Thursday, December 8, 2011

Biochar Fund Giving Biochar a Bad Name?

Biofuelwatch is continuing its campaign against biochar with the release of a new report, "Biochar Fund Trials in Cameroon: Hype and Unfulfilled Promises." The report summarizes an investigation of a high-profile biochar project undertaken in Cameroon in 2008-2009 by Biochar Fund, a Belgian NGO, along with a local group called Key Farmers Cameroon. The project supported field trials conducted by locals and overseen by Biochar Fund, which were focused on enhancing agricultural productivity. Biochar Fund highlighted the climate benefits of biochar, and held out the prospect of future participation in the European carbon market and resulting financial benefits for local farmers.

In practice, the project was poorly managed and marred by inadequate oversight, miscommunication, flawed trials, and unrealistic expectations. The trials were discontinued amid confusion, and the project fizzled out leaving participants in the dark--"Even farmers who had described participation in the trial as a positive experience at the time, were wondering what benefits - financial or otherwise, they had actually gained from the experience" (p. 19). The report contends that Biochar Fund leveraged the initial appearance of success in Cameroon to obtain funds from the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF) for a second biochar project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Even proponents of biochar must admit that Biochar Fund comes off looking sloppy and unprofessional at best in the wake of this report. But it is important to emphasize that a mediocre project run by Biochar Fund is not equivalent to the failure of biochar as a climate remediation technology. The report itself notes that "Verification of the actual trial results would have been impossible at this stage and was therefore not an aim of this investigation" (p. 20). Indeed, "farmers told us that they had been impressed by the quality and quantity of the maize harvested" (p. 12). From a geoengineering perspective, the carbon sequestration impacts of biochar were never even examined. Biochar Fund deserves to be admonished, but "guilt by association" should not extend to biochar as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. What a sad story. I love the idea of biochar, but obviously the political economy of any new technology can corrupt in some circumstances. How sad. I remain a fan of the technology, but as always, Africa seems to suffer. Let's remember that biochar started as a local indigenous technology of the Amazon basin, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater just because CORPORATIONS can, once again, corrupt something beautiful.