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Clarkson University Grad Student Develops Agroforestry Project in Uganda to Offset Carbon Emissions, Create Jobs
A Clarkson University graduate student aims to offset some of the University's carbon emissions by planting trees in Uganda.
Alex French, an environmental politics and governance master's student from Cherry Valley, N.Y., developed an agroforestry project with potential to balance out the effects of carbon emissions generated by University air travel.
With initial funding from Clarkson's Institute for Sustainable Environment sustainability fund and in collaboration with the School of Business, French partnered with the nonprofit Trees for the Future and Mbarara University of Science and Technology to grow forests in Uganda.
French helped establish two nurseries in Uganda in June to grow a combined 20,000 seedlings each year. The trees are then transplanted to several locations around Mbarara, with the goal of sequestering carbon.
"Preliminary calculations suggest that the annual carbon sequestration from this project could equal to our campus airfare emissions," French said.
Susan Powers, the Jean '79 and Robert '79 Spence Professor in Sustainable Environmental Systems and associate director for sustainability in the Institute for a Sustainable Environment, said part of Clarkson's American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment is to decrease the University's greenhouse gas emissions. She said Clarkson is setting goals to reduce energy use and use renewable resources as well as offset carbon emissions.
"It is not feasible to operate a campus with zero greenhouse gas emissions, but we can plant trees and support the financing of carbon sequestration to offset some of the greenhouse gases that we do emit," she said.
Plants pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create plant biomass, Powers explained. Measuring the growth of the tree helps researchers determine how much carbon is being sequestered. She added the trees could also potentially provide numerous benefits for the rural African environment.
"We are supporting ecosystems not only through carbon sequestration, but also by preventing soil erosion and creating habitat," she said.
Augustine Lado, the Richard C. ’55 and Joy M. Dorf Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, helped establish the location of the project through his connections at Mbarara University of Science and Technology from when he was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010. The agroforestry project includes educational opportunities for Clarkson students in the sustainable solutions for the developing world minor, who travel to Uganda as part of their program.
Clarkson students in this minor program and Mbarara students each year will take inventory of the trees to determine the survival and growth rate, establishing how much carbon is sequestered through photosynthesis. Long-term carbon sequestration will be measured using protocols developed by University of Georgia Costa Rica Director Quint Newcomer and General Manager Fabricio Camacho and then compared to Clarkson's emissions.
French said the project helps students in both business and sustainability programs understand carbon sequestration and how companies can work to offset their carbon emissions.
"Students will learn about carbon offset as a business opportunity to alleviate poverty in the developing world when they visit," he said.
Microfinance groups, funded by David Reh '62, also have been set up to create paid jobs for women in Uganda who work on this agroforestry project, Lado said. The microfinance groups function as a long-term business study on the impact of the agroforestry job opportunities on the lives of women in the community.
Supported by funds from the Reh Center for Entrepreneurship, three students traveled with Lado to Uganda this summer to assess the microfinance groups. Lado said his goals for the students who travel to Uganda are for them to get outside of their comfort zones disciplinarily and culturally to better understand how business is integrated with other factors such as government and geography.
"Getting students to see that part of the world helps students to appreciate what they do in an interdisciplinary manner," Lado said.
Lado said he appreciates the efforts of French and Powers to put sustainability in a global context. He added he hopes the project provides an enriching educational experience for students and improves the quality of life in the communities in Mbarara.
"I think that Clarkson’s minor in sustainable solutions in a developing world, which focuses on an experiential learning component, can begin to create the opportunity for students to take learning into their own hands and participate and engage in these types of projects," he said.
Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.
Photo caption: Alex French, a Clarkson University environmental politics and governance master's student from Cherry Valley, N.Y., has developed an agroforestry project to offset some of the University's carbon emissions. With initial funding from Clarkson's Institute for Sustainable Environment sustainability fund and in collaboration with the School of Business, French partnered with the nonprofit Trees for the Future and Mbarara University of Science and Technology to grow forests in Uganda.
[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/afrench.jpg .]