Jason Aramburu

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2013


This profile was prepared when Jason Aramburu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.
The New Idea
Jason is adamant that we can break the downward spiral of growing dependence on chemical fertilizer use, declining land quality, and falling crop yields in Africa. Through his organization, re:char, Jason provides affordable access to technology that enables smallerholder farmers to produce biochar from agricultural waste. Biochar is a carbon-negative soil amendment that eliminates dependence on chemical fertilizer and, based on his work in Kenya, boosts crop yield by an average of 144 percent. Biochar technology allows smallholders to grow more food—and more nutritious food—without purchasing additional land or fertilizer. Once spread globally, millions of farmers would experience a big increase in their annual income (an average increase of 30 percent in Kenya): and climate scientists predict that this more sustainable practice could offset up to 12 percent of humanity’s annual CO2 emissions, and dramatically fight the effects of climate change.

Today’s most popular agricultural interventions are built on the premise that access to inputs is smallholder farmers’ biggest challenge. For example, interventions focus on creating lines of credit to farmers to buy chemical fertilizer or creating networks of mobile sales agents to overcome the lack of agricultural input stores in rural areas. Jason agrees that access is a challenge, but the bigger and more relevant question is “Access to what?” Innovations in credit and extension still promote a costly, unsustainable, and environmentally taxing petrochemical solution.

Biochar is by no means a new technology, and its promise has long been evident. Through re:char, Jason has created improved production techniques and the appropriate access channels for a possibly game-changing product to reach those who can benefit from it the most: smallholder farmers with limited access to improved inputs and locked in a cycle of poverty. At scale, this winning combination of product and process innovation could significantly improve the lives of millions of smallholder farmers around the world.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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