Agroforestry Project in Uganda Offsets Carbon Emissions in New York

Back in 2014, when Clarkson Sustainability Coordinator  Alex French ’15, was still a graduate student in Environmental  Politics & Governance, he developed an agroforestry project in Uganda designed to balance out the effects of carbon emissions generated by Clarkson University air travel. 

With initial funding from Clarkson’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment's 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 (MUST) to grow trees in Uganda.Plants pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create plant biomass. Tree planting in tropical climates is a cost-effective way to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Measuring the growth of the trees each year will help researchers determine how much carbon is being sequestered.  
“Preliminary calculations suggest that the annual carbon sequestration from this project could equate to our campus airfare emissions,” French says.
In the summer of 2014, French traveled to Uganda for the first time with 11 Clarkson students, alumnus David Reh ’62, and School of Business Professors Bebonchu Atems and Augustine Lado. Lado, who had been a Fulbright Scholar (2009-10) at MUST, helped him establish the relationship with the Ugandan University. 
[L-R] Mathius Lukwago (Trees for the Future), David Reh, Prof. Augustine Lado and Prof. Bernard Kaku (MUST) in Uganda discussing the plans for the Clarkson carbon project. While in Uganda, French worked with local residents and students from MUST to plant seeds and seedlings as a first step to  establishing two nurseries  to grow a combined 20,000 seedlings each year.Community volunteers water the seedlings.Mathius Lukwagom, Uganda country director for Trees for the Future, trains community members on the different benefits from agroforestry tree species.  Most carbon projects are mono cultures oriented around timber production. The Clarkson model uses native tree species along with fruit, biodiesel and other agroforestry species.  The carbon project is embedded into microfinance  groups that were funded by David Reh ’62. These groups have been established to create economic opportunities for women in Uganda. They are part of a long-term business study led by Professor Augustine Lado on the impact of microfinance. Here, Alex French and MUST business student Angella Kabagamb meet with one of the women's groups. This is one of the first times that microfinance groups have partnered with an institution to implement a carbon sequestration program. Educational opportunities for Clarkson students  to travel to Uganda and work are built into the project. Here,  School of Business Professor Bebonchu Atems and two Clarkson students take a break from the work to hike along the Nile. In August 2015, one year after the initial seeds and seedlings were planted, Alex French and Prof. Lado returned to Uganda to meet with local project leaders and participants, measure tree growth and monitor the progress. MUST intern Pious Twesigye counts the surviving trees that were planted at St. Joseph's Vocational School. Trees are tagged with the GIS program, SoloForest. This allows the researchers to identify the tree in the future to track its  growth and measure carbon sequestration rates. An acrocarpus fraxinifolius tree transplanted from the nursery one year later.  The soil was rich and moist on this farm so the tree has grown particularly well. This rainwater catchment system was built to water seedlings during the dry season. Clarkson Prof. Augustine Lado and MUST Prof. Bernard Kaku speak to youth from St. Joseph's Vocation School about environmental stewardship and entrepreneurship.  The young men will  grow native and fruiting trees that will be purchased for the carbon project. They will also sell seedlings to the wider community as a source of income for the group. MUST Prof. Bernard Kaku at a future planting site.  The Kyabirukwa Mother House of the congregation of Our Lady of Good Counsel has donated mountainous land as a dedicated tree planting and agroforestry demonstration site. If the area is successfully reforested, the  project will expand  to the next ridge.

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