Waste Not, Want Not

How farmers are cutting down on chemicals with a natural solution to soil degradation

Published: August 2, 2018

At age 56, Vietnamese farmer Luan is still actively working the land. She is also still learning new things and open to fresh ideas. In 2015, she agreed to turn part of her smallholding into a demonstration site as part of Biochar for Sustainable Soils – a three-year research and knowledge dissemination project backed by UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility and coordinated by Starfish Initiatives.

With assistance from researchers at Thai Nguyen University of Sciences, Luan learned to produce biochar, an organic soil enhancer, in her home and apply it to her crops. She is one of 100 farmers in Vietnam’s Bac Kan province to be trained in its use as a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.

Biochar is made from heating organic or agricultural ‘waste’, such as rice husks or straw, without the presence of oxygen. This produces a charcoal-like substance which is not only rich in carbon, but is highly porous, helping the soil to retain nutrients and water.