Terra Preta and Cocoa – a legendary team-up for sustainability
Dr. Burkhard von Stackelberg
Until now farming in the tropical region has been well-known as “slash and burn” – burning down centuries-old forests.
Imagine an agro-forestry economy where the soil resources are not being depleted but instead continue to foster healthy tasteful products. Imagine a soil with an enormous biodiversity that regenerates itself continously and enables a sustainable plant nutrition.
Not a myth but a reality beneath your feet
Terra Preta not just a soil but a myth from the past come to life. It is a cultural technique which enables men to live and thrive in harmony with the agriculture because they help closing natural cycles by using harvest left-overs or organic waste.
Terra Preta – known as „black soil“ in portuguese language – is a natural product, made with the help of man, made by composting organic remains together with biochar. The product is a soil with high nutritient and water capacity, and high biological activity because of its unique porosity structure. We produce this soil out from high-quality composts combined with biochar from waste wood and digestate, which contributes to a high nutritient content of our soils.
Basically Terra Preta is organic waste material which is being mixed with charcoal and being composted and applied on the farming land by mixing it with natural soil.
The Know how of Terra Preta has been lost for centuries after the colonization of Latin America.
The Latin American region has ideal conditions for cocoa cultivation thanks to its fertile soils and a centuries-old tradition of cocoa cultivation. The tropical climate is perfect for an agro-forestry system, where cocoa trees can thrive, protected by rapidly growing shade-giving trees.
Biochar – a „multi-functional Swiss knife tool for the soil
Charcoal or “biochar” as mentioned is being a relevant factor. Of course it is not an option to cut Amazonian trees and turn them to charcoal. We suggest a rather simple low-tech process based on the Kon-Tiki process which has been created by the Ithaca Institute in Switzerland and developed further to an every-day application with training sessions by the social startup “Dein Stück Erde” – english “Your share of soil”.
What are the benefits of Terra Preta on the cocoa products?
Terra Preta is a man-made supply of stable humus, that contributes to the soil capacity in water and nutrients and supplies soil life with rich habitats. Terra Preta’s intensive nutrient and water capacity supplies the plant right to the point when the cocoa plant needs them.
Meanwhile, Terra Preta furthers the biological diversity of soil life. A high diversity reduces the pest pressure on the cocoa plant.
Through the better nutrition status and the lower pest pressure, the plant will be of higher health and thus quality than on conventional agricultural soils. Pesticides can be reduced if not even omitted while retaining high quality .
Heavy Metal effect on cocoa plants
Cocoa is a high-content zinc supply and is one of the plant nutrients with the highest zinc content. But as zinc and cadmium are chemically similar, it is also one of the plants with the highest affinity to cadmium, a harmful heavy metal. Especially young volcanic soils, as found in the Andean region, release higher amounts of cadmium. But, as cadmium has a higher affinity to organic matter than zinc, this can be remedied with a high-organic-content soil, as Terra Preta is. Therefore, Terra Preta is one of the most effective means of lowering the cadmium content in plants in special, and other toxic ions (as aluminium) in general.
Decentralized application and open-source philosophy
We provide the knowledge of Terra Preta as open-source knowledge, to give it back to humanity and South America: We will not charge license fees for the knowledge on Biochar and Terra Preta, but encourage to share that knowledge to anybody who wants to use it. So, this agricultural innovation can be used to strengthen, to empower small-scale farmers all over the world and to feed the world on a decentral scale. The technical solutions we need for global well-being are all out there, the problem is not a technological one. Today’s major innovations not be the technological ones, they will be the social innovations.
Dr. Burkhard von Stackelberg
Ecological Economic Social Cocoa forests with Terra Preta ensure:
– positive impact on local and global climate thanks to CO2 sequestration
– biodiversity which contributes to fertility of plants and works as natural pest control at the finca
Agroforestry system creates:
– protected habitat for many animals and plants, biodiversity
– water storage and filter system similar to a forest
– fine cocoa and harvest yields which are sustainable due to the continous humification
– sustainably managed agroforestry systems
– secure and well-paid jobs
– qualified jobs and prosperity in the region
– fair jobs for all employees regardless of gender or ethnicity
Residents protect forests:
– involving locals leads to willingness to protect cocoa forests in the region
– usage of cocoa harvest left-overs which are being used for Terra Preta production
– tradition of cocoa cultivation is strengthened by usage of Terra Preta and leads to more expertise from which the forests benefit
Training and Education
Training programmes and qualification of our employees through courses in Terra Preta and Agro-forestry, job safety and cocoa processing as well as literacy courses if required
Terra Preta in the cocoa production contributes the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN
Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation:
Economical use of water and the creation of natural water reservoirs through agroforestry systems.
Goal 13 Climate Action:
Our environmentally friendly agroforestry systems with increasing humic content contribute to climate protection.
Goal 15 Life on land:
Our agro-forestry systems with Terra Preta guarantee biodiversity, the protective functions of the forest and improve the quality of the soil
Illustration: Basic principle of pyrolysis – the gas burns and not the wood itself.
Source: Ithaca Institute
Description of the pyrolysis process. When wood is burnt, it is actually not the wood you see burning, but the pyrolysis gas that is generated during the process. A burning match is a good example for the process: When heating wood, first the water is boiled out. In the next phase, the wood heats up until the pyrolysis starts. During the pyrolysis, the wood is converted to char, while wood gas is generated. The combustion of the gas gives heat back to the pyrolysing wood. After an initial heating (match: the ignition head), the process is self-sustaining. In the end, even the char might be oxygenized, with ash as leftover.
Illustration / photos description
The photos are showing the biochar and Terra Preta production process.
All photos are from Burkhard, Dave and the Ithaca Institute