New, student-led research in Manatuto municipality is offering early positive results for experiments conducted with rice hull biochar – and an innovative addition to the organic fertiliser could offer a pathway for sustainable, increased crop production.
Students from the University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL) started new experiments at Laleia, in Manatuto municipality, in August – investigating the effect of biochar and other fertilisers on crop production.
Biochar – an organic fertiliser made form half-burning the discarded hulls of rice grains – is a low-cost fertiliser easy to produce in Timor-Leste.
While biochar has been demonstrated to dramatically increase crop yields in Timor-Leste, improvement required high application levels. In Laleia in 2017, initial experiments with biochar on tomato crops found that biochar application was found to increase tomato yields from four to 17 tonnes per hectare – a dramatic and positive response, far exceeding expectations.
This was achieved with an application rate of 30 tonnes of biochar per hectare, which is a high application rate only available in very limited areas.
But new student experiments are testing an innovative product called Biochar Plus on a wide range of crops, in complement with other agronomic options, like mulching. Two weeks on from planting, all species treated with Biochar Plus are producing healthier, stronger looking plans.
Biochar Plus is a new product that combines regular biochar with small amounts of chemical fertiliser to supply nitrogen and phosphorous to plants. While many farming families in Timor-Leste are averse to chemical fertilisers – which are often expensive and at times difficult to obtain – the small amounts of chemical fertiliser added to the biochar to produce Biochar Plus appear interesting to families.
The nitrogen and phosphorous supplied to the plant feed the plant, and the biochar that carries them feeds the soil. The result appears to be healthier, more fertile soil, with more productive plants – offering a compelling pathway for increasing crop yields, improving soil quality and preserving the health of the land for sustainable dry-season cropping and Laleia.
Over the next several months, UNTL students will investigate various methods to increase crop production in the dry season. Through this new research, these UNTL students will be simultaneously investigating improved food sources for families in Timor-Leste, and investing in their own research capacity for the country’s further development.