Our health begins in the soil.
Over 70% of worldwide average calorie consumption per person comes from crops grown directly in soil, and another nearly 20% comes from poultry, livestock and other animals that rely indirectly on soil. However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization considers soil degradation one of the central threats to human health in the coming decades. The living soil is the earth’s most valuable ecosystem and a vital contributor to human wellbeing. A stable supply of nutritious food is key to our health and wellbeing and can only be achieved with healthy soils.
Archeological exploration has found black colored soil, called Terra Preta (dark earth), in the Amazon basin of Brazil where Amazonian indigenous peoples used charcoal (early “bio-char”) to enrich their soil well over 1,000 years ago. Other distinctive features of Terra Preta soil is the stability of its soil organic matter and high cation exchange capacity, all factors that improve soil fertility. Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer. This 2,000 year-old practice converts biomass into a soil enhancer that holds carbon, helps soils retain nutrients and water, increases soil biodiversity and microbial activity and boosts food security.
The use of charcoal as a soil amendment is not limited to ancient civilizations. Research has shown that biochar is more efficient at increasing soil fertility and nutrient retention than un-charred organic matter. Biochar enhanced soil improves structural stability and water infiltration and increases water holding capacity, cation exchange capacity, soil biological and microbial activity as well as acting as a CO2 sink.
Other benefits of biochar include its ability to adsorb soil-damaging pesticides and neutralize natural toxins in decomposing organic materials. Bio-char can be an important tool to increase food security and cropland diversity in areas with severely depleted soils, scarce organic resources, and inadequate water and chemical fertilizer supplies