Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils

by Camino Verde
Vetted
Dec 13, 2012

Terra Preta: An Amazonian Tradition

Dear friends,

In previous reports for the "Turning carbon footprints into healthy soils" project weve talked about the whys and the hows of charcoal being used to improve soil fertility.  Soil charcoal, or "biochar," is a win-win: improving soil for farmers and locking in greenhouse CO2 for thousands of years. 

But where does soil charcoal come from?

Curiously, from our very own backyard here at Camino Verde: the depths of the Amazon rainforest.  In fact, a big part of what inspired us to begin working with biochar is the legacy of soil charcoal in the Amazon basin.  We were fascinated to learn that for hundreds, probably thousands of years, indigenous people of the Amazon have used charcoal as a soil ammendment, knowing full well what its taken modern scientists decades to unravel.

Terra preta (Portuguese for "black earth") has been created by various Amazonian tribes for millenia.  Mixing compost, broken ceramics, and charcoal into the soil, the indigenous technology of terra preta has allowed for intensive agriculture in the notoriously fragile soils of the Amazon region.  Early reports by exploring Spaniards mentioned huge cities throughout the rainforest, including the El Dorado of the conquistadors imagination.  Many modern researchers believe these reports of Amazonian civilization are in fact very real.  And that terra preta is crucial to understanding how the Amazons soils could have supported the intensive agriculture critical to maintaining a civilization.

Incredibly, terra preta soils created in the Amazon by indigenous people thousands of years ago continue to be fertile and productive.  Many documented cases show modern Amazonians selling the rich black soil to plant nurseries and gardening companies, "mining" their "black gold."  Others keep it in the ground and produce year after year of bountiful crops-- a feat unheard of in the Amazon, where soils are often left to rest for fifteen years between crops. 

Even more recently, terra preta has been suggested as an important strategy for soil conservation and improvement throughout the tropics.  Projects have sprouted up using biochar around the world.  Camino Verdes is one of many efforts to bring back a prehistoric technology that just might help save the world.

Improving soils through sustainable means is an Amazonian tradition with ancient roots.  Were proud to be a part of furthering that tradition.  And were grateful for your support in making it happen.

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Organization Information

Camino Verde

Location: Concord, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.caminoverde.org
Project Leader:
Robin Van Loon
Concord, MA Peru

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