Kick-start for Biochar Value Chain: Practical Guidelines for Producers Now Published

A brochure with practical guidelines for Namibians interested in producing biochar from encroacher bush was launched in Windhoek today. Biochar is considered a very promising product for Namibia. Farmers can use it to build their soil for future generations and producers can benefit from a growing international market.

The publication was developed through a technical working group consisting of the Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation (BCBU) project of MEFT/GIZ on behalf of the German Government, the NUST BUSH project as well as industry representatives from the Namibian Charcoal Association (NCA) and the Namibian Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG). GIZ supports the development of value chains from sustainable harvesting of encroacher bush.

Biochar is a form of black carbon that is similar to but also distinctly different from barbecue charcoal.

Biochar has a large inner surface and can take up water, nutrients, or toxins, like a sponge. It can be used to enhance soil quality in agricultural systems and fed to animals. Applying biochar into soils can fix carbon for thousands of years and help mitigate global climate change.

For a Namibian farmer, biochar can complement the production of animal feed and BBQ charcoal: Biochar is produced from fine and medium sized bush fractions, which are typically too big for bush-based animal fodder and too small for charcoal production.

Any type of woody bush species can be used. However, a special kiln is needed for the production, such as the Kon-Tiki kiln. This kiln is locally manufactured at low cost for small- and medium scale production.

At the launch, experts pointed out that now is the best time to start producing, so that the biochar is ready for soil application once the rainy season starts.

Dr. Ibo Zimmermann from NUST explained that a number of faculties are involved in research on biochar at the university. The engineering faculty runs a design project which includes kilns, crushing machinery and animal feeders. Testing facilities are being set-up and laboratory tests for biochar will be available at the faculty of health sciences.

Colin Lindeque, Managing Director, Carbon Capital gave insights into market potential. Agricultural use accounts for roughly half of the global market. Internationally, biochar is also used for water and air filtration, for electronics such as electromagnetic shields, in construction as insulation, in cosmetics, in textiles for adsorption or odour control, and in food, especially in health supplements. Biochar is also used to sequester carbon in soils to mitigate climate change.

“Experts expect a market growth of 12 to15 per cent per annum. However, these off-takers are looking for specialised and high-quality products. You need to have exactly the right product at the right price for the right market,” Lindeque explains. Domestic markets could include farmers growing grapes, blue berries, dates, livestock, dairy, or mushrooms.

A range of research and development projects are being implemented by the industry associations.

Progress Kashandula, General Manager of N-BiG explained the supporting research on the effects of biochar application on crop yield. Together with UNAM, N-BiG will also explore biochar as supplement in bush feed. Further testing of biochar will be done through agriculture extension services and in partnership with Namibia Charcoal Association.

NCA is also conducting tests as well as producing smaller Kon-Tiki kilns. “We will organise on-farm demonstrations in order to reach more farmers,” Michael Dége, NCA manager explains. “We are also preparing a biochar themed demonstration day at our charcoal village in Otjiwarongo.”

For semi-arid Namibia, experiencing regular droughts and extensive land degradation, biochar is promising. If applied as a soil enhancer, biochar helps local communities to adapt to climate change, increasing agricultural yields, and thereby strengthening rural incomes and food security. The brochure “Biochar from Namibian Encroacher Bush – Practical Guidelines for Producers” introduces the product and the production process, gives insights into biochar use for soil enhancement, and as a feed additive, explores marketing options, and lists relevant contacts. It is available at the GIZ BCBU and N-BiG/ DAS office in Windhoek and is online here.

©GIZ Tim Brunauer

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