An update from Art Donnelly, organizer and founder of a Seattle, Wa., USA, based non-profit: SeaChar.Org

As part of this work I have been developing clean burning charcoal making stoves. The two and a half weeks I recently spent in Costa Rica have been incredibly productive.

The Estufa Finca (farm stove) is a biochar producing stove. It is designed to cleanly burn an extremely wide range of waste biomass, from coffee plant trimmings to corn cobs, goat poop to blackberry vines. Because these stoves are gasifiers; they actually burn up the smoke and pollution, which come from traditional combustion. This elegant process also produces the carbon negative, soil amendment biochar, as a bi-product.

The joint Sol Colibri/ Seachar.Org: Estufa Finca Project is initially targeted at addressing the health needs of the tens of thousands of migrant farm workers, who enter Costa Rica each year to harvest the coffee and cocoa crop. It is our intention to have the stoves produced in the Santos region of Costa Rica, by a women's owned and run production co-op. It is our reasonable expectation at this point in the prototyping process that we will be able to produce the stoves for approximately $20 a unit. One of our most important goals is to work with these women to build a profit generating business which can ultimately supply stoves and stove kits to the estimated 3 million plus strong Central American market. After surveying the current stove market we know that we have a cleaner and more fuel efficient product, at the right price. We will also be designing this project to take advantage of the Carbon credit market as a secondary income stream. Obviously, even this will require that a part of the cost to the pickers to be subsidized. It may be possible to involve the farmers in this, in exchange for the charcoal the stoves produce. Charcoal is a product, which is already valued by many organic growers as a component of their organic fertilizers. To help create that market valuation for the biochar, we will be including demonstration biochar test plots in the project design. It is interesting to note that this use means that these stoves can reduce the demands on forest resources in two ways. Neither the cooking fuel or the charcoal need to be created by cutting down trees.

So, my one line sales pitch might be "Smell the Coffee Not the Smoke, the Estufas Finca saves lives and trees"

This simple technology intersects so many issues, it makes a great sustainability teaching tool. As this project develops, Arturo and I are both committed to the idea of using this project as an ideal service learning opportunity, for students visiting Costa Rica. In July of 2010, Educators W/O Borders will bring the first group of North American High School students down to help build and distribute stoves. Their in-country partner will be Santos Tour, whose latest (Austrailian College students) service volunteer group, helped us build the initial 15 stoves on Jan 22nd, in Providencia, CR. Through participation with a linked cycle of community generated, sustainable development projects and home stays, students will learn and teach skills as equals with their host country peers. Eventually we want to foster a two-way bridge of understanding. We can only hope to build a better future by creating global citizens. This is why we feel the coffee and cocoa from Sol Colibri is such a powerful fund raising tool, to support this absolutely necessary work. The connection is absolutely direct. In this case, the next sip of coffee you take could literally help to save the life of the person who picked those beans you brewed. I know it is making my coffee taste very special.

None of this can be accomplished without strong partners working together both in Central America and North America. We have a lot of work ahead of us. The last two weeks proved to me that we can count on strong local partners in Costa Rica. Our discussions with the National University (UNA), La Alianza, Earthwatch and SALTRA (the Central American OSHA ) are going very well. But what gives me the most confidence is that it is the farmers who have initiated this great work.

We plan on sending finalized production and testing prototypes to Costa Rica by late March and to be ready to begin training and production by July. How quickly we can scale up and save lives, depends on how quickly we can find funding. HEDON's community of interest and support brings invaluable skills and resources to this team.

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