Given the large distance between Windhoek and Sesfontein, it was important to find another project site within easy reach of the capitol. It is also important to explore the use of biochar in other geographical regions. The soils in the centre of the country are different from those within the more arid desert regions. Rainfall is also greater and the land can support more agriculture.
50 km south east of Mount Erongo lies a vast area of pastoral land used primarily for rearing cattle. Unlike the coastal regions this inland plateau rising up to 2000 feet has a topography the encourages rainfall. Although sporadic it does mean much greater productivity. Holes bored into underground aquifers supply reservoirs that are the life blood of the many farms in central Namibia and life revolves around them.
Albrechtshohe, owned by Wanjo and Birgit Meyer, is one such farm that lies alongside a line of bush covered hills overlooking the plain towards Erongo. Many game animals wander freely across their land in search of food. Wanjo and Birgit grow some crops, notably fruit trees and lucerne grass, both of which require daily watering. This is a time consuming, expensive and labour intensive activity.
My initial proposal to them was to see if biochar made any difference to the water holding capacity of their soil. Could SFP work with them to find out?
The Albrechtshohe Biochar Initiative was born. After many wonderful hours around the dinner table a plan was made and we took delivery of 8 tonnes of biochar from a charcoal company just 80 kms away. Ian and Chantelle Galloway who own Jumbo Charcoal very generously donated the charcoal and they are also interested in the outcome of our experiments.
The next step is to plant the first trials using green pepper and lucerne as trial crops. The procedures will be similar to those used at Sesfontein and we hope to have detailed research completed within the year. Dr Simon Angombe from UNAM came to the farm and saw for himself what Wanjo and Birgit propose to do.
Another aspect of this particular project is to explore the possibility of using a new technology for making charcoal.
Throughout the northern central region of Namibia charcoal making has become a big industry and makes a significant contribution to the local economy. It is however a controversial industry and has some problems for the people working in it. Most of the charcoal is made using metal drums that are filled with very dry wood and then burnt with a limited air supply until a pyrolysis temperature is reached. The drum is then sealed and left for up to four days. During this time volatile material is driven out of the wood which in turn forms smoke, leaving charcoal in the drum that is left to cool in the airtight drum. The vented smoke is very toxic and certainly adds to atmospheric greenhouse gases.
During work in India and the UK, SFP has investigated many forms of pyrolysis units including developing it’s own TLUD design, now being used in the UK and elsewhere. One of those innovative designs is called Kon-Tiki made by Hans-Peter Schmidt in Germany. This unit is easy to make anywhere, is inexpensive, very easy to use and is smokeless!
My idea was to demonstrate this unit as an alternative to the existing technology.
So with the help of Dr Simon we had one made by Gerhard Baufeld in Windhoek and invited a group of interested people from the university and government to see it working on the farm. Among those who came were Ms Johanna Andowa the director of research and training at MAWF (Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry), Dr TE Alkweendo their chief agricultural officer, Mr Vincent Louw and Professor Zimmermann.
This demonstration will I hope be the first of many and it’s success was due in large part to Birgit and Wanjo.
We also briefly discussed the following topics relating to the benefits of applying biochar to soils.
Increased water retention
Increased cation-exchange capacity
Reduction in soil acidity
Increase in retention of NPK in the soil
Reduced leaching of nitrogen into ground water
Reduced emissions of nitrous oxide
Increase in number of beneficial soil microbes
Increased mycorrhizal fungi activity
Improvement of soil structure
Sustainable organic technology to reduce atmospheric carbon