The “Scorched Earth” Charcoal Kiln Rehabilitation Project.

Cookswell Jikos and the Woodlands 2000 Trust
Promoting holistic drylands natural resource management.
The “Scorched Earth” Charcoal Kiln Rehabilitation Concept Note.

Introduction: The ‘scorched earth’ term is coined from a military tactic used by armies throughout history. It simply states that an army will level and burn (scorching the earth) every thing so as to deprive anyone else the use of that land once they have left. The key externalities associated from traditional charcoal production methods in dry land areas in Kenya are very analogous.
Once the ‘army’ of charcoal makers has moved on they leave behind patches of earth where the kiln was located that have been subjected to high temperatures for long periods of time. This causes a number of serious land degradation issues, up to one foot below the surface of the land can be essentially sterilized; bacteria, nematodes, earthworms, seeds, humus, rhizomes, all die or are destroyed from the partial combustion of large amounts of wood in a closed kiln. In areas where the silica content is high this treatment produces what are essentially uncompacted red-fired clay blocks. This type of treatment takes over 5 years for the soil to even begin to start recovering. Where the unused branches and thorns are piled up, they cover the grass for grazing for up to 4 years until they sufficiently rot down enough for livestock to access underlying pasture.

This leaves the area where the kiln was situated directly exposed to the elements and particularly prone to erosion. Typical sites that data has been collected from, average 482m, which is roughly 1/100th of an acre, which may not seem like much, but in areas under heavy charcoal production, there may be 10 or more kilns per acre which means that the land owner loses 1/10th of an acre every cycle. In areas where intensive charcoal production is taking place, this amounts to hundreds of acres so finely spaced out that they escape immediate notice of the landowner. In the current area of operations (Narok South, Maji Moto area), the main land use model is based on semi-nomadic pastoralism. This means that the number of animals per acre dictates the land’s carrying capacity of livestock. In the focus area it is around 3 acres of land per head of sheep and 6 acres of land per head of cattle. As the loss of pasture increases, the competition for resources (grazing land) amplifies.

Objective: To exemplify appropriate methods of rehabilitating ‘scorched earth’ areas into productive, biodynamic multi use zones.

Strategy: Micro-woodlot establishment will be the key tool in rectifying current and preventing future destruction. Woodlots will be securely fenced with the waste branches from previous charcoal production; the areas will undergo double digging to mix in adequate amounts of manure and humus, then it will be high density directly seeded with endemic and carefully selected tree species that pelleted into seedballs and will be irrigated by rainfall.

Biochar seedball germination. 
As the trees grow, the tight spacing will give them a growth tendency of being tall and straight as they compete with each other for light. This is done so that when the time comes to harvest them, they are ideal dimensions for cutting, transporting, processing and using. That is 2-3in thick and 3-4ft long. When harvested correctly the trees will coppice, therefore ensuring a future woodfuel source.

Increasing uptake of higher efficiency wood energy technologies such as portable ''branch'' kilns and improved cookstoves will also have a positive effect on reducing trees cut down and land burned by earthen charcoal kilns.

Budget: The initial demonstration micro-woodlots will need to be externally financed. The charcoal makers themselves should finance all others under stipulation from the landowner as part of the charcoal making process and cost. Labour is the only key input. That is because all other inputs are locally available. Seeds can be collected from the wild or seedballs purchased; manure is typically free from the landowner’s livestock enclosure, the fencing material is a waste byproduct that is already on location. The labour cost for one kiln of typical dimensions to the area is around 1000ksh.

Conclusion: Soil and arable land loss is one of the greatest threats to riparian systems in dryland areas. The use of low efficiency charcoal kilns has a huge unintended impact on the ecology of areas under production. Coupled with minimal to nil reforestation programs this problem will continue to degrade the land and therefore adversely affect area residents and also all people living downriver.


1 comment:

Udongo said...

This concept has other implications when the level of carbon is explored.

The land has an unparalleled capacity to hold carbon and to act as a sink for green house gases making it imperative to focus on activities that enhances rehabilitation, protection and sustainable management of degraded lands. Conventional means to increase soil carbon stocks depend on climate, soil type and site specific management. Over the years, most efforts to manage greenhouse gases have involved planting trees, since the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in this way is substantial. However, the drawback of conventional carbon enrichment is that this carbon-sink option is of limited duration. The associated humus enrichment follows a saturation curve, approaching a new equilibrium level after some 50 to 100 years. The new carbon level drops rapidly again as soon as the required careful management is no longer
sustained. There exist opportunities to include sustainable land management processes and in particular the
use of biochar into the CDM negotiation process through focused policy actions that include institutional synergy as well as better understanding of the sustainability cost-benefit of Biochar. This process could be undertaken starting in Poznan and towards the Copenhagen agreement.