For MSU researchers who set out to study the world’s carbon cycle, a seedling of an idea sprouted into something much bigger. They discovered that making smarter crop choices could mean raising the standard of living for some of the world’s poorest farmers and reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
By working with farmers, researchers, and government agencies in 10 Asian and African countries, the MSU Carbon2Markets project team, led by professor of forestry David Skole, is helping integrate high-value perennial tree crops that naturally sequester carbon into the mix of traditional annual crops currently grown using sustainable methods.
Keeping more carbon in the vegetation and soil means less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and farmers can earn money from carbon offset credits in global carbon markets as well as from products produced by the crops—like nuts, fruit, and oil.
The small, shrub-like jatropha tree produces nuts that can be pressed for oil, which is easily refined into biodiesel that can be sold or used to power farm equipment. While newly planted trees are maturing, farmers use techniques and standards created by MSU forestry experts to accurately measure and record the carbon stored by the trees and soil.
“Millions of people around the world live on less than $1 a day,” says Skole. “Every day, more people go into poverty than come out. This carbon sequestration is an income lever that gets them into a higher paying market for their goods.”
Boosting farmers’ incomes, in turn, boosts rural economies and national exports. And the environmental benefits are priceless. In addition to sequestering carbon, the crops help preserve biodiversity, reduce soil erosion, and increase soil fertility.
“I think climate change is the number one threat to peace and prosperity in the world,” says Skole. “MSU has the ability to link basic research and apply it to problems related to the environment and social issues. This is our mission. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Fighting poverty and climate change