Biochar is plant-based charcoal extracted by pyrolysis (a thermochemical process) of various organic materials. Although biochar itself is rich in food nutrients, it has numerous advantages: it improves soil structure, aeration, water and nutrient storage, and it also decreases nutrient loss caused by erosion.
In order to give recommendations to rice farmers on how to improve soil fertility and increase rice yields, during the project various experiments on different parcels and combinations thereof were conducted.
Rice is crucial to food security in developing countries. In Benin, the land area that can be used potentially for rice cultivation is estimated at 375,000 hectares. Of this, only 21 percent is being used, which is equivalent to 531,000 tonnes of raw rice produced in 2022. Thus, only 60% of the country’s needs are covered, while the growth rate of 3.2 percent is far below demand of 5 percent. In addition, traditional rice cultivation is reaching its limits, owing to climate change and soil degradation in particular.
The results prove that the use of biochar significantly increases rice yields, by more than 58 percent in combination with compost and by nearly 20 percent in combination with mineral microfertilizers. If all other parameters are kept constant, then biochar offers a promising solution to counteract decreasing soil fertility and environmental destruction. The spread of this practice can help improve rice farmers’ living conditions and incomes.
To promote the use of biochar and confirm the observed trends, the project team is arranging trainings to manufacture biochar from leftover harvest residues, the creation of compost heaps, and expanded application of biochar to other crops.
In addition to promoting the use of biochar, the project supports the rice sector with various initiatives, including the production of certified seed, trainings in good agricultural practices, the creation of agricultural clusters, preparation of rice fields, construction of post-harvest storage units, procurement of multipurpose threshers, and a rice processing plant.
Biochar is a proven solution for increasing productivity of rice farming in Benin while strengthening farmers’ ability to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. All project initiatives aim to promote the development of rice farming and improve the quality of life of farmer families. In the end, Benin’s entire rural population benefits from this commitment to sustainable and resilient agriculture.