built – and here's the part that interests us – is an Adam Retort for the production of bio-char.  You may remember reading about this charcoal-producing technology in our previous reports. It allows for the clean production of high quality charcoal, that when mixed with the bio-fertilizers becomes a potent ammendment for soil in nursery and farm alike. 

Bio-char is attractive as a soil ammendment because it helps hold nutrients in the soil. It's also of interest as part of soil remediation packages applicable to the rehabilitation of polluted, contaminate sites. In Madre de Dios, gold mining leaves a wake of soils contaminated with heavy metals and petroleum products.  This year we'll partner with the team of scientists from Wake Forest University to include bio-char in restoration and remediation strategies likely to have a regional impact.  It's just one more way bio-char and Camino Verde contribute to ecological regeneration. 

We couldn't do any of this without your support. And tomorrow your support will count extra. If you plan to donate any time this year, please Donate tomorrow

Thanks so much for your help and support!

Manuel and a seedling of Salix humboldtiana
Manuel and a seedling of Salix humboldtiana
Manuel with nursery staff Elvis (left) and Percy
Manuel with nursery staff Elvis (left) and Percy
Manuel and Elvis in the nursery
Manuel and Elvis in the nursery
One of the nursery modules
One of the nursery modules
 
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