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Biochar Promotion in Nepal

Description of the product or technology: Majority of people in Nepal are based on Agriculture for their subsistence. During the last 10 years, the application of chemical and mineral fertilizers became a more and more common practice in Nepali agriculture. While this practice produced initial yield increases compared to the traditional fertilizing practice, it brought with it negative ecological and economic effects. Also, due to increasing climate change, adverse effect on agriculture such as low soil productivity, rain-fed subsistence farming systems, irregular rainfall patterns and a shortage of fertilizer has been found on crop production. Farmers have poor access to chemical fertilizers and imported mineral fertilizers are quite expensive. To cope with such challenges, it is essential to develop more efficient soil management strategies that increase crop production per unit of land. One alternative to overcome such limitations could be the application of biochar and farmyard manure. The use of charcoal is very ancient in Nepal. A direct translation of biochar in Nepali will be 'Jaibik Angar' (जैविक अंगार). Biochar is a stable form of charcoal produced from heating natural organic materials such as agricultural waste, woodchips, manure, biomass in a high temperature, a partial or complete absence of oxygen known as pyrolysis. The multiple benefits of biochar in Nepal, both in terms of adaptation to and mitigation of climate change have already been backed up by a lot of research. However, the high economic return is the most important factor for farmers while making a decision. Hence, it is also necessary to find out economic benefits as well. Otherwise not many farmers will be convinced to adopt the biochar amendment in their cropping system.

 

Description of the market: Recently, research on multi-year double cropping biochar, using Eupatorium trails were conducted in Rasuwa district of Nepal along with its cost-benefit analysis. A six-season trial for two crops (maize and mustard), at six different biochar doses amended to a moderately acidic silty loam soil of Rasuwa, was carried out. Biochar addition in this soil has been shown to have positive effects on maize biomass production in a greenhouse pot experiment, due to improved nutrient retention capacity. In the present study, the optimal biochar dose was examined both with regard to agronomic effectiveness and financial profitability. To address the profitability, the cost-benefit analysis was carried out on the basis of the observed crop yield, including health and climate costs of gas, aerosol emissions from biochar production, as well as Carbon sequestration benefits.

Figure 1Source: Multi-year double cropping biochar field trials in Nepal: Finding the optimal biochar dose through agronomic trials and cost-benefit analysis;2018

From the figure, we can know that biochar addition did not show significant effects on maize and mustard grain yield in the first year, however significant positive effects(pb0.01) were observed during the second and third years. During the second year, maize grain yield significantly increased by 50%, 47% and 93% and mustard grain yield by 96%, 128% and 134% at 15 t ha−1, 25tha−1and40 t ha−1of biochar respectively. Similarly, an increase in the yield of both crops was observed in the third year.

Based on the measured crop yields for the various biochar doses, a cost-benefit analysis was carried out, and gross margin was calculated to optimize biochar dose for local farming practice. Total input costs included financial cost (farm input, labour and biochar production cost), health cost and methane emission cost during biochar production. Total income comprised sale of crops and carbon sequestration credits. The cost-benefit analysis showed that the optimal biochar application dose was 15 t ha−1 for all C price scenarios, increasing gross margin by 21% and 53%, respectively, for 0 and 42 US$ per ton CO2 price scenarios. In the present situation, only the 0 US$ price scenario is realistic for rural farmers in Nepal, but this still gives benefits of biochar amendment, which are capped at a 15 t ha−biochar addition.

 

The Policy Measures: In Nepal, about 77% of energy consumption is supplied by traditional biomass energy, which includes the firewood, cattle dung and agricultural residues. As per the National Census 2011, nearly 4 million out of 5.4 million households in Nepal are still using the traditional biomass energy including firewood for cooking. In order to promote the effective and efficient use of renewable energy including biomass energy, the Government of Nepal established the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) in 1996. AEPC since then is providing financial and technical assistance for the promotion of biomass energy among others through its programmes. In spite of that, a lot of policies were introduced in Nepal to promote the biomass energy as a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy resource to address the increasing energy demand of Nepal

  • National Agricultural Policy, 2006 aims towards supporting the control of deforestation through the development of agroforestry as well as conservation, promotion and proper use of natural resources, environment and biodiversity
  • Rural Energy policy, 2006 proposed for the preparation of separate action plans for the promotion and use of biogas, firewood, briquette, biofuel, biomass gasification and improved cooking stoves. Various action plans have been prepared and implemented as envisaged by the policy.
  • Forest Policy 2015 includes credit and insurance facilities for promoting forest enterprises and commercial nurseries; financial and technical support to the users of alternative energy, biogas, bio-briquettes, improved cooking stoves, biofuel etc.
  • Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy, 2016 has provisions of subsidies for the promotion of biomass energy technologies such as biogas, improved cooking stoves, gasifiers, etc.
  • Biomass Energy Strategy 2017 (i)promotes an increase in production of sustainable biomass energy by utilizing agriculture and forest residues and organic wastes and (ii) increase effectiveness and efficiency in the consumption of biomass energy. This mainly comprises;
    -Capacity building, promotion and technology transfer for the production and commercialization of biomass energy through the utilization of biomass energy from the municipal and industrial wastes; and forest, agriculture and animal residues.
    - Arrange appropriate contributions from the government, private sector and beneficiaries/ consumers in order to make the production and utilization of biomass energy reliable and sustainable; to provide financial and technical assistance and easy loan for the production and utilization of modern, affordable and efficient technologies.
    - Encourage private sector for production and marketing of improved and modern biomass energy technologies
    -Develop appropriate system and market for commercialization of biomass energy and to ensure the sales and distribution of sales of the produced biomass energy and hence benefit
    - Ensure the participation in the production, collection and commercialization of biomass energy for the general public, women, indigenous people, dalits, disaster victims and the people from the marginalized areas, as well as ensure their access to the benefits of the same.
    - Provide technical and financial assistance for research and study on modern efficient, and affordable biomass energy technologies (biogas, ICS, gasifier, briquettes, pellets, industrial boiler, cogeneration, waste to energy etc.) for determining their feasibility, goals, quality control, emission standards, technology development and improvements.
  • Except this, under the National Adaptation Plan of action, the Government of Nepal is promoting biomass-energy through preparing and implementation local adaptation plans of action (LAPAs) and Community-based adaptation plans of action (CAPAs).

Evaluation: Biochar can be produced by different methods but kon-Tiki flame curtain kiln was found to be the most beneficial. Benefits include high-quality biochar production, low emissions, no need for start-up fuel, fast pyrolysis time and, importantly, easy and cheap construction and operation, with no initial capital investment except labour. Thus it is affordable for small-scale farmers in Nepal. On the other hand, Invasion of Eupatorium is an enormous problem and commercially it has no viable; neither eaten by any animals nor any other use. However, it has been considered a sustainable feedstock to produce good quality biochar at a relatively low cost, thus turning a pest into a potential resource. Moreover, Eupatorium is naturally regenerated; hence, biochar can be sustainably produced every year. To maximize crop yields from biochar utilization, use of animal urine can enrich more nutrient to the soil, for example soaking the biochar in animal manure (urine recovery) pits and mixing with compost.

Environmentally, the use of biochar has a number of benefits. It not only converts the carbon found in a wide range of biomasses into a stable form but also binds volatile nutrients from biomass residues, thereby recycling them for agricultural use. An increased margin of 21% obtained through biochar amendment, and up to 50% when a price is put on the carbon sequestered, would significantly improve the socio-economic status of poor farmers in Nepal where 25% of rural household are still living below the poverty line (average household income 1000 US$ per year, NLSS, 2011). Though Government of Nepal introduced many policies on Biomass energy, existing support is only for biogas, metallic improved cooking stoves, and gasifier. In the case of biochar, pilot projects, research and studies have been carried out which is also an initial strategy for its adoption. Since evidence from numerous field trials clearly suggest biochar production as agriculturally, economically and environmentally sound and feasible for the Nepalese farmers, emphasis should be given to its adoption now. However, it is not easy to convince farmers from developing regions to adopt new farming practices. Thus, potential risk takers should be identified and certain subsidies can be given for its promotion. 

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