We are currently doing Biochar field trails at some regenerative natural farms in Andhra Pradesh.

We conduct field trials and act as a channel partner for connecting biochar-producing startups with potential customers.

Wanted to share the link to the album with pictures from this season’s groundnut trail. Hoping it’s relevant to the junta here.

  • tejas
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@abhishektiwari relevant for playbooks?

Absolutely! Have been stumbling over biochar from various sides of the natural farming puzzle.

Will try to list my limited and jumpy/incorrect understanding to why biochar based interventions find their way into the playbooks of many indigenous cultures.

Let us say one finds themselves on a small island and one is responsible for food production. Eventually, questions like these come up - How many people can we support here? What are the limits to the limits of carrying capacity here? How could we do more with what we have?

There can be a thousand tricks sold to the farming incharge on the island but as one zooms out and looks at this from an energy lens, the solutions fall into two buckets:

  1. Borrowed productivity.
  2. Real increases in true productivity.

Most solutions fall into #1 given surplus of trade, transport and economics. It is much much easier and faster to just “get the mulch, fertilizers, biochar, energy” from somewhere and put it in the field. As Nate Hagens points out - modern agriculture dumps 1000 calories/sqft in the field(in terms of tractors, fertilizers, water) to get 100 calories back(in terms of tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons). But against the slow, natural process, this trade based technology wins because nature could only gather 10 calories worth in the same time window.

But if we scale this magic to the state or nation scale, the math starts to tear apart. By some estimates, our fertilizer subsidy as a country was below 50k crore few years back but now has crossed few lakh crores. One can borrow mulch from the market for ones’ permaculture farm but the whole village cannot.

Coming back to the small island with no trade shaped magic, what would one do? Schauberger and the wise elders ask us to comprehend and copy nature. The money plant in the glass bottle in your drawing room literally doubles in size, weight & volume every few years with just water, air and sun. She doesnt let time go waste like grandma and continually weaves something from nothing with a little bit of wind, fire, water and earth. Claims to truly understand the intricacies of these life forming processes would be hubris but a hint is in surface area.

Roots and shoots both seem to be algorithms trying to optimally maximize the available surface area. The root filaments then host microbes that again multiply the available surface area many times over. The fun facts that tell us how the nerve cells or arteries of a single human, if placed end to end could circle the earth a few times or even reach the moon.

Sameer once, years back pointed out amazons and the man made nature of the now natural looking food forests. Studies show that they accomodated more people than natural carrying capacity of the forest. This challenged the humans vs nature world view, and was revolutionary. Also in our village, people would sprinkle ash in the fields or next to plants as manure. There is also slash and burn style farming that tribals would follow. Have been curious about the wisdom at play here.

  • Biomass has an inbuilt time problem for the farmer who is in a hurry and needs nutrients now. Most plants, perhaps can’t eat plants. The plant bodies have to decompose first and it takes a few months of a full natural cycle for that to happen, where fungus and microbes decompose plants and then that residue becomes excellent manure for the next generation of plants.

  • So if we have a heap of leaves, we cant as much directly feed them to this season of plants unless they slowly decompose. Burning the plant biomass quickly releases the potassium, calcium, and all the minerals within. One can grow excellent plants using just biochar as some experiments show.

  • A piece of biochar is near pure carbon structured as nanotubes. There is some electric physics stuff going on there which also makes it a magnet to acquire, hold and make available nearby nutrients. On top of this, it holds water & a piece the size of a half eraser has surface area in tune of a basketball field. So by sprinkling a little on a field, the farmer is perhaps effectively multiplying the surface area of the field available to roots many times over.

  • As a tree matures, its growth rate along the size dimension decreases. It starts spending a higher percentage of energy in maintenance and repair. A sprouting seed’s growth rate is perhaps thousands of times higher than that of a hundred year tamarind tree. The same with how fast babies learn and grow, how startups, govts, civilizations slow down with self maintenance complexity. So when the canopy of a food forest matures to block the sun, the elders climb and chop off some branches to gently “redistibute the nutrients”. These branches on the ground would bring nutrition but it would take years to slowly release. Burning it would immediately release the nutrients inside so that the seeds on the floor do not only have sunlight but also food. Burning it without oxygen would not just release the nutrients but also keep the structural intelligence of biochar intact.

  • This doesn’t mean that dead carbon is always better than standing grass. These techniques are best applicable at the end of limits side of the growth spectrum. A standing tree is also houses for molluscs, fireflies and birds and there is a lot of nuance to the what and whys. When one wants to also add plants and grass in a tree dominated landscape, this can aid biodiversity on the forest floor. Else few trees of a single kind can either aggravate or deplete key bottleneck nutrients.

  • Few % of higher biomass in soil gives it water holding capacity in tune of a few small ponds. That water translates to fungus, microbes, plants and all life. So a field with biochar might look like an acre but can outproduce many acres.

  • The process of making biomass also gave rural industries fuel - for tanning, cooking, processing secondary materials, and even industrial produce like tooth paste, water filter tech and face washes. In some context, responsible tree fuel can be more sustainable than natural gas coming from tens of thousands of kilometers away, where it takes a few thousand calorie to transport a thousand calorie of net usable energy.

In short, yes biochar is super critical to sustainable practices. Looping in @ganeshram to explore how playbooks can learn from the above experiments of @tejas_rajvihar and platformize the solutions so others can learn and replicate.

A lot of above is incorrect romanticised thinking multiplied by bad maths, but wanted to highlight why biochar is a key that unlocks a lot doors. :deciduous_tree:


Thanks for sharing your thoughts @abhishektiwari ! Would like to learn more about ‘Playbooks’ and see if we can contribute to it.

The following is our thought process on why we are doing what we are doing :

  1. Our struggle to survive has entered the era of CDR - Carbon Dioxide Removal. Removing and locking away carbon from the atmosphere for a certain period of time with a reasonable level of confidence in its stability.

There are rapidly growing investments into CDR worldwide and hundreds of new startups rolling their sleeves to mine CO2 out of the air.

While all technological possibilities seem interesting most of them still look like pipe dreams with the exception of Biochar as a way to lock Carbon away. Any work one does with Biochar is work done on top of the earth’s massive photosynthetic capacity, which in itself captures lots of CO2.

  1. Biochar’s long list of benefits for soil.

We jokingly call biochar a lollipop and all other chemical/organic fertilizers as Jelly/Jam. One lasts longer and slowly gives its goodness to the soil and microbes while the other is consumed very fast, sometimes by undesired weeds.

Biochar can address problems in Soil Fertility Enhancement, Improved Water Retention, Carbon Sequestration, Enhanced Microbial Activity, Reduced Soil Erosion, pH Regulation, Reduced Dependency on Synthetic Fertilizers, Waste Management, Crop Productivity, and Adaptation to Climate Change.

  1. Bringing the conversation of Climate Change / Climate Action to the Villages

Artisanal Biochar Preparation is the currently only methodology available that democratizes our efforts in CDR, meaning a person in a village can gather a bunch of agri waste, burn it in a specific way using simple tools, report this activity in a specified manner, and earn real carbon credits - happening right now around the world! The biochar produced can be used locally to improve soils.

These to us are some very important dots that need to be connected!

Our Ganesha this year is made with mud and biochar. He will help clean the water he is immersed in.

Biochar can play a role in water purification and cleaning by acting as a natural filter and adsorbent for contaminants. Here's how biochar helps clean water:

1. **Adsorption of Contaminants**: Biochar has a highly porous structure with a large surface area. This structure allows it to adsorb various contaminants, including heavy metals, organic pollutants, and nutrients, from water. When water passes through a biochar filter or is treated with biochar, these contaminants adhere to the surface of the biochar particles, effectively removing them from the water.

2. **Reduction of Chemicals**: Biochar can also assist in reducing the concentration of harmful chemicals in water. It can be used to remove excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause water pollution and algal blooms. Biochar's ability to retain these nutrients helps in preventing their release into water bodies.

3. **Microbial Activity**: Biochar can influence the microbial communities in water. Some types of biochar can provide a habitat for beneficial microorganisms that help break down organic pollutants. This microbial activity can contribute to the natural purification of water.

4. **pH Adjustment**: Biochar can be used to adjust the pH of water. It has a buffering capacity that can help stabilize the pH, which is important for maintaining water quality, especially in aquatic ecosystems.

5. **Reducing Harmful Algal Blooms**: Biochar can be applied to water bodies to mitigate harmful algal blooms. The adsorption of excess nutrients by biochar can limit the nutrient availability that fuels these blooms.

6. **Stormwater Management**: In urban areas, biochar is used as a component in green infrastructure, such as biofiltration systems and rain gardens, to filter and treat stormwater runoff. This helps remove pollutants and improve the quality of water entering waterways.

7. **Long-Term Carbon Sequestration**: When biochar is used in water treatment systems, it effectively sequesters carbon from the environment, contributing to carbon capture and climate change mitigation.

Overall, biochar's ability to adsorb contaminants, retain nutrients, promote beneficial microbial activity, and adjust pH makes it a valuable tool for improving water quality and cleaning polluted water in various applications, including wastewater treatment, agricultural runoff management, and natural water bodies' restoration.