EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University scientists are combining sustainable forest production with emerging carbon markets in a unique effort to help some of the world's poorest people grow trees that will boost their standards of living and slow climate change.
Called Carbon2Markets, the program includes collaborative projects with farmers, researchers and government agencies in five developing Asian and African countries. MSU researchers help the farmer groups integrate high-value forest crops, such as jatropha or shea, into the crops they're currently growing using methods that are smart and sustainable. Then the farmers use standards created by MSU experts to accurately measure and record the carbon stored in the soil by the trees.
Storing carbon in the soil keeps it out of the atmosphere, which helps slow global warming.
Besides earning money on the global carbon market for storing the carbon -- the Chicago Climate Exchange offers trading for all greenhouse gases -- the farmers also use and sell the forest products they grow. Jatropha tree nuts can be used to make biodiesel, which is then used to run farm equipment or produce energy for a village. Shea tree nuts yield shea butter, a staple ingredient in high-end moisturizing lotions. The trees also provide food, timber, firewood and medicines.
"We have an exciting opportunity to leverage the growing carbon financial market in the United States and Europe to assist poor farmers in developing countries," said David Skole, MSU forestry professor and leader of the Carbon2Markets projects. "The farmers can plant trees or participate in other vegetation regeneration projects and earn money, which can stimulate economic development in their communities, increase rural income and promote natural resource conservation."
For more information on Carbon2Markets projects in Thailand and Laos, see the MSU Special Report at http://special.news.msu.edu/jatropha/.
Joining carbon markets with sustainable forest production is unique to the MSU Carbon2Markets projects. Earlier approaches using forestry crops to improve the standard of living in developing countries' rural areas often failed because farmers were asked to make substantial investments in the labor and land required to grow trees and then had to wait five to 10 years for the trees to produce fruit or nuts with no guarantee that the trees would survive to maturity.
According to Skole, a small farmer in Thailand who planted trees on about 3 acres (1 hectare) would earn about $40 per year from the carbon market at current prices. With a 25-acre (10-hectare) plot, that farmer could earn up to $400 a year – a significant amount in a country where the average income is about $3,700 a year, according to the U.S. State Department.
"A community as a whole could generate as much as $20,000 per year," Skole added. "That's a sizable amount that can be used for community needs such as a medical clinic or school support."
Ultimately, Skole said, "The ability to link tree-planting with near-term payments through the emerging carbon markets -- with additional payments from other tree products coming online in subsequent years -- has the potential to positively affect millions of lives. And the continued generation of high-value tree products such as fruits and oil-producing nuts serves to protect the stored carbon from being harvested as fuel wood, burned and re-released into the atmosphere."
Sponsors for the project include the United Nations, NASA, World Wildlife Fund, Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development and other organizations.
For more information on the Michigan State University Carbon2Markets program, visit: www.carbon2markets.org.
For more information on Michigan State University's biofuel and bioenergy research, visit: www.bioeconomy.msu.edu.