Side by side burn. This video shows how farmers typically burn their maize crop waste (pile on the left) by making piles, lighting the piles on the side and letting them burn to ash in a cloud of smoke. We train the farmers to light the pileson the top and smother the embers with dirt or water. The difference in smoke is stunning. Watch the video!

Training video in Swahili, English, French.

Draft paper: Maize stalk biochar improves yield by 62% (U of Kibabii, Kenya).

Report on our biochar from maize stalks in Malawi in Chichewe, Swahili, English, French. Conclusions:

  • Produced quality biochar.
  • Had a high yield of 25% char
  • Was nearly smokeless.
  • Could be a game-changer in Malawi

Biochar! Made by smallholder farmers.

Biochar is incredible. It doubles crop yield, improves soil fertility forever and improves the water retention capability of soil (a buffer against drought). Great climate change adaptation.

And, biochar sequesters carbon and greatly reduces smoke from crop waste burning. Great climate change mitigation.

Watch this video. The pile on the left is the traditional method of burning maize stalks in Africa – light the pile on the side and let it burn to ash in a cloud of smoke. We train farmers to make one simple change – light the pile on the top. The reduction in smoke is stunning. And, they make biochar by quenching the embers with dirt or water.

Launch in Tanzania

We are starting our launch in Tanzania! By the end of April, we hope that almost all women leaders in the 1140 Catholic parishes will be selling solar lights to replace filthy kerosene lamps, training women to use the cooking hole and training farmers to make biochar from farm waste to improve their crop production. We are giving every parish woman leader a smart feature phone to give them Internet access for the first time. The leaders will be able to communicate with each other and us on their Sun24 activities. Each parish leader will sign this agreement when receiving her phone.

Using Wood in Cooking Hole

We encourage the use of crop waste in the cooking hole. But wood works well, too.

Less wood

Less smoke

Little tending


Biochar to Ugandan Farmers to Test

Most Catholic parishes in Uganda are giving small bags of biochar to farmers so the farmers can test biochar on their farms. This will allow the farmers to see the benefits of biochar first hand. The first planting season is weeks away. Most of Uganda has two growing seasons so farmers can make and apply biochar to all of their crops in the second season later this year.

Solar Lights + Cooking Hole + Top Down Burn

This is exciting! Catholic parish women leaders in Africa are becoming forces of change. Sun24 has empowered these women in Uganda and Kenya by giving them “smart feature phones” that give them Internet access for the first time. Now they can easily communicate with each other about their training on the cooking hole, the top down burn and biochar.

We recently began training the parish leaders to sell simple $4 solar lights to replace ubiquitous filthy kerosene lamps. Families spend too much for kerosene, the lamps often start house fires that kill and maim and the smoke causes diseases that kill many thousands every year. This smoke contains black carbon, the second biggest agent of climate warming, behind CO2. Replacing all kerosene lamps in East Africa alone would be like removing 4 million tonnes of CO2 every year, roughly the same as the emissions from one million American cars.

Sun24 gives parishes in Uganda and Kenya a starter set of lights. The women leaders sell the lights to women self help groups (SHGs). The SHG members pool their money, allowing the group to buy a couple lights at a time. SHGs love this. Parish leaders use the profits to buy more lights to sell and to expand training on cooking and biochar production. The results have been phenomenal as the project has been embraced by parish leaders and SHGs. The woman leader of Fort Portal Diocese in Uganda says the project has “caught fire”. We may have cracked the code for ending dependence on filthy kerosene lamps.

Cooking Hole and Biochar Training Video

This video trains people to:

  1. Make and use a cooking hole with crop waste (maize stalks and cobs, cassava stems, banana stems and peels, elephant grass, etc.).
  2. Make biochar in the cooking hole.
  3. “Charge” the biochar with urine.
  4. Apply biochar to their crops as a fertilizer.

The cooking hole is a hole about 25x25x25 cm in the center of an open-fire cookstove, often a three-stone cookstove. A pile maize stalks is lit on top. The fire will burn down without tending so the women can do other things, something they cannot do when cooking with wood. When the fire gets low, the embers can be quenched to make biochar.

Biochar is greatly improved when it absorbs nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) from urine. Then the biochar can be used as a free fertilizer to greatly improve crop production.

The cooking hole and biochar have these benefits:

  1. Save women time collecting firewood. Women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa spend and average of 2.1 hours a day collecting firewood, putting themselves at risk of sexual assault and animal attacks.
  2. Reduce smoke exposure since women do not need to tend the fire.
  3. Reduce deforestation.
  4. Mitigate climate change. The use of renewable fuel reduces the carbon dioxide emissions. And using biochar sequesters carbon.

The Catholic Church (through Caritas) in Nigeria, Tanzania and Cameroon are sending the training video to the women leaders in every parish in their countries asking the leaders to share the video throughout their parishes. We hope Caritas in all Sub-Saharan countries will join us. We are also training in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi through Catholic parishes and through farmer and self help group associations.

Training Model for Catholic Parish Women Leaders in Africa

At each diocese, we train all parish women leaders. We train them to:

  1. Make and use cooking holes with crop waste, primarily maize stalks.
  2. Make biochar from the crop waste.
  3. Mix the biochar with urine.
  4. Apply the biochar to the fields to improve crop production.

The parish women leaders promise to return to their parishes to train everyone of all faiths to use cooking holes and to make and apply biochar. They will share this training video with everyone.

To facilitate communication among the parish women leaders, we give each parish woman leader this phone with Whatsapp connectivity. We set up a Whatsapp group chat for the women to easily discuss their Sun24 activities. Most of these women have never had a phone with Internet connectivity.

Gabon: Rock bed training begins in all Catholic dioceses

Gabon has a population of 2 million. Most of the urban population uses gas for cooking while most of the rural population uses wood for cooking. This training is in partnership with the Association des Femmes Catholiques du Gabon.

Uganda: Rock bed training begins in 12 more refugee settlements

Training is beginning in the following settlements: Kyangwali, Bweyali/Kiryandongo, Palabek Gem, Palabek 2, Palorinya, Pasu, Bidibidi, Alere, Oliji, Ayilo1, Ayilo2 and Alua.

Most refugees in developing countries cook with wood over open fires or crude cookstoves. We expect the training in these settlements to be successful. We hope the success will encourage UNHCR to train in every settlement and camp worldwide where refugees cook with wood.

India: Rock bed training begins in Tamil Nadu

India has a population of 1.4 billion. 64% use wood and charcoal for cooking – nearly a billion people. Since India’s Catholic population is very small, Sun24 is partnering with associations of women self-help groups. We are testing this approach in Tamil Nadu.