Adapting to a Changing Environment

Carbon Roots International

Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
7548 Sunnyside Ave N
Seattle, 98103 (USA)
United States
Population Impacted: 


Major Occupations: 
Farming, charcoal production
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
Dwindling trees for harvesting charcoal fuel, depleted soils as media for growing food, intermittent rain for irrigation
Local threats to resources: 
Deforestation, erosion, climate change
Climate Hazards: 
Interviews conducted by CRI consistently indicate an increase in prolonged droughts in central and northern Haiti.
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
High level of exposure, due to the fractured economic climate, combined with the nearly complete lack of irrigation technology available to rural farmers to mitigate the damage wrought by drought.
Level of sensitivity: 
As agricultural productivity continues to decrease, Haitian farmers at the bottom of the pyramid will cease to be able to subsist of the meager food and income to be harvested from depleted soils and lands.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
Carbon Roots International's biochar soil amendment holds immense promise to help farmers cope with the effects of erosion and drought.
Describe Your Solution: 

Much of the developing world relies on charcoal as a primary source of energy, which propels a destructive domino effect of negative health outcomes, deforestation, increased greenhouse gas emissions, erosion, flooding, decreased arable land, declining crop yields, and depressed incomes, thereby reinforcing reliance on polluting, tree-consuming charcoal. Though charcoal fuel use and low agricultural productivity are interlinked, most current development strategies attempt to address these problems in isolation. Carbon Roots International has launched a project centered around the creation of carbon-rich char from sustainable and renewable biomass, such as agricultural waste biomass, for use as cooking fuel (?green charcoal?) and as a sustainable soil amendment (?biochar?). The project combats deforestation and earns revenue through the sale of green charcoal briquettes, and bolsters food security through biochar production and disbursal to farmers. The heart of CRI?s project model is a network of smallholder farmers and prospective micro-entrepreneurs who are trained to produce char out of their agricultural waste biomass (sugarcane bagasse, corn stover, rice husk, etc.) using simple, easy-to-use kilns constructed from locally-sourced 55-gallon barrels. Following capacity building workshops, each farmer takes home a kiln under a lease-to-own program and begins to monetize their waste biomass by converting it into char, which Carbon Roots International then purchases from the farmer. At a central facility, CRI processes the char into two vital and reciprocal tools that reduce exploitation of local resources: a sustainable, drop-in substitute for traditional wood-based charcoal, and an extremely potent fertilizer replacement. The green charcoal produced by CRI is not a charcoal replacement like many alternative fuels projects; it is charcoal, differing primarily in its origin as non-woody biomass. Therefore, green charcoal briquettes look and perform similarly to traditional wood charcoal, requiring neither new cooking methods nor new stove technologies, thus mitigating financial and cultural barriers to adoption that have plagued many clean cookstove and alternative fuel projects. By addressing the root cause of deforestation?charcoal consumption?CRI?s renewable fuel saves trees, makes reforestation a possibility, and boosts the livelihoods of the poorest farmers. The other application of the char is as a soil amendment, known as biochar. Due to its micro-porous structure, biochar makes an immediate impact in soil, resulting in increased water retention, improved cycling of nutrients, and augmented crop yields. Moreover, charring biomass before decomposition for use as biochar removes carbon from the global CO2 cycle, and is a form of carbon sequestration. Compared to existing agricultural inputs that are currently available to the world?s poorest farmers, biochar is a cheap, sustainable alternative that, unlike chemical or natural fertilizers, does not lose potency over time. Indeed, because biochar does not merely add nutrients to the soil but rather provides housing for a micro-organic ecosystem, biochar?s benefits are effectively permanent. When produced from renewable agricultural waste in the developing world, biochar represents a viable and valuable new tool to address global issues of soil and nutrient loss, erosion, food security, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecological Costs: 
- Removing biomass from fields, which could be used as compost - Some CO2 emission during conversion process
Ecological Benefit: 
- Preservation of precious trees - Reforestation opportunities - Reduced erosion and nutrient loss - Carbon sequestered - Water savings through reduced irrigation needs
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

- Green charcoal consumed as indicator of wood charcoal offset - Biochar disbursed as indicator of carbon sequestered

Community/Social Cost: 
- Time investment in training in char production - Potential community conflicts over usage of waste biomass reserves
Community/Social Benefit: 
- Reduced flooding in lowlands - Increased crop yields - Food security
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
- Change in yields - Annual instances of flooding in active areas
Economic Cost: 

- Investment (through lease) in kiln equipment

Economic Benefit: 

- New job opportunities - Increased incomes for small farmers - 20% savings on everyday fuel use

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

- Jobs created - Money paid out to farmers for char - Calculated savings based on amount of green charcoal sold

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

There are a host of environmental, political, and cultural obstacles in Haiti that impede attempts to change behavior or encourage the adoption of new technologies, such as corruption. While corruption is a potential problem in Haiti, CRI is well positioned to navigate these issues. CRI?s current collaboration with USAID and the United Nations? peacekeeping mission in Haiti provides valuable governmental contacts, easing business development and decreasing political barriers. One other persistent hurdle is the dearth of capable and educated entrepreneurs. Any business that hopes to make a lasting impact in Haiti must be backed by local staff that are able to function in management roles, and believe in the work. CRI works with incredible local staff who are the most valuable buffer against failure.

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

Carbon Roots International's (CRI) work with bottom-of-the-pyramid communities embodies the ?HEAR-CREATE-DELIVER? ethos of the Human-Centered Design methodology, and is informed by several years of work on-the-ground in Haiti. CRI?s solution stems from a study of rural Haitian farmers carried out by CRI Co-Founder Ryan Delaney in the Spring of 2011. Using a methodology called Participatory Rural Appraisal, CRI identified factors that contributed to previous failed development projects in the area, and made recommendations for program design. The process involved hundreds of interviews in the remote La Coupe valley in Haiti?s central plateau, and provided the CRI team with an immersive lesson in Haitian proclivities and prejudices. The upshot of the study was a recommendation to create a project that presents clearly defined monetary incentives, whether money directly or a product/service that Haitian farmers associate with a monetary gain. CRI?s model heeds these recommendations, and addresses many of the most pressing needs that were identified through the assessment, specifically charcoal use and low agricultural productivity. Following the community assessment process, CRI worked closely with Makouti Agro Enterprise, a local grassroots organization, to design a model that addresses the linkage between charcoal fuel use, poor soils, low agricultural productivity, and vulnerability to changing environmental conditions. Over the course of a year, CRI and Makouti developed a market-based solution that is both locally appropriate and scalable.

Climate hazard of concern: 
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

Carbon Roots International?s green charcoal briquettes reduce the consumption of wood-based charcoal, which is the largest propeller of deforestation in Haiti. The loss of trees has made the Haitian ecosystem exponentially more exposed to climate conditions, but proposals to rehabilitate and reforest the countryside have fallen short because they?ve failed to address the underlying charcoal problem, leading to more deforestation and more soil degradation. Because CRI?s model also includes biochar production, it also helps bolster the defenses of Haiti?s soil ecosystems against climate impacts. Thus, the growth and adoption of CRI?s green charcoal will reduce exposure ?from the ground up?, and make refocusing on the environment?s needs a possibility.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

The biochar that Carbon Roots International produces regulates soil moisture, holds onto minerals and microorganisms, and builds the soil?s own capacity to produce nutrients, giving crops a better chance against the increasingly erratic shifts between scorching heat and monsoon rains.

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

Carbon Roots International?s green charcoal reduces the destroying of trees, which are carbon sinks, and, because it is produced from dead biomass, is itself a small-footprint (nearly carbon neutral) fuel. Moreover, biochar is carbon negative?a form of carbon sequestration?and helps to not just adapt, but combat climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmospheric cycle.

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

Carbon Roots International?s Theory of Change postulates that deforestation, low agricultural yields, and energy demand can be addressed through the production of green charcoal and biochar. By utilizing appropriate technology made from widely available materials, the project exploits extremely flexible waste inputs and provides clear incentives and benefits to a range of stakeholders. Farmers monetize their agricultural waste and receive powerful, carbon-negative soil amendments; women charcoal retailers offer a highly-competitive product, enjoy higher profit margins, develop business skills, and build a broad customer base; charcoal consumers have access to a cleaner, cheaper, viable and sustainable cooking fuel at a price point 20% cheaper than traditional charcoal; and local ecosystems are preserved, enhanced, and can now be rebuilt.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

Green charcoal allows the 94% of Haitians who use charcoal to rely less on an unsustainable fuel source. And as a locally-produced, long-term soil amendment, biochar reduces reliance on petroleum-based inputs such as chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

See above.

Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?: 

Carbon Roots International?s development model is informed by a strategic partnership with a Ugandan green charcoal social enterprise called EcoFuel Africa (EFA). EFA currently has two production centers in rural Uganda, producing 50,000 kilograms of green charcoal briquettes per month. CRI draws on EFA?s knowledge of green charcoal production, while EFA has benefited greatly from CRI?s biochar expertise. EcoFuel Africa proves that CRI?s model is replicable; CRI is intent on proving its scalability. A few assets that make scaling easier include: simple technology, a wide array of potential biomass inputs, widespread use of solid cooking fuel by 2.5 billion people around the globe, the inclusion of local entrepreneurs, and the market focus of CRI?s model. A production center and supporting char producer network can be potentially established anywhere stocks of waste organic biomass exist. CRI?s model is scalable across the globe.

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