PROFILE: TYPHOON KETSANA SURVIVOR MAKES A LIFETIME COMMITMENT TO INCREASE SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH BIOCHAR AND GASIFIER STOVES
Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines on the morning of September 26, 2009; an event which was both terrifying and life changing for a University of Santo Tomas Instructor (and IBI Advisory Committee member), Neil Ian P. Lumanlan. Lumanlan thought it was the end of his life as he watched floodwaters rise to the roof of a neighbor’s house and experienced his city, Marikina, flood with ten feet of water. Though elevated, his apartment had water up to the waist, his wife and child were trapped in a hospital a few blocks away, and his car was submerged. At 11 pm that night, he waded through extremely cold and neck deep water to bring supplies to his wife and child at the hospital and then returned to his apartment. Lumanlan was sleepless through the night, and tossed and turned wondering what he, as an individual, could do to fight climate change to reduce the likelihood of further severe weather events.
In the aftermath of the typhoon, more than 100 people died in the city of Marikina. The waters left dead animals, mud, and sewage in the streets and houses, and the Department of Health declared a breakout of leptospirosis in the city. The devastation and trauma he experienced during typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines made him ask the question: “What will happen to my children if we Filipinos do nothing about climate change?”
Lumanlan did some research and spent his summer vacations from 2010 to 2012 learning more about gasifier stoves and biochar. He found that making biochar was not only a great learning experience but also fit into his love for more sustainable gardening. Lumanlan starting mixing biochar with bokashi compost and vermicast and used this mixture on his flowers and vegetables. An instructor of undergraduate Environmental science, he integrated gasifier stoves and biochar in teaching sustainability to accounting majors to introduce them to new technologies. As a supporter of the University of Santo Tomas’ community development efforts, he saw the problems facing rural farmers—diminishing forests, eye and respiratory problems, pesticide polluted waterways, and poverty associated with an inability to compete with imported cash crops and requirements of purchasing fertilizers.
With this understanding, Lumanlan started the GreenStoVes project to help typhoon affected areas become less reliant on external imports. As a student project, Neil taught students basic “tincanium” stove building; stoves were made of used food tin cans and paint cans. Lumanlan first introduced rocket stoves (using the model of Larry Winiarsky) and donated them to farmers who were still relying on open fires for cooking food. There was great enthusiasm, especially among the women, who saw the smokeless stoves that could utilize a variety of feedstocks. It was a great tool in explaining the connections between traditional stoves and deforestation, agriculture and climate change, as well as indoor air pollution and health risks among women and children. He then started introducing basic gasifier stoves that produced biochar and taught organic and natural farming techniques, including the use of microbial inoculants and bokashi composting to divert farmers from burning crop wastes and a reliance on fertilizers. In addition to bokashi composting to prevent air pollution from burning of crop wastes and charcoal making, Lumanlan wants to promote briquetting of urban yard wastes to provide non-wood fuel to poor communities in the city of Marikina so they have more options for heating and cooking. Lumanlan believes that all these steps can start helping the people in his country, both urban and rural, not only lessen their contribution to climate change, but help them survive when more devastating events occur.
Lumanlan explaining the concepts of gasification (all photos courtesy of Neil Lumanlan)
Showcasing the use of biochar and other soil amendments