Re: Disseminating Cost Effective Biochar Solutions to Hunger #hunger #africa

Hope springs eternal.

I can only ask what the motivations are.

I would appreciate it if you could send contact information for these folks of the hands-on persuasion. Best by email.

Like you, we are struggling to find a workable lever with which to move funders. Realistically, there are three problems. All the data to the contrary, most refuse to believe that something as simple as biochar can help. (The new version of this is the 'moral hazard' argument that contends that we are on the cusp of a revolutionary transformation of the poorest and that biochar would slow progress by diverting attention and relieving pressure.) Second, they are understandably not interested in funding small projects. (Here we desperately need to be able to collaborate with others to be able to submit multi-million dollar projects to, for example, cover all of Malawi, not merely the South.) Third, they have never heard of us and to them our credentials at the grassroots mean nothing. Add to all of these the apparently inherent bias for science over extension, and we, too, struggle.

Perhaps the most important consequence of the unavailability of free money has been that Warm Heart has been driven from the start to find sustainable, social enterprise solutions. Here in Thailand, after years we have finally reached a level of demand for biochar products that is generating profits and new company start ups. Since this will need to be achieved everywhere in the developing world if biochar is to spread, we pretend that all is for the best as we are simply being pushed to achieve sustainability faster.

Which does not mean that we would not love to have some seed funding. (There's much to be said for bootstrapping, mainly by people who have not done it.)

We are currently hoping to develop a project in Sierra Leone that started when the local head of a start-up seed company came to me through the website. It looked very promising based on Min. Ag. reception, but we were then told that like all development projects in Sierra Leone, it would have to be approved by the UN or WB. Almost certainly DOA or will be in ten years when they return it for revisions.

In South Africa, I think that our plans are more promising. That project will be entirely private. Once established, the hope is also to win the CSR support of a mining company that has corn supply needs.

Ghana is a serious sticking point. As the darling of the IOs and the big privates such as GIZ, there's not much room for us, whatever the obvious need. Kwame has a good food security project for AID, but our prospects there are, as always, vanishingly small.

And then there is the dynamic duo of Kenya and Malawi. They have reached the end of what they can do with volunteers only. I have spent the last few weeks developing small business plans for them. I will admit, however, that this makes me feel crappy. After all, I am trying to get them to start businesses to make the money to support themselves while training biochar for Warm Heart - for nothing. I know only too well that the world's not fair, but at times I gross even myself out.


On Sun, Jan 19, 2020, 3:17 AM Tom Miles <tmiles@...> wrote:



Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Central and South America all have major food security challenges now and for the future. Cost effective biochar solutions to hunger have been clearly demonstrated by you (Warmheart in Thailand, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi), Hans Peter Schmidt (Ithaka in Nepal and elsewhere) members of the Biochar for Sustainable Soils Team (Ruy Anaya, Stephen Joseph, Brenton Ladd – Peru) and others. In many cases these agents of change have continued the good work in the same and other areas but are not well known. Ruy, who managed the project, continues the work in the Pacific Islands – Vanuatu. As you point out it has been challenging to get support to disseminate the biochar techniques to those in need. When my friend who has long experience in development projects Malawi visited your project in Zomba he concluded that,  “It is wonderful to have simple, positive results from an affordable biochar process benefiting people who deserve it.” But he has been unsuccessful in getting donor agencies to support expanding the project. Just developing the proposals takes funding. For example, the B4SS project took three years of proposal development and review before the received funding for the five year project. We need to find more effective ways of funding the education and outreach activities so that we can get work done on the ground. At IBI we have spent two years meeting with major donor agencies and NGOs in Africa attempting to develop proposals to fund projects.


Techniques deployed by the successful projects tend to be similar. Biochars are made from a variety of feedstocks using low cost TLUDs, pit kilns, and flame cap kilns like Kon Tikis. Small quantities of biochars are combined with nutrient sources such as manures, urine, or compost, and strategically applied when seeding, or before. You can’t beat the cost benefit. In your projects smallholders in Malawi can pay cash for 25kg of synthetic fertilizer or they can make their own biochar-manure mix of 50-70kg and get healthier soil, better yields, less water, and healthier animals. “Mixing the char with manure, they have been able to double crop yields and cut water requirements by four. A local vet has also demonstrated that char in animal feed reduces illnesses and improves weight gain/egg and milk production. The project has now reached more than 2500  farmers in Malawi at a total cost of $2,000 and a lot of volunteer effort.”   


IBI and the African Biochar Partnership have been attempting to network research, policy/funding (Government and NGOs), and users in African countries. We are beginning to inspire productive collaborations but getting the outreach and extension organizations on the ground to incorporate simple biochar solutions into their existing programs has been a huge challenge. It has been encouraging to see private companies like Seedballs Kenya and Safi Organics (Kenya) promoting biochar based solutions.   


Let’s find ways to disseminate simple, practical, cost effective biochar solutions to solve real hunger challenges instead of using developing countries as a laboratory.




From: <> On Behalf Of d.michael.shafer@...
Sent: Friday, January 17, 2020 11:31 PM
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Tom Miles is forwarding an email to you




This project has been on my radar for some time, although they apparently have been too busy to answer their email.


Reading this summary of their work is enlightening in good and bad ways. On the plus side, it is nice to know that the UN wallahs have found the biochar can help with a number of big problems. It is also good to hear that several scientific papers, reports and conferences were generated by this multi-year, costly effort.


On the other hand, what is really striking to me is that while the Ethiopian results are the same as those of the Warm Heart Ghana, plant-to-plant tests (40% yield increases), no attention seems to have been paid to extension. I have a younger brother and sister from Ethiopia, both of whom spend considerable time in-country, and neither were aware of this project. Likewise, in Kenya, we run 5 biochar training centers and collaborate with Kiisumu University. None of us have heard mention of this project from farmers.


Our concern is, or rather, continues to be, that the developed world scientific, funding and governing bodies are more interested in biochar as a technical "problem" than as a worldly solution (and, yes, I do understand that biochar is highly complex). But there is more at play here than just the continued ignoring of the global poor. My team members response to this summary sums up a feeling that is, I think, fairly wide spread in rural Africa, "They don't care about us. We are just here to do the digging for their research."


My team members and the farmers they work with are, of course, way too poor to speak up or to refuse the work when offered, but the bitterness is tangible, as is the talk about what the colonialists at least offered in return.


None of this will make any difference and I know that I am becoming a caricature grumpy old man on this theme, but really. The only good thing to say about the whole mess is that it makes my work so much easier!




Dr. D. Michael Shafer
Founder and Director, Warm Heart

+1 732-745-9295 | +66 (0)85 199-2958 | d.michael.shafer@... | Skype: live:d.michael.shafer53

61 M.8 T.Maepang A.Phrao 50190 Chiang Mai Thailand




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On Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 10:16 AM Tom Miles <tmiles@...> wrote:

Hi Biochar Discussion,

Tom Miles thought you'd be interested in this:

Tom Miles also included this personal message to you:

All, please review the final reports from the highly productive Biochar for Sustainable Soils project, especially the Best Practice Guidelines. Let’s build on this successful project.

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