Marc Sabin, an executive with Advanced Resilient Biocarbon in Nelsonville, was among a group that met recently at the White House with the national directors of food security and climate change to discuss the African Great Green Wall Project.
What is the project?
It was launched by the African Union in 2007. It seeks to plant a trillion trees across the greater Sahel region, the widest section of Africa, a nearly 5,000-mile span that includes 21 countries. The region lies below the Sahara Desert and, while it isn’t that dry, its climate is arid. Among the devastating effects of climate change in Africa is the expansion of the desert southward into the Sahel, which includes millions of people and productive farmland. The project aims to stem the encroachment of the desert while sustaining agriculture.
How would trees help?
It’s agroforestry, mixing farming and forestry. Trees provide shade and help to keep more water in the soil. The goal is to provide land where people can grow higher-value crops, not just rice and millet. You can see this approach locally on a farm along Route 9D between Cold Spring and Garrison; it’s small fields surrounded by trees.
Your company doesn’t plant trees; why is it involved?
We’ve been in the business of climate repair for 10 years and biochar is key in addressing that mission. Biomass waste is burned in the absence of oxygen, a process called pyrolysis, converting it into biochar, which can enhance soil when blended with minerals and compost that support the microbial life of the soil biome. It can also be used to extract chemicals and toxins from water and soil. Biochar prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere by storing it in other products and materials, including soil enhancements.
How do you get biochar into African soil?
We look for carbon-rich material, such as woody waste from softwoods or hardwoods. We create joint ventures in areas where there is a good source of waste, such as a forest being harvested, lumber mills or areas where abundant dead trees could contribute to forest fires. Our joint ventures install systems to process that waste into various forms of char. That creates jobs and financial support for the local community, in addition to reducing waste and cleaning the environment. We identify markets, such as Africa, for the char we produce. We handle sales, distribution and sometimes delivery. Profits are split with our joint venture partners. We also have projects in Colombia, China, Singapore and Malaysia.
What challenges does the African Great Green Wall pose?
A big difficulty is Africa’s reputation for not having funds that are pledged get down to the people whose lives a project is intended to help. Very little of the money pledged to the Great Green Wall has been exchanged, and a lot of money is needed. We’re still dealing with climate-change denial, particularly among people on the investment side. That’s changing with the Biden administration, with infrastructure investments in new, greener technologies. We’ve found the biggest opportunity is in the European Union. They’ve set up a climate bond, with specific, science-based taxonomy that provides the rules that have to be abided by.