Almost two years ago, my advisor suggested I write a proposal to a grant supporting food security research in a foreign country. So I took a shot in the dark and whipped up a proposal with my limited knowledge and experience at the time. Lo and behold I lucked out and got selected to carry out a project on greenhouse gas emissions and productivity of different ways of growing corn in Brazil. We wrote the proposal with a colleague who works here for EMBRAPA, the Brazilian equivalent of the USDA (although EMBRAPA actually acknowledges climate change as a phrase and concept, so maybe I've lucked out with the change of location).
I've been working at EMBRAPA for three weeks now, and it's been a fantastic experience so far. I'm settling into the enjoying the idea of a 8 hour work day (government work has its perks anywhere in the world), and have spent much of the time planning my experiment. We will be measuring a variety of soil and plant characteristics in 40 different plots at 2 different locations, It's a huuuuge experiment compared to others I've worked with, and it's exhilarating and terrifying to be sharing the helm. We will be planting the corn after New' Years and taking samples for three months following. I'll be dabbling in soil microbiology, gas chromatography, agronomy and who knows what else along the way. I've been nerding out with all the things I get to try out along the way.
My time at EMBRAPA so far hasn't consisted of only research planning. My second week I got to spend some time at a fair put on for small farmers to see and discuss EMBRAPA research. My two mentors here put on a discussion group so farmers could relay their concerns as potential future research projects. I was able to wander the many display plots, amazed by the sheer variety of plants that could be grown in essentially a desert. Who know you could grow cotton in multiple colors! Que mundo louco!
This past week, I've started to dig into some of the hands-on prep from my project. On Friday, we started the long smoky process of making biochar with just the use of a well-ventilated oven and lots of dead mango tree branches. It's good to sometimes take a step back from the ivory halls of American academia and remember that the simplest methods can get the job done just as well. And just so no one is worried that I'm working too hard, we had a company picnic of sorts following the first biochar burning. I stuffed my face with all the goat (bode) fresh off the fire, duck (pato), beef, and chicken (frango) this previous vegetarian could muster. And everyone was more than happy to share some of the local spirits (cachaca) with the gringo and show him a good time, and I'll leave it at that!
Long story short, I've landed in a great place for my research with incredible people and opportunities to grow and learn along the way. Então, vamos ao trabalho!