Sustainable solutions for depleted soils through biochar 

By Wanjeri Oguya & Yvonne Wambui 

“All existence relies on the soil. Life cannot exist without soil, and soil cannot exist without life; they have co-evolved.” – Charles Kellogg

Boniface  Gathogoh, a local farmer from Nyeri, wakes up at the crack of dawn to tend to his farm. However, farming is not as easy as it used to be, and the soil, not as rich and fertile. Back breaking long hours characterize his days on the farm, with little yield to show for his efforts. 

“Today’s soil lacks  moisture and is red, when it should be moist and dark brown. This is largely due to the adoption of ‘cheap’ ways of farming by using herbicides, pesticides, etc. In turn, soil has become degraded. It’s clear that cheap is expensive, and has harmed us as farmers in more ways than one” says Boniface  Gathogoh, farmer from Nyeri County, Tetu sub county in Aguthi.

Soil Scientist Dr. Lilian Wanjiru Mbuthia states, “…crop productivity levels in Kenya are on the gradual decline.” She continues to state that, In the last twenty years, the emphasis has been on maximizing production without regard for the consequences, resulting in the depletion of soil.

She adds that constant tillage and overuse on a similar piece of land has led to nutrient depletion and soil destruction. Chemical fertilizers have also resulted in acidic soils,  further worsening the situation. 

The hard hitting consequences are causing a ripple effect straight from the farmers homestead, to the entire nation, threatening our food and nutrition security. 

According to Lilian Wanjiru, a Soil Scientist, unless we undertake measures to heal our soils, we will be unable to feed the people of our nation, increasing our reliance on food imports. She continues to state that “The build back of soil carbon and organic matter is vital,” highlighting biochar as one of the important ingredients to enhance this process.

Biochar Experiment in Partnership with EcoAct
In 2022, The Akili Group partnered with EcoAct on a biochar experiment aimed at validating the operational aspects of carbon credits generated through biochar development. The experiment spanned from June 1, 2022, to the end of December 2023.

Biochar is a carbon-rich, porous material that enhances soil fertility, improves water retention, and sequesters carbon in the soil for extended periods. This makes it a valuable tool in sustainable agriculture and environmental management.

In Akili’s area of operation, where over 300,000 farmers earn their living from typically degraded soils, biochar has the potential to make a significant difference.  

“Biochar shows huge potential  for rejuvenating depleted soils. Witnessing these benefits has been amazing, and I am looking forward to educating and sharing with communities on its value.” Diana Wangui, Biochar Production Supervisor, Akili Group 

Integrating biochar into agricultural practices empowers smallholder farmers to establish a sustainable soil management cycle that drives higher yields, curbs environmental impact, and enhances livelihoods. 

Long-term Carbon Sequestration in Partnership with Smallholder Farmers

By incorporating biochar into their fields, smallholder farmers can contribute to carbon sequestration, helping combat climate change while improving their soils. Additionally, smallholder farmers can potentially generate income by producing biochar from surplus biomass and selling it to other farmers or markets. This creates an additional revenue stream. 

The Biochar Experiment conducted in 2022 unlocked potentials of biochar,  exemplified the power of collaboration, knowledge sharing, and local empowerment. As the experiment unfolded, it formed a building block for sustainable endeavors. It is envisioned that biochar will become a beacon of change, resilience, and environmental stewardship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *