The Ivory Foundation projects – Southern Africa
A number of biochar projects have sprung to life in Southern Africa each one making and using locally produced biochar to recover land and enable communities to grow fresh fruit and vegetables.
Funded by the Ivory Foundation, three biochar projects are now using SuperChar kilns from Carbon Gold to make a valuable soil amendment from locally sourced feedstock, and many more communities are reaping the benefits of the biochar produced. These pioneering projects are encouraging local communities to grow a low cost, sustainable supply of fruit and vegetables, whilst developing and advancing biochar research and knowledge in Southern Africa.
A biochar production facility has been established in the Botswana College of Agriculture, on the outskirts of the capital Gaborone. Here the biochar produced will undergo scientific research, and trials on different crops in local soils will be undertaken. Trials are being led by Dr Mogotsie Khola, professor at the college.
A second biochar initiative in the country has been set up in Ghanzi where a government initiative is providing the perfect feedstock. The Botswana government are clearing invasive species such as Leucaena and Eucalyptus that are taking over precious land. A percentage of this wood is being made available to the biochar project to be processed in the SuperChar Mk I. The kiln is run by Oteng Mmeleri of the Permaculture Ghanzi association – and the biochar produced is given to the local community groups to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, including the Tsetseng community garden, Tsetseng Primary school and Kacgae Primary school gardens (pedagogical gardens), Ghanzi Hospice garden (for HIV+), and the ORI Okavango Research Institute in Maun for research purposes.
Swaziland & Lesotho
With the support of the Designing Hope project, an important initiative to ameliorate damaged land and to bring life back to a former asbestos mining town has been established in Bulembu. Situated in northwestern Hhohho in Swaziland, Bulembu is a town left deserted in 2001 when its main source of employment, an asbestos chrysotile mine, closed – leaving little more than 50 people remaining in a community that once boasted over 10,000 residents. This was during the time that Swaziland was (as it continues to be) ravaged by the HIV/AIDS virus. Today over 40% of the population is infected, resulting in a nation-wide orphan crisis.
In 2006, Bulembu was purchased by a not-for-profit organisation, Bulembu Ministries Swaziland, who wanted to turn the town into a self-sustaining entity combining sustainable, innovative enterprises with orphan care for Swaziland’s most vulnerable children. The local population is now on the rise and 1600 people live and work in Bulembu once more. Key industries include forestry, locally produced honey and arts and crafts.
Bulembu’s biochar project has been loaned a SuperChar Mk I by the The Ivory Foundation to produce 100kg of biochar a month out of eucalyptus, pine and other feedstocks. The biochar produced is used by local growers to grow fruit (such as Tamarillo) and vegetables. For the remainder of the month, biochar is produced and used for mine tailing remediation to recover the 50h of scree, the scars of the former asbestos mine. Bulembu has an active composting operation and the biochar is mixed with this locally produced compost and used to cover the large expanse of scree, stopping asbestos dust from blowing away and allowing trees and, eventually, pasture to be grown on this once toxic landscape.
The biochar produced with the SuperChar kiln in Bulembu will also be donated to various projects in Swaziland. With the Support of the Ivory Foundation, Designing Hope has developed and implemented a training programme in permaculture techniques – including the use of locally produced biochar. Several community and pedagogical gardens have been established; one at the Fundzisa Live office’s Experimental Garden, one at Peak’s Central School and another at the Half Way House in Ladysmith.
Experimental Garden Fundzisa Live, Piggs Peak, Swaziland
With the support of the Ivory Foundation, the Fudzisa Live office vegetable garden has been transformed into a place of experimentation and training for HIV positive women from Piggs Peak. Biochar produced in nearby Bulembu is blended with compost and Bokashi – a natural fertiliser made by the women out of fern grown at the garden – and added to the soil during planting. Seedlings are raised in their on-site nursery, with trials set up to test different sowings with and without biochar. Corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, beets, cabbages, moringa and native tree species are now successfully growing on land once used simply for salad crops.
The newly designed garden has radically changed, showing many positive signs of success:
- Garden waste and trees are no longer slashed and burned
- Improved water management and soil moisture retention has meant that the garden functions almost entirely on rainwater, and the belief that one must have access to tap water to grow a vegetable garden has disappeared
- The women understand the economic benefits of this mode of culture, promoting natural inputs made with local and free resources (reproducible seeds, compost, Bokashi & biochar).
Pedagogical garden at Peak Central School, Piggs Peak, Swaziland
Peak Central School, located at the entrance on Piggs Peak, is one of the 14 institutions that Designing Hope collaborates with on a school uniform donation project for disadvantaged children. It was chosen as the first implantation of an educational garden due to its proximity to the town, and because the school showed particular interest in growing vegetables to improve their pupils’ nutrition. A piece of land was given to Fundzisa Live to run with the children and parents.
Locally produced compost is used to improve the fertility of the soil, made from the canteen’s food waste, grass cuttings and bush cuttings. Biochar produced at the Bulembu site is used as in their growing experimentations: tests are done with and without biochar, and children are compiling statistics to compare.
Half Way House of Ladysmith, South Africa
A community garden at Silethithemba’s Half Way House in Ladysmith has also been supported by the Ivory Foundation. Project leader, Zanele Hlongwane, trained at the Botswana College of Agriculture, enabling her to acquire complementary knowledge with which to plan the gardens.
Biochar experiments were established, and child volunteers from the Half Way House spend 30 minutes a day with the gardener collecting data on plants grown with and without biochar. The children’s families are also encouraged to discover the gardens and attend training sessions, encouraging wider local knowledge.
Goals for the coming months:
- Address the dry season and study the water saving benefits of biochar
- Adapt the study of biochar by integrating it directly into compost, charging it with microorganisms before it’s put into the soil
- Develop a new indoor nursery for winter.
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