Biochar: A key to combating the effects of climate change in Benin

Benin, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate disruption, faces major challenges such as prolonged drought and excessive rainfall, which have devastating consequences for small-scale farmers. These climate changes threaten food security and biodiversity in the region. However, a glimmer of hope is emerging thanks to the Programme d'Appui au Secteur du Développement Rural (PASDeR), financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by the Swisscontact-Lares consortium. Together, they are working to implement adaptation and mitigation measures to counter these challenges.

One such initiative is the use of Biochar by local farmers to improve soil fertility. Biochar, a porous, stable charcoal obtained by heating organic materials such as crop residues, agricultural waste, wood and biomass at high temperature and in the absence of oxygen, is incorporated into the soil to improve its physical, chemical and biological properties.

Application of biochar

The Union Départementale des Producteurs (UDP) de l'Atacora et de la Donga, a PASDeR beneficiary, has just carried out an innovative experiment to assess the effect of Biochar on the fertility of rice-growing soils. This participatory approach involves producers, supervisors and research structures.

"The biochar we use is made from rice husks, which are abundantly available. Previously, these residues were neglected, but today we recycle them, carbonise them and use them to enrich our soils"
Gounou Loukmane, PASDeR Organisational Development Technical Assistant in Kouandé (north-west Benin)

The experiment was divided into four 156.25 m² plots, each receiving a different treatment:

Plot 1: Use of Biochar as both background and supporting manure
Plot 2: Application of mineral fertilizer as a base and supporting manure
Plot 3: Use of an equal mixture of Biochar and mineral fertiliser, with double application
Plot 4: Biochar only as basal fertiliser and urea as supporting fertiliser

After two months of experimentation, no significant differences were observed between the plots. All showed remarkable vegetative development, whether fertilised with Biochar, mineral fertiliser or a combination of the two. The growers hope that this increase in growth will also translate into higher yields at harvest.

However the use of Biochar is not limited to improving soil fertility. It also makes a valuable contribution to resilience in the face of climate change. In the event of drought, Biochar retains moisture around plants, ensuring their growth even in periods of low rainfall. In the event of heavy rain, it acts as a barrier against soil erosion, helping to retain nutrients carried by run-off water.

Additionally, Biochar is distinguished by its long durability in the soil, effectively sequestering organic carbon over the long term, thereby helping to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. 

The farmers who took part in the experiment are enthusiastic and committed to replicating this approach on their own farms in the next crop year. Biochar is thus emerging as a valuable asset in the fight against the effects of climate change in Benin, offering new hope for farmers facing these major environmental challenges.

The project (PASDeR) is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the Swisscontact-LARES consortium.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Rural Economic Development Support Programme PASDER
The four departments in the northern part of the country (Alibori, Borgou, Atacora and Donga) cover almost three quarters of the country's surface area and are home to just over a third (33.9%) of the population. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.485, Benin will rank 167th out of 187 countries in 2016. Poverty has increased at...