Empowering Small Scale Farmers with Biochar technology

Biochar produced from pine wood

Biochar produced from pine woo

Effect of biochar amendment on the quality of infertile, sandy soils from the Cape Flats, South Africa

Areas of Food Security (Access, Availability, Utilization) that Projects fall under:

The project falls under the research area of food availability

How does the Project fit in with the FSI Vision?

Sustainable food production is the cornerstone of Food Security. Soil degradation in intensive agriculture and associated pollution of surface and ground waters are particularly acute and most expressed on sandy soils.

Goals of the Projects

The project is addressing the issue of sustainable agricultural production on sandy soils using biochar – an easily-accessible local material for amelioration of sands. It is targeting innovative methods of soil fertility management to improve food production and prevent ground and surface water pollution from agricultural sources.

Soil Science

Objectives of the Project/s

The main research aim is to investigate the effect of biochar on infertile, sandy Cape Flats’ soils on the chemical, physical and microbiological properties which contribute to soil quality and sustainability.

Objectives of four sub-projects:

  1. Soil Chemistry: Investigate the effect of biochar amendment on the chemical and fertility properties of soils such as macro- and micro-nutrient availability and retention, pH and plant growth and fertilizer efficiency.
  2. Soil Physics: Investigate the effect of biochar on soil physical properties such as water movement, water holding capacity, and resistance to compaction.
  3. Soil Microbiology: Investigate the effect of biochar on soil microbial activity under aerobic and anaerobic conditions, and investigate decomposition of biochar by microbes in the presence of various C and N sources.
  4. Soil Ecology: Determine the impact of biochar on fungi/root symbioses specifically, the interactions between roots and arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, and the interactions between roots and soil yeasts.

What will the Outcomes of the Project be in terms of Meeting the vision of the FSI

Increased sustainability of food production through long-term improvement of soil properties related to nutrient retention and release through application of biochar.

  1. The different areas of Food Security (Access, Availability, Utilization) – Improved food availability will be achieved through better utilization of soil resources and optimised plant nutrition.
  2. Publications – At least four scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals are expected. These publications are expected to improve the scientific understanding of the benefits of biochar as soil amendment.
  3. Policy – Policies on biomass utilization, particularly within the framework of government projects, like Working for Water should be influenced towards incorporating biochar production into vegetation management strategies.
  4. Community Impacts – The communities of the Cape Flats and Atlantis areas are expected to be the main beneficiaries from soil amelioration technologies developed within the framework of this project. Degraded sandy soils and abundance of alien vegetation earmarked for removal are combining into the physical background for the appropriate community action to improve agricultural production in the area.
  5. Input to the Food Security rhetoric – Optimisation of local resource, continuous experimentation and innovation are the keys to food availability at local level and sustainability of natural resources’ utilization.

What is the duration of the study?

The duration of the study is two years.
4 M.Sc. students are involved in laboratory and pot experiments, which constitute the core of this research.

What funding opportunities exist for your project?

Further funding opportunities exist in public (NRF, WFW, WRC) and private sector and these opportunities are constantly explored.

Contact details

Dr. Ailsa Hardie, department of Soil Science
University of Stellenbosch
Private Bag X1, Matieland 7600
Tel: +27 21 808 4790
Fax: +27 21 808 4791
aghardie@sun.ac.za

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