The Biochar Opportunity: Enhancing Soil Fertility, Mitigating Climate Change, and Increasing Incomes for Women in Farming

A woman produces biochar in Ghana.
Jamilatu showcases bags of biochar produced by her Women Savings and Loan Group in Ghana.

As MEDA celebrates World Environment Day 2024, we explore how a new biochar production initiative is mitigating climate change, enhancing soil fertility, and providing additional income opportunities to women in Ghana.


Jamilatu Adamu, a farmer and the chairperson for the Suntaa Nuntaa B Savings and Loans Group in Ghana, often thought about the discarded agricultural waste from her groundnut and soybean farm. This waste – including groundnut leaves and soybean and maize stalks – is frequently left to rot on the farms of smallholder farmers in Ghana, contributing to rampant bushfires in the area. However, following her participation in a biochar production workshop in Wa, Jamilatu came home equipped with a new opportunity to turn this agricultural waste into a valuable resource.

Biochar production, introduced through the Great Rural Opportunities for Women 2 (GROW2) project, has offered a transformative solution to the challenge of agricultural waste management, empowering women like Jamilatu to enhance soil fertility and climate change resilience. Biochar also poses an opportunity to generate additional income by sequestering carbon and generating carbon credits.

What is biochar?

Biochar is a carbon-rich material produced through the thermal decomposition of organic biomass — such as crop residues, agricultural waste, and woody biomass — under low-oxygen conditions. The process, known as pyrolysis, involves heating organic matter to temperatures at which it would normally burn, and then depriving it of oxygen so it can’t burn. What would normally go up in smoke is instead preserved in solid form. This stabilized biomass, also known as biochar, then becomes a form of carbon that will improve soil properties and will not decompose and be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). This, in turn, reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change while offering economic opportunities through carbon credits.

Global connections for local impact

The GROW2 project collaborated with Carboneers and Beyond Karbon (formerly Eroceht), a certified carbon credit organization for West Africa based in Ghana, to successfully raise awareness among 275 Savings and Loan Groups (SLGs) comprised solely of women about the production and utilization of biochar. Trainings were conducted for these 275 SLGs, which represent approximately 7,000 women smallholder farmers, with the assistance of field officers from GROW2 key facilitating partners in four districts: Wa Municipal, Wa West, Wa East, and Jirapa. A user-friendly manual with visual aids was created to offer more detailed instruction on biochar production techniques.

The initiative has already shown impressive impact and the potential to scale. The concerted effort led to the production of 10,000 bags of biochar from January until April 2024. This production generated carbon credits which amounted to over US$50,000 (equivalent to $5 per bag) that are now being disbursed to the SLGs by Eroceht. These funds will enable SLGs to invest in crucial agricultural technologies, seeds, and services, setting them up for success in the upcoming 2024 production season and beyond. The GROW2 project’s Women SLGs initiative has also become the first certified artisanal (manually produced) biochar project in West Africa and has received certification for biochar production in Ghana.

“I had no idea that I could contribute to improving climate change in my little small way.”

– Jamilatu Adamu

The future potential of biochar

Biochar production presents a transformative opportunity to enhance soil fertility, mitigate climate change, and promote sustainable agriculture. It benefits women smallholder farmers like Jamilatu by promoting healthier crops and higher yields, leading to increased economic and social empowerment in northern Ghana. The initiative is also providing new income-generating opportunities, enabling farmers to sell biochar or use it to enhance their farms, thereby diversifying their revenue streams and improving their financial stability.

By empowering women smallholder farmers with tools and resources to harness biochar, we can unlock the full potential of this innovative approach and pave the way for a more sustainable and prosperous agricultural future.

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Tanko

Great insights! 

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