When Ben Bower, one of our KWES Project Leaders had the opportunity to travel to Kachchh in the state of Gujarat, India and utilise his woodland skills to help the local population, he jumped at the opportunity.
This opportunity came about because Ben did his Msc at Greenwhich University and worked with Dr Debbie Bartlett, Principal Lecturer at the university in the Faculty of Engineering and Science who was involved in this project.
Concern about the spread of the desert caused by live stock overgrazing and increasing salinity led to the introduction of a South American plant called Mesquite. This plant has been highly successful in stabilising the desert but has now become over invasive on grazing land in the region. Whilst removal might seem an obvious solution Mesquite has become an important source if income for the local population as wood fuel, or as a source for charcoal production.
The trip presented an opportunity for Ben share his knowledge in two areas:
Charcoal making – The aim was to assess the potential for developing a simple retort kiln to convert Mesquite into charcoal using recycled steel drums.
Hedge laying – to evaluate whether Mesquite could be used for laid hedging as a means of creating cattle and buffalo enclosures.
Retort kiln trial
In the charcoal making trial, drums of various sizes and configurations were tested. These experiments strongly suggest that this method will produce charcoal efficiently and effectively from Mesquite.
The conclusion from the experiment was that further experimentation is required to find the ideal combination of drum sizes to ensure a hot enough burn to achieve full carbonisation.
The fuel consumption and temperature of the burn is likely to be more effective if the outer drum is insulated to stop waste of heat.
The response was very positive with the following comments made:
“the use of a permanent structure will be very beneficial”
B H Thakker, Conservator of Forests
“This will definetly work well if the burn time is long enough”
Mr Popat, farm worker
“New concept, natural solution, farmer friendly”
The hedge laying trial
The aim as To determine if individual stems of Mesquite will survive and continue to grow after they have been pleach cut and laid.
The experiment showed it was possible to lay the stems by cutting through 60% – 75% of the stem and that Mesquite had the potential to be a suitable enclosure for livestock when used as a laid hedge.
The response to the trial was very favourable:
“In two years this living fence will definitely grow thick and keep out both wild boar and nilgai” – a local farmer
“I very much like this living fence as the current practice of dead hedging is not permanent. Forestry Department
“People are admiring this living fence like anything and will definitely do it themselves” Nilesh Patel, Farm Manager.
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