I get paid to play with dirt…

Holding Soil

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.

One of my field sites with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.

One of my field sites with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.

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.

Maize (corn) that died because the rains never came.

Maize (corn) that died because the rains never came.

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.


This entry was posted in Africa, Soil Science by Patrick. Bookmark the permalink.

About Patrick

I am currently a graduate student studying Plant and Soil Sciences and International Agriculture at Oklahoma State University. In between teaching and research my wife and I love to go running with our dog all around Oklahoma. In the past 5 months we have completed both our first half-marathon and full marathon. Currently I am experimenting with heart rate training and semi-minimalist shoes with the hopes of running some trail and ultramarathons.

19 thoughts on “I get paid to play with dirt…

  1. I want to be a soil scientist when I grow up!

    Sounds like a really interesting trip…keep the stories coming.

  2. Thanks for breaking it down for us Pat! šŸ˜‰
    What a beautiful view you have! Thank you for sharing your adventures!

  3. a wise man once informed me “really ty? dirt? its called soil!” šŸ™‚ glad to see youre changing mamma earth like we all knew your geeky ass would. and instead of my name, put sara bells name down plz. id love to contribute to her getting a solid buzz

  4. Gotta love dirt!! Oops, I ment soil, but it doesn’t quite sound the same! Oh well, love you and yes I’m sharing, cause what you do is facinating!

  5. Hey Pat and Kali,
    Great blog (and I am not saying this to win the giveaway lol). It made me miss Tanzania, but it also made me laugh at a couple of places – very appreciated break in the dissertation (thesis) anxiety. You’re both really good writers! Maybe one day you should write a book about all of your adventures. šŸ™‚
    Have a great time in Tanzania and say hello to Claire from me!
    xx, Susanna

  6. I intend to reference your very well written blog post when trying to explain to people what I do, broadly, and why I do it!! Thanks!!
    Are you doing your baseline soil analysis in-country or are you taking your samples back to the US with you?
    I also enjoyed reading your post because I could hear your voice as I read…
    Cheers, Dave
    P.s. I’d love to win your pack, will it get through Australian customs too??

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