I often get strange looks when I tell people that I am working on my PhD. in Agroecosystem Science and even stranger looks when I try to explain what that is by saying “its basically a PhD. in Soil Science”. So, I figured I would hijack this blog to try an explain what exactly I do for a living. (note: I am going to try and explain very simply)
Around the world many people live in poverty. They can’t afford basic medicine, food, or education for their children. A great portion of these people are also directly involved in agriculture as subsistence farmers, meaning they grow the food they eat. Specifically in Africa, the yields of most crops are extremely low. Many famers thus remain at or below poverty status. One reason that yields are low is that the soil is infertile or improperly managed. This is an issues as the soil is the source of nutrients, water, and growing medium for crops. This is where the nerds come in…
By using scientific methods we can study the soil. Doing so allows us to determine what may be lacking in the soil in order to recommend or study new ways of growing crops that can address this need. These new ways of growing crops have to be tested with farmers to insure that they like the new system, but they also have to be tested extensively to insure they will be profitable, environmentally sensitive, and can be resilient under unfavorable conditions.
This brings me to Tanzania… where I am currently finishing up a two month field visit. I am working with the Sokoine University of Agriculture as well as the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) on a project in Maobogeni Village near Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The yields of the farmers here have declined over the years as the temperatures have been increasing as the amount of rainfall has been decreasing. Because of this, some farmers have completely lost their crops to drought. In Africa this is a huge issue as there is often not form of crop insurance to assist farmers when this happens.
Our project is evaluating alternative methods that farmers can use to produce rice, maize (corn), and vegetables. I am here taking baseline soil samples so that we can study how these alternative methods change the soil to make sure that this change is favorable for the farmers. I will be coming back (hopefully multiple times) to work on this as well as other projects of similar nature.
There you have it. In less than 500 words, you are now on your way to becoming a Soil Scientist…
We also have another giveaway today. We have purchased our favorite Tanzania snacks, a beer included, that will make it through customs and a hand-crafted bottle opener. All you have to do is comment below. If you really want to win, you can share our post and/or tweet about it to receive your name in the drawing more. Just let us know you did so in your comment. We will announce the winner in our Foodie Friday post this week.