Zambian Farmers Find Hope Amidst Drought Thanks to Biochar

Published: May 6, 2024 Reading time: 2 minutes
Zambian Farmers Find Hope Amidst Drought Thanks to Biochar
© Foto: Grace Sikanda Namakau

In the face of a crippling drought that has cast a shadow over Zambia's agricultural landscape, an unlikely hero is emerging – biochar. This carbon-rich soil additive, derived from agricultural waste, is breathing new life into smallholder farmers' fields across Western Province. Through the Czech-UNDP Challenge Fund Biochar project, implemented by PIN Zambia and local partner the Mongu District Farmers Association (MDFA), we are empowering rural communities with knowledge and resources to harness the transformative power of biochar.

Farmers are gaining comprehensive insights into biochar's benefits at community meetings in areas like Sefula, Kande, Nomai, and Mukango. From sustainable production techniques to soil-enriching applications, this ancient practice is paving the way for climate-smart agriculture, offering a glimmer of hope amidst the drought's devastating effects.

In Mongu district, Mr Foster Kakoma's farm stood in stark contrast to the drought-ravaged landscape. While most of his crops withered, the maise plants treated with biochar boasted fresh, plump cobs – a testament to biochar's moisture-retaining capabilities.

"Despite the drought, the crops with biochar showed far more potential," Mr Kakoma remarked, pointing to the distinctions in cob sizes between the treated and untreated plants.

Mrs Kanyungu Sitenge, from the Siwa area, shared a similar story. As part of the Zambian government's Farmer Input Support Programme, she received seedlings but faced a challenge when the drought struck. However, after learning about biochar's ability to retain moisture, she applied it to a small sorghum plot near her house.

"The difference was remarkable," she exclaimed, displaying her harvested crops. "If I had planted on a larger scale using biochar, my yield would have been much higher."

Beyond boosting yields and resilience, the project also highlights the potential for carbon trading to incentivise eco-friendly agricultural practices. By sequestering carbon in the soil, biochar enhances soil fertility and mitigates climate change – a win-win for farmers and the environment.

As the project expands its reach, empowering more communities with biochar knowledge and resources, the prospects for climate-smart agriculture in Zambia grow brighter. With small-scale farmers like Mr Kakoma and Mrs Sitenge leading the charge, the journey towards food security and environmental sustainability takes a decisive step forward.

What is biochar?

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance created by burning plant matter like corn stalks, wood chips, or agricultural waste in an oxygen-limited environment. The biomass is stacked and burned in a cone-shaped pit in the ground called a flame curtain kiln. When done correctly, the process produces little smoke and locks carbon into the biochar material. After being allowed to cool for a few days, the biochar is removed from the kiln, crushed into a powder form, and applied to farmland as a soil additive to increase soil fertility and the water retention capacity of soils.  
Autor: Grace Sikanda Namakau

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