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Terra Preta

for Tropical
Christoph Steiner, R&D Director

Tropical Agriculture constrains

Fast depletion of

soil organic carbon and nutrients

low pH and CEC

Fertilizers inefficient, not available or too expensive
Diseases, pests and weeds

Anthrosols Brazil Terra Preta

Photo: Ilse Ackermann

Terra Preta History early descriptions

there could be seen very

large cities that glistened in
white [] many roads that
entered into the interior []
and besides this, the land is
as fertile [] as our Spain

Terra Preta History early descriptions (1879)

the bluff-land owes its richness to the refuse of a thousand kitchens for maybe a thousand
"This is the rich terra preta, "black land," the best on the Amazons. It is a fine, dark loam, a foot, and
often two feet thick. ..everywhere we find fragments of Indian pottery, so abundant in some
places that they almost cover the ground."

Terra Preta History early descriptions

C. Barrington Brown (1839-1917)
In two places also, in the forest, were the sites of ancient villages, marked by a
deep black soil mixed with broken pottery (Brown 1876:339);

Terra Preta Fifteen Thousand Miles on the Amazon and its

Tributaries, Charles Barrington Brown and William Lidstone, E.
Stanford, 1878, 520 pages (
undoubtedly of artificial origin ...highly prized as agricultural grounds, owing to their fertility; and
they bear the name of Terras pretas

In this publication Brown and Lidstone were apparently the first to use the term terra
preta (terras pretas) in print.

Terra Preta History early descriptions

the spot, like that on many other elevations

bordering the Amazon and its branches, was the
favourite dwelling-place of Indians in bygone
Villages must have stood upon these spots for
ages, to have accumulated such a depth of soil
about them; and probably their original founders
were of a race that has now completely vanished.

Terra Preta Friedrich Katzer (1861 1925)

.the region's more distinguished wealth lies in
its soil.
Conducted pioneering analytical work

Concluded that the Terra Preta has different origin

from Chernozems and were cultural in origin
Terra Preta consists of a blending of mineral
residuum, charred plant materials, and
decomposed organics.

loss-on-ignition testing indicating high organic

matter content, in contrast to soils from
surrounding locations.

Charcoal, BC Chernozem or mollisol

Most agriculturally productive soils (Duchaufour, 1998)

(5. 12. 2004 world soil day, Schwarzerde = soil of the year 2005)

Residues from vegetation fires, such as black carbon

(BC) (Glaser et al., 2000)

BC constituting up to 35% of the SOM (Skjemstad et al., 2002)

BC is several millennia in age (Schmidt et al., 2002)

Charcoal, BC, Chernozem and Terra Preta

Anthrosols Brazil Terra Preta

Terra Preta fertility

Charcoal production

Charcoal production and residue use



Manmade soils

Gilvan Martins,
Embrapa, Brazil

Gilvan Martins,
Embrapa, Brazil

Manmade soils cash crop gardens

Manmade soils cash crop gardens

Terra Preta creation?

Traditional Use US (1847)

Elad et al. 2010,

Charcoal absorbs and condenses the nutritive gases within its pores.
Charcoal often checks rust in wheat, and mildew in other crops
Ammoniacal liquor holds large quantities of nitrogen,.charcoal
dust may be added , ..the charcoal soon combine with the ammonia, is a powerful manure,

Guano should be mixed with twice its bulk of charcoal dust

Steiner et al. 2010,

J. Environ. Qual.

Charcoal should be added to liquid manure to absorb the ammonia

Poudrette is the name given to the human faeces after they have
been mixed with charcoal dust..
A dressing of charcoal has in many instances, been found so
beneficial that it has been extensively introduced in France for the
wheat crop

Danny Day
and others

The turnep (Brassica rapa.) Charcoal dust applied in the same way
has been found to increase the early growth from four to ten-fold.


JOHANNES LEHMANN, JOHN GAUNT, and MARCO RONDON Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 2006

Lehmann et al. 2006

Biochar Research Terra Preta Nova

EMBRAPA research station Brazil

Slash and Char as Alternative to Slash and Burn

Photo: Steve Welch

~50% of C remains as charcoal

~2% of C remains as charcoal

Slash and Char carbon accumulation

Soil Fertility

Carbon Stock

Slash and Burn

Time (yrs)

Slash and Char linear

Slash and Char exponential

Slash and Char research results

Increased yields with biochar
Lehmann and Rondon 2006, Steiner et al 2007, Plant and Soil

Increased retention of fertilized

nitrogen = fertilization efficiency
Lehmann et al 2003, and Steiner et al 2008

Reduced acidity
Topoliantz et al 2005, Steiner et al 2007

Increased mineral nutrition (mainly K)

Steiner et al 2007

Increased Cation Exchange Capacity

Teixeira et al, unpublished

How to provide access to carbon credits for small

scale projects (small farmers)?

Photo: Biocharfund

Charcoal Carbon Sequestration

& and Carbon Trade

How to provide access to carbon credits for small

scale projects (small farmers)?
Aggregated transaction costs are currently averaging about $200,000
per project. (UNDP, CDM Users Guide)

Carbon Sequestration prospects

Biochar carbon sequestration is less prejudiced by the greatest
obstacles of land use and forestry (LULUCF and REDD) carbon projects

Land tenure

Verification and monitoring

34 Regional Biochar Groups according to IBI

Terra Preta Nova First Terra Preta workshop, Manaus 2002