Comment on Panel: Biochar by James Bruges by James Bruges

Patrick. Thanks for your response and the attached article, which I found interesting because you obviously know so much more about nature’s mechanisms than I do. When the use of biochar is driven by neoliberal economics (as with all aspects of life) it has dangers, as pointed out by BiofuelWatch.

This is why I am interested in SCAD’s approach that is based on cooperation and interdependence. For nearly 30 years it has responded to needs and requests from the community, mostly in villages. SCAD also suggests new techniques, which the villagers may, or may not, adopt (organic cultivation, vemiculture, azola, oorani ponds etc.). For example, they are pleased with effective micro-organisms (EM) for dealing with pollution and pathogens. I have known Cletus Babu for about 12 years. When I mentioned biochar for soil amendment a few years ago he was keen to try it. Much of their soil is semi-desert and gives very low yields even though they have been struggling with organic methods. Their first experience with biochar showed that it retains moisture in the soil, halving the irrigation needs of banana crops (and it was fairly obvious that it provides a haven for microbes). Their studies show that about a third of agricultural waste is – or can be – used for composting, so suggest that half the remainder could be pyrolysed. Interest is increasing among their women’s groups and small-scale farmers. And interest will only increase further if it benefits the many, not the few. The IBI has an article about it that you might like to open,

As you can see, this approach can be accepted or rejected by its users based on whether or not it works, not on any belief that biochar is the best thing since sliced bread. Perhaps your criticisms apply mainly to its intervention in temperate climates where it might interfere with organic production (though I see it as a complementary technology to organic methods, certainly not either-or).

I don’t understand your rejection of the carbon cycle. In Wales phytophthora ramorum is affecting rhododendron and larch that are then burnt on site to prevent the disease spreading. Surely this release of greenhouse gas is damaging to the atmosphere? Much better to pyrolyse them – the brushwood in particular (a study by Swansea university shows that clearance of a hectare of rhododendron releases 318 tonnes CO2-e whereas biochar production captures 123 tonnes – I note that you reject the idea of sequestration, though I can’t understand why).

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