Thu, 14 May 2009 Science

Organic Farm Uses Charcoal to Improve Soil Fertility


Gbiligu (N/R), May 14, GNA - The Gbiligu Ecological Farm has started an experiment that uses common charcoal powder to improve soil fertility.

The organic farm, which had been using only compost, animal and green manure to improve soil fertility, is trying the use of charcoal, scientifically called Biochar as a soil amendment product, to help improve soil resource by increasing crop yields and productivity.

Biochar known to reduce soil acidity improves water retention and retain soil nutrients for plant and crop utilization, by reducing leaching and surface water run-off.

Speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA) at the farm on Wednesday, Mr. Franz Josef Zemp, the Farm Manager, said the idea of experimenting with Biochar was suggested to him by a Swiss scientist, Mr. Felix Jenni, who is also in touch with a Switzerland based NGO, called the Abokobi Foundation that has also started similar trials in the Afram plains.

He said if proven successful, the use of Biochar would be good for Northern Ghana as chemical fertilizer was too expensive for many farmers and the known organic manure was not available in large quantities to cover entire farm lands.

“Charcoal mixed in soil can reverse soil degradation and create sustainable food production in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources and inadequate water supply,” he said.

Mr. Zemp said the charcoal did not necessarily have to be made from trees, but could be produced form dry grass, as it is only the powder that is needed to mix with the soil on the farm.

Also the residue of household charcoal could be used.

The first trial on the farm was being done on a small scale, using a tonne of charcoal powder on a one-fifth hectare plot of land. Five tonnes of charcoal would be needed for a hectare of land, he said.

Mr. Zemp explained that once the soil was mixed with the adequate quantity of charcoal, its effects would be felt for many years and farmers can enjoy its benefits for a long time.

The use of charcoal to improve soil fertility started in the Amazon basin about 2500 years ago and in some parts of Brazil where it is used, the soils are very fertile.