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Excerpt from Global Ground Media

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Teaching farmers how to make biochar

Other rural communities throughout Asia have come together in support of solutions for local air pollution for a reason that needs no explanation — financial gain.

In the mountains of Chiang Mai, a non-profit called Warm Heart, founded by Dr. Michael Shafer and his wife, Evelind Schecter, is helping farming communities improve their air by teaching them to make biochar, a multipurpose charcoal-like substance that can be used to enrich depleted soil, as smokeless cooking fuel, or as an industrial energy supply, and incentivising results with cash.

Each spring, annual crop burning in northern Thailand fills the mountain air with thick smoke that diminishes overall health, life expectancy, and tourism in the region. This year, the air in Chiang Mai was the most polluted in the world during a forest fire — a common byproduct of crop burning. After the corn harvest, able-bodied members of the community head south in droves for the offseason to find more profitable work, leaving farmers with more work than they can manage. Unsurprisingly, the often-older farmers prefer burning the corn stubble that fills their fields to gathering the sharp stocks in the blazing sun.

Warm Heart has put a voluntary co-op system in place that allows farmers to opt into their biochar program. Shafer and his team teach the farmers to collect the stubble from their fields and turn it into biochar.

Shafer doesn’t try to change people’s minds for the sake of climate change or future generations; instead he focuses on the practical benefits that will make a noticeable immediate difference in farming communities.

“Our aim is to make not burning more profitable than burning” says Shafer. “Specifically, we want to make biocharring more profitable than burning. So instead of lecturing folks, we told them if they did this, we would pay them. They made 15,000 bags of biochar for us.”

A self-proclaimed realist, Shafer believes that climate change and air pollution are distant concerns for farmers operating at subsistence levels. By creating a prototype biochar co-op in Mae Chaem, he and Warm Heart hope to grow their model by imitation, rather than intervention.

“The biochar social enterprise model is designed for replication” he says. “It is small and cheap and flexible. Any village anywhere in the developing world ought to be able to bend it to fit.”

Read the full article “How Will Asia Stop Severe Air Pollution While Development Rages On

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