Tackling poverty by adapting to climate change in Indonesia

Women in Kupang making biochar

Singing to the tune of gospel, housewife Firderika Tanone casually put a handful of black charcoal powder into a manual stamping tool. She then pressed down the metal handle to produce a cylinder-shaped briquette in an instant.

Several other women mixed the charcoal powder with maize as they sang in unison inside a makeshift village hall in Oebau, which lies in East Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces.


  • UNDP's Biochar project introduces bio-charcoal to farmers in East Nusa Tenggara & Central Sulawesi provinces.
  • The project aims at empowering thousands of women to develop bio-charcoal home industries & generate extra income to improve their lives.
  • The usage of biocharcoal doubled the increase of corn crop production in 2012.

“Next, we will have to dry these briquettes under the sun,” said the mother of an eight-month old baby.

This will not take more than a couple of hours. East Nusa Tenggara, is indeed one of the driest and most remote regions of Indonesia where the sun scorches the earth, with temperatures reaching up to 39 degrees Celsius. The effects of the heat and the change in climate have further worsened in recent years due to the prolonged drought season.

Tanone is one of the women who have benefited from UNDP’s “Biochar” project which introduces bio-charcoal to farmers in East Nusa Tenggara and Central Sulawesi provinces, to boost crop yield and provide clean cooking facilities with efficient briquettes. As for now, about a hundred women are making bio-charcoal and ultimately, the project aims at empowering thousands of women to develop bio-charcoal home industries and generate extra income to improve their lives.

 “Putting the bio-charcoal into the soil has proven to increase crop production in the village. We’re hoping that by increasing the crop production, farmers will no longer resort to slash and burn practices to open up new planting areas. Biochar can contribute to mitigate climate change,” said UNDP Programme Manager for Sustainable Energy, Ms. Verania Andria.

Since its inception in 2011, the Biochar project has become one of UNDP Indonesia’s signature projects. With a presence in over 170 countries, UNDP acquired the expertise to help reverse environmental degradation, while providing alternative sources of energy and benefiting the poor by creating income opportunities and improving resilience to the effects of climate change.

Not far from the meeting hall, village head, Otnial Nuban, took the lead in a mass planting ceremony, involving dozens of local farmers, clad in colorful woven cloths. Under the intense heat, the 50-year old man carefully planted yellow corn seeds along with a handful of bio-charcoal produced by his own villagers.

“The production of our corn crop has more than doubled this year (2012). We have seen the results and we’re happy” said Nuban, flashing his red-stained teeth, a testimony to his betel nut-chewing habit.

The farmers have been making bio-charcoal by burning wasted tree branches in an underground oven, a simple process that still emits little emission. UNDP has since supplied farmers with bio-char kiln – a sealed metallic oven – which allows farmers to make bio-charcoal in a more environmentally way. Farmers are hoping that this year, their three wishes will be granted: to increase crop yield even more, harvest at least twice a year and produce enough bio-charcoal briquettes to be later sold on the local markets.

“Looking ahead, we are aiming to develop home-based industry involving mostly women in the village. This could be a great example of how biochar can support mitigation action as well as adaptation efforts of the poor to anticipate changing climate by creating new income opportunities and improve health status through cleaner cooking facility,” Andria added.

Like any other villagers in East Nusa Tenggara province, the local communities in Oebau still practice centuries-old tradition of weaving. The women in the village anticipate that, if the briquette home industry thrives, they would use the extra money to buy more threads and produce woven cloths in large numbers. This represents a double opportunity of new income in the near future.

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