Green grabs and biochar: revaluing African soils and farming in the new carbon economy

Fairhead, James, Leach, Melissa and Fraser, James (2012) Green grabs and biochar: revaluing African soils and farming in the new carbon economy. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 39 (2). pp. 285-307. ISSN 0306-6150

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Biochar currently attracts technological and market optimism, promising multiple wins – for climate change, food security, bioenergy and health – not least for African farmers. This paper examines the political-economic and discursive processes constructing biochar as a novel green commodity, creating new alliances amongst scientists, businesses, venture capital firms and non-governmental organisations. Carbon market logics are not only threatening large-scale land grabs for biochar feedstocks but also other forms of resource, labour and ecological appropriation through driving research and development and shaping small-scale pilot projects. In these, soil carbon is ‘chopped out’ of its ecosystem and social contexts and revalued as exchangeable pieces of carbon nature. Farmers are hailed as green actors and market winners, provided they discipline their practices according to these new technical and market logics. These discourses contrast strongly with the farmers' existing conceptual and practical repertoires; a case study from Liberia illustrates how farmers already manipulate soil carbon in creating locally valued anthropogenic dark earths, but within diverse farming repertoires, ontologies of human–nature interrelationship and historical and political ecologies.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: green grabbing; biochar; carbon market; farming; Africa
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology > GN301 Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology > GN397 Applied anthropology
Depositing User: James Fraser
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2012 10:39
Last Modified: 05 Feb 2013 11:23
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