As directed by Biodiversity Sri Lanka’s (BSL) Plantations Standing Committee, a learning event on Biochar: A Sustainable Option for Soil Remediation and Pollutant Removal, was held on the 10th of July 2018 at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. The event was organized by BSL in partnership with Dilmah Conservation and attracted over 20 participants from the Plantations Sector, of which 50% was from BSL member companies. The enthusiastic participation of 2 banks was also positively noted. The event included a technical presentation on Biochar as a sustainable alternative to the traditional chemical applications used for purposes of soil fertility improvement in plantations, as well as two case study presentations on lessons learnt from the practical application of Biochar on plantations. The presentations were followed by lively discussions on challenges and how to address them.
Dr. Keerthi Mohotti– Deputy Director Research at the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka – presented findings of extended research studies carried out on the effectiveness of Biochar. The benefits of Biochar application include the improvement of water and nutrient retention in soil, increase of the soil carbon pool, capture and storage of carbon and improvement of soil microbial activity. He also drew comparisons on the changes that occur in the chemical properties of soil with the application of Biochar made out of Gliricidia sp., Coconut Shells and Paddy Husk. He favored the idea of locally producing Biochar as opposed to importing it from abroad for a higher cost, noting that the raw material required for the manufacture of Biochar was readily available for utilization in Sri Lanka. Further, he highlighted the need for establishing standards for locally produced Biochar as per the International Biochar Initiative’s Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines for Biochar that is Used in Soil (IBI Biochar Standards).
Dr. J. Krishnaratna– Founding Director of the Biochar Initiative Company (Pvt.) Ltd. – who carries a wealth of experience on the subject, enlightened the audience with his eye-opening field results, as he made the final public presentation of his career at this event. His findings ensured that there is an average increase in crop production by more than 14% in tea estates at different elevations, with the application of Biochar. Further, he elaborated that tea bushes under Biochar treatment continue to absorb and retain water, producing more tea leaves without water stress in dry periods. He requested Sri Lankan Plantation Companies to collaborate to form a common platform to facilitate the collective application of Biochar in a commercial scale. He reiterated that this collective approach will negate the concerns regarding high cost. Moreover, he repeatedly emphasized that the 15% increase in tea leaf yield and25% reduction in the use of pesticides by the application of Biochar, builds a strong business case for its commercial level application in the tea sector.
Mr. Janaka Gunawardhana– Manager Corporate Solutions of Kahawatte Plantations (KWPL), presented field level results obtained by the company post application of Biochar. He explained the process of how KWPL producesBiochar for their estates with an illustrative presentation, and also commented on the positive cost/benefit ratio, as observed by the company over the years. He also provided indications to the average cost of Biochar production, based on KWPL’s experience. Mr. AsankaAbayakoon – Manager, Dilmah Conservation – instrumental in setting up the Biochar research initiative at Dilmah, emphasized that even though the process is relatively costly, this cost has reduced by approximately 25% over the last few years and that the benefits of Biochar application, far outweigh the cost to companies, in the long run.