Biochar, a charcoal used as a soil amendment. It is a stable solid, rich in carbon, and can endure in soil for thousands of years. This is what Wikipedia says about this remarkable material.
Soil improvement is always a concern for farming and food production with declining soil productivity. Other points of concern are increased deforestation and ozone layer depletion due to the consistent increase in the use of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas).
Biochar has secondary advantages to reduce deforestation, reduce health impacts through reduction of smoke and environmental emissions. It also helps to save money, reduce or eliminate the collection time for cooking fuels and improve cooking satisfaction.
High agricultural productivities and the quest to produce more for consumption and sales have been made possible only by a large number of energy inputs, especially those from fossil fuels. It is worthy of note that a powerful form of energy called biomass could be derived directly or indirectly from these biological sources. What then are the terms Biomass and Bio-char?
What is Biochar?
Biochar is a form of charcoal that is produced by exposing organic waste matter such as wood chips and crop residue to heat in a low-oxygen environment. The word “biochar” is a combination of “bio” as in “biomass” and “char” as in “charcoal”.
Biomass is a term for biological mass, thus the quantity of living or dead material provided by a given area of the earth’s surface. You can get it through a wide range of farm residues like maize husks, sawdust, leaves of trees etc.
Benefits of Biochar for Soil Health and Crops
Amending soil with biochar is modelled after a process that began thousands of years ago where islands of rich fertile soils called terra preta which means dark earth was created by the natives of Brazil and the Amazon forests.
Having said that let us look at the benefits the soil and the farmer can get from biochar:
Persistency in the soil
Biochar is more prolonged or attached to the soil than any form of organic matter commonly applied to the soil. When added to the soil, it does not break down like other organic soil amendments and so it is able to resist chemical and microbial degradation especially when planted along seeds.
Holds moisture and nutrients
Some farmers have renamed biochar as the soil’s best friend, why? Because it is hygroscopic. When added to the soil, it is able to attract and hold moisture, nutrients and agrochemicals. It even retains nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil, thus reducing leaching.
Increases soil fertility
We know biochar to increase soil fertility of acidic soils (low pH soils) thereby increasing agricultural productivity and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne diseases.
Enhanced crop yields
When added to the soil, it improves plant growth and increases food production and sustainability in areas with depleted soils, limited organic resources, insufficient water and access to agrochemical fertilizers.
Biochar with all the benefits is the material farmers need to pay attention to. Next, we shall bring you how to prepare it.