Centuries-old Conservation Ideas

I've always been fascinated by how modern humans are rediscovering the knowledge and innovations of ancient civilizations. These discoveries often help to enrich our understanding of humanity, but one ancient agricultural concept – biochar -- is gaining attention for its environmentally friendly potential.

According to the University of Georgia: "Former inhabitants of the Amazon Basin enriched their fields with charred organic materials … and transformed one of the Earth's most infertile soils into one of the most productive. These early conservationists disappeared 500 years ago, but centuries later, their soil is still rich in organic matter and nutrients."

Scientists, policymakers, and environmentalists think that this charred organic material, or biochar, could help solve such problems as hunger, soil depletion, deforestation, and climate change. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which was holding a side event during December's United Nations climate change conference meeting in Poland, proposed that biochar management be included in the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism.

According to Christoph Steiner, a University of Georgia researcher, "The potential of biochar lies in its ability to sequester -- capture and store -- huge amounts of carbon while also displacing fossil fuel energy, effectively doubling its carbon impact."

Biochar also is being studied for its ability to help soil retain nutrients and water, as well as gases and heat that can be used as energy.

For more information on biochar, visit:

• The International Biochar Initiative: www.biochar-international.org

• The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification: www.unccd.int/publicinfo/poznanclimatetalks/menu.php

• The University of Georgia Biorefinery and Carbon Cycling Program: www.biorefinery.uga.edu

Posted by Angela Nelson on Jan 13, 2009

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