PI: Johannes Lehmann (Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University) Co-PI: Janice Thies (Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University) Co-PI: Rufus Edwards (Department of Epidemiology, University of California Irvine) Co-PI: Henry Neufeldt (World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya) Collaborator: Betta Fisher (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University) Collaborator: Fred Gouldin (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University) Collaborator: David Lee (Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University) Collaborator: Stephen Joseph (University of New South Wales, Australia)
The major threat to agricultural productivity in Africa is the rapid increase in soil degradation that is linked directly to food insecurity, hunger and poverty. Integrating stable biochar into carbon-constrained agricultural systems in developing countries may be able to address long term productivity constraints. Despite its significant potential, it is less known whether biochar inoculants can be developed that enhance crop growth by improving growth conditions for nitrogen fixing bacteria, plant growth promoting rhizobacteria and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The objective of this project is to provide fundamental knowledge of how to best develop and use biochar inoculants within smallholder agriculture systems in Kenya. Resource opportunities are mapped for entire farms, and biochar cook stoves optimized to generate clean household energy as well as agronomically valuable and environmentally safe, stable biochar products. The ability of biochars to provide improved growth conditions for beneficial microorganisms is determined using incubations under a range of soil conditions where organisms are imaged using advanced microscopy. A mechanistic understanding of the way certain biochar traits improve inoculant behavior are obtained by relating microbial occurrence to physical and molecular properties of biochars. The investigation of microbe-biochar interactions are novel and are expected to provide fundamental knowledge at the frontier of soil health science. For the broader community, project outcomes will inform about biomass use and optimization in agricultural systems, cook stove optimization, and mechanisms of microbial inoculant processes, which will significantly strengthen our understanding of soil health management and improve small holder agricultural systems in developing countries.
This project will generate innovative ways to sustainably enhance soil resources in developing countries. It is the first of its kind to embrace a full life-cycle approach to solving carbon constraints in small-holder agriculture that can be locally implemented and managed. This project will build local capacity in teaching, learning and research both in Kenya and the US. Students at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels will be trained using a wide array of new molecular technologies and approaches to system science. This project will make use of our existing linkages to the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, and communicate results directly to national organizations in Africa involved in education, research and policy making. The project is making results available through a project website, a permanently archived database on Cornell University's D-space archive, and a CD-ROM which will include cook stove designs, biochar-inoculant production and application protocols. Information will also be disseminated through workshops on biochar-inoculant methods, publications, project briefs, and presentations.