Assessing carbon sequestration under shaded coffee agroforesty systems in southern India


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Assessing carbon sequestration under shaded coffee agroforesty systems in southern India
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Grant Proposal
Showalter, Julia
University of Florida
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date:


General Note:
Submitted as part of application for U.S. Student Fulbright Program 2011-12

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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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Julia Showalter, India, Environmental Science
Assessing carbon sequestration under shaded coffee agroforesty systems in southern India

Introduction: Developments in mitigation and adaptation to climate change have an important
bearing on the management of agricultural systems worldwide. This is particularly important in
the rapidly growing developing country of India, where carbon (C) credits and mitigation
strategies are likely to be key aspects of sustainable agriculture in the future. Identifying the
extent of C sequestration in different land use systems and understanding the mechanisms and
reasons for variations in rates among the systems are crucial to improving prediction capabilities.
This is important for determining realistic on-farm credits for emission-reduction according to
standards set by the United Nations. Soils in these systems deserve special attention because
little is known about the effects of management on their long-term C storage although they are
the largest terrestrial carbon pool.
Agroforestry (AF) systems are reported to have higher soil carbon sequestration rates than
comparable single-crop agricultural systems, but the effect of specific management practices on
soil C sequestration in AF systems is not well known. Current knowledge is based on estimates
from surface soils of conventional cropping systems in temperate regions. This information may
not be applicable to tropical systems that integrate trees and annual crops; systems that cover a
large part of the tropical world. For example, shaded coffee, a common AF system in southern
India, may have the potential for high C sequestration because of its deep-rooted trees, high
organic matter input, and low soil disturbance. A clear understanding of the mechanisms of soil
C storage in these systems based on on-site studies would provide information for policy makers
leading to a science-based alignment of incentives to reward sustainable practices thus benefiting
the farming community and the environment. The aim of this project is to undertake such a study
on C pools in shaded coffee systems in southern India in collaboration with scientists at the
Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE)'s Institute of Wood Science and
Technology (IWST) in Bangalore, and the local farmers.
An important aspect of the study will be directed toward understanding the history of C
incorporation into soils in these systems. Currently, many studies, both in agroforestry and in
other land use systems, assess total soil C stocks giving a "snap shot" in time of soil C.
However, the accumulation of C can be a long-term process, and other factors such as land-use
history, soil type and climate may have profound impacts on soil C storage. The movement and
sequestration of C in the soil occurs through aggregation, and studying the C status in aggregates
will provide insights into the underlying mechanisms. The proposed study location offers a
unique setting for investigating these because of the recent changes in land-use history there.
During the past few decades, the area under shaded coffee systems has increased in the region in
two ways: by underplanting coffee in existing forests after clearing the understory and leaving
trees as shade, and incorporating trees on existing agricultural lands and converting them into
shaded coffee fields. Thus, the dynamics of soil aggregation vis-a-vis C storage could be studied
in these interesting land-use scenarios. A deep understanding of the history, current management
practices, microclimates and soils is essential to assess current rates of C sequestration. By
working with farmers and IWST collaborators, the combination of cultural and environmental
factors will be examined and related to C sequestration. The involvement of IWST scientists,
who have excellent rapport with local farmers, will be crucial in facilitating the study.

* To determine C content in soil aggregate fractions at different depths in shaded- and open
(non-shaded) coffee systems and adjacent native forests and crop fields in Karnataka, India
* To work with farmers to assess the historic land use, site characteristics, and land-management
practices (that affect C sequestration) on these sites
* To use above information to estimate the effect of management and environmental factors on C
* To establish personal and professional connections with host-country researchers and
institutions that will lead to long-term research collaborations.
* To gain an understanding about the influence of the cultural heritage and social background of
the farming community on the farming systems of the study region.
Project Description: The successful implementation of the project will involve working with
Indian colleagues and local farmers to carry out the following:
* Background and site identification: Shaded- and open coffee-systems, adjacent conventional
agricultural plots, and natural forest will be identified for the study. Historical background and
current management practices of sites will be collected through interviews with farmers with
the help of IWST networks (in multilingual India, national research institutions such as IWST
have an effective research set-up for involving local farmers in field research). It will be
critical to gather information on previous land uses, length of time the site has been under
current land-use practices, as well as specific details about site management. This will also lead
to interactions with the farming community to gain an understanding of the influence of
cultural and social factors on land-use.
* Sample collection: Experimental setup will be a randomized complete block design with 3 sites
of each management practice. Four subsamples will be taken from each site with an auger at
six soil depths (e.g., 0- 10, 10- 20, 20- 30, 30- 50, 50- 75, and 75- 125cm).
* Analysis: Analyses of soil samples will include bulk density, particle size analysis, and water
content; soil fractionation, total carbon, 14C dating. Following preliminary sample preparation
and analyses carried out in India, the analyses will be completed at the University of Florida.
Outcome: The relative influence of different management practices on carbon storage in soils
would aid in judging their value toward carbon credits and in guiding farmers toward best
management practices. In addition, the combined effort with investigators at IWST and
affiliated institutions will create personal and professional relationships important to future
collaboration on similar projects. Interaction with the farming community will lead to an
understanding about the relevance of local knowledge and socio-cultural values in the
management of the land and the environment. The results of the study will be beneficial to the
farming community in the long run when carbon trading becomes operational. On a broader
scale, this project will lead to insights into mechanisms of C sequestration in highly weathered
soils. This will allow for a better understanding of the movement of C through soils, creating a
better conceptual model of the relationship of soil aggregates to C sequestration. This
information will become part of a larger data set being developed at the University of Florida at
several (currently six) locations across the world to examine C sequestration in soils under
various AF systems. The information from this project would be invaluable to gaining insights
into soil C sequestration in relation to land-use practices in tropical regions of the world.
Timeline: In January 2011, a 3-week preliminary trip will be taken for initial site identification
and familiarization of facilities and collaborators. Site identification and collection of historical
information will be from August to November 2011; soil collection in December and January;
soil analyses February to April 2012.

Julia Showalter, India, Environmental Science

When I packed my bags in 2006 and headed to Malawi in the Peace Corps, I went with
some really wonderful ideas about rural development and the implementation of sustainable
agriculture. I was (and still am) passionate about it as an integral part of the health and education
of rural communities and the environment they live in. However, when I arrived, I realized that
although these inspiring ideas were great, there was going to be a bit more to it. I was dropped
off at a half built house with no windows, doors, or floor. As I watched the Peace Corps Land
Rover disappear in a cloud of dust, suddenly I wasn't an extension worker come to save the day,
but rather, a homeless volunteer far from everything she knew.
But before long, the whole community was pitching in to help finish my house. Working
together to finish the house moved easily to working together on other projects. The ice had
been broken; I began learning Chichewa, visiting people's homes, and talking about what they
were interested in doing and learning. Nanboya and Banda wanted a tree nursery to plant out as
a woodlot while Chabuka wanted to make jam. I worked as a member of the community to
apply knowledge and resources in a meaningful way. I learned that ideas about development are
a great start, but real solutions come from people working together.
Before my Peace Corps stay I had finished my masters at Virginia Tech with a focus on
growing native hardwood trees to reclaim strip-mined land in my home state, West Virginia. I
started the project with the interests of the environment and local communities in mind, but I had
to work with the mine owner to have permission to carry out the project on his land. The
findings had the potential to tighten down the environmental legislation which could cost him
financially. While the situation could have been polarizing, by learning about his interests we
identified shared goals. He was a hunter and as interested as any environmental activist in
improving the reforestation of mined land. To carry out the project it not only took good science
but also the formation of trusting and honest relationships with stakeholders, finding out what
their interests were and working on a common goal.
Working with people in the field also involves a combination of getting your hands dirty
and on-the-ground problem solving. Figuring out how to take soil samples on strip-mined blast
rock or traveling to remote villages in Malawi in the rainy season can pose some interesting
challenges. In the end, these unforeseen hitches and working on their solutions are part of what
makes field work interesting.
The combination of good science, community involvement and problem solving in the
field are the foundation of meaningful research. They are also an important aspect of everyday
life. I am the president of the Ethnoecology Society, a group of international students that
maintain a 2 acre garden plot with over 100 edible and useful species from around the world.
Every week we learn about different agricultural techniques and plants. Iwan taught us to make
a type of bamboo trellis for Surinamese long beans and Muriel showed us a way to cook the
bitter melon we grew so it's not too bitter. Sharing practices with each other and the community
is a great global hands-on exchange right here in Florida.
I would really like to use what I've learned through past and current experiences to gear
my academic career toward research of agroforestry and other best management practices in
developing countries. The proposed project in India would be an opportunity to carry out such a
project and to form lasting relationships and collaborations on similar projects in the future.