Assaying soils for carbon

We passed over it lightly yesterday, but the one most important aspect of the biochar protocol at the subsistence level is the inherent ease of accountability. At the end of the day, a financial institution will be dispensing funds to small operators. It must be easy.

With terra preta it is. For the first few years, it is simply a matter of a field representative walking through the acreage a couple of times during the season and then confirming the distribution of biochar.

Whatever distribution strategy is used it will be self evident to an experienced field representative how well the operator is doing his job and even how many years of biochar has been distributed. The color will change.

The additional threat of a carbon audit consisting of a formal sampling program and an assay of the blended samples every several years will keep the operators honest. Even this is simple to do. It consist of bagging a bunch of shovel fulls of soil and then blending them together and then assaying a sample. It is also something the farmer can do himself if he disputes the independent assay.

The assay process itself could be as easy as putting a one kilo sample into a bottle of water of water and shaking. I know that when I did this with soil, that any charcoal separated and was quite visible. Of course this visual cue needs to be properly correlated with analytical results but once done, a good field assay is possible and very likely sufficient.

The only type of soil that may resist this type of assay is the high humus type. This is actually rather rare in agricultural lands, in spite of our efforts to maintain a good humus content. And if the humus is very high, we hardly have a pressing need to improve fertility.

In other words, just as the Brazilian Indians, the farmer can do all the required science himself and be totally independent.

Vastly more important, if we want to dispense carbon credits as cash, it is now easy to do. The only remaining question is regulating the social contract under which this happens. We want those farmers to be owner operators so that the cash and fertility benefits is not siphoned off by a landlord. The owner operator needs the added incentive of the improving land so that he treasures his soil.

The point is that we can be picky and use this leverage to improve the economic model under which these people live be simply demanding it. Cash is truly king sand can be used for good or satisfying any one man's greed.

Otherwise, the rewards of poppy growing will compete even with this protocol.

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