Research to Fight Poverty and Protect the Environment Honored for Five Years of Outstanding Work

A MSU carbon accounting system aimed at helping some of the world's poorest people grow trees has been deemed outstanding for the past five years by one of its international funders.

Measuring trees in Thailand

A Michigan State University carbon accounting system aimed at helping some of the world's poorest people grow trees that will boost their standards of living and slow climate change has been deemed outstanding for the past five years by one of its international funders.

Called Carbon2Markets, the program encompasses collaborative projects with farmers, researchers and government agencies in five developing Asian and African countries. MSU researchers help the farmer groups integrate high-value forest crops, such as jatropha or shea, into the crops they're currently growing using methods that are smart and sustainable. Then the farmers use standards created by MSU experts to accurately measure and record the carbon stored in the soil by the trees. Storing carbon in the soil keeps it out of the atmosphere and helps slow global warming.

The Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) board members unanimously honored the Carbon2Markets program as outstanding.

"We are very pleased to have been recognized by the APN, which is a joint program of the Japan Ministry of Environment and the National Science Foundation," said David Skole, MABR forestry professor and leader of the Carbon2Markets project. "APN funding has been very important to us -- it's allowed us to tap an international source of support for doing work in the region and engage partners in these countries. We feel this award validates our Carbon2Markets model as a novel approach to link climate mitigation and rural poverty alleviation under a single intervention.

"We were especially pleased that we were the only project honored under the linking science and policy theme," Skole continued. "We have always believed that in climate change research, MSU's biggest strength is on the application side of climate change science."

Accurately measuring stored carbon offers the farmers the potential to earn money on the global carbon market -- the Chicago Climate Exchange offers trading for all greenhouse gases. A farmer who planted trees on about 3 acres would earn about $40 per year from the carbon market at current prices. A 25-acre plot could earn up to $400 per year -- a significant amount in a region of Thailand where the average annual income is about $ 1,200.

"The strength of our research in regions such as Southeast Asia also is a result of dedicated and skilled colleagues from our partner institutions: Mahidol, Kasetsart and Mahasarakham universities in Thailand, the National Research Council of Thailand, the National University of Laos, the Vietnam Forestry University, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vietnam, among others," said Jay Samek, MSU forestry research scientist and project manager.

The Carbon2Markets program recently submitted a protocol for an agriculture/forestry carbon market as well as a project implementation plan to the Chicago Climate Exchange for review. The project includes 89 teak farmers in five Thai provinces and is projected to sequester more than 45,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the next 15 years.

Joining carbon markets with sustainable forest production is unique to the MSU Carbon2Markets program. Earlier approaches using forestry crops to improve the standard of living in developing countries' rural areas often failed because farmers were asked to make substantial investments in the labor and land required to grow trees and then had to wait 5 to 10 years for the trees to produce fruit or nuts with no guarantee that the trees would survive to maturity. In the MSU project, farmers can realize a return on their investment very quickly through carbon credits and then use and sell the forest products they grow. Jatropha tree nuts can be used to make biodiesel, which is then used to run farm equipment or produce energy for a village. Shea tree nuts yield shea butter, a staple ingredient in high-end moisturizing lotions. The trees also provide food, timber, firewood and medicines.

Skole's research also is supported by Michigan AgBioResearch.

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