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UTIA student fellows to tackle sustainable agriculture in the Rainforest

March 22, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Producing sustainable yields in harmony with conserving the rainforest: a win-win for the people of Belize and the world as a whole. This is the lofty goal of a new project led by faculty with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and the University of Florida.

As part of the highly competitive Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, faculty with the Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the UTIA Office of International Programs will recruit 14 undergraduate Research and Extension Fellows over three years to explore agro-ecological farming. The goal is for the Fellows to increase their understanding of farm and natural systems through the investigation of wildlife, crop, economic, forest and social interactions and to suggest methods for producing sustainable agricultural yields in harmony with conservation.

The faculty involved include Drs. Adam and Emma Willcox, John Stier, David Butler, Don Hodges and Tom Gill of the UT Institute of Agriculture as well as Drs. Bill Giuliano and Michael Andreu, of the University of Florida. The group was awarded more than $281,000 by the US Department of Agriculture to pursue the effort. The funding will provide undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct agriculture, forestry and wildlife research and outreach with farmers and forest managers in the lowland tropical rainforests of western Belize.

Faculty mentors and students will work with farmers in and around the Vaca Forest Reserve, an area of tropical rainforest that is part of the Maya Mountain Massif, the largest continuous forest in Central America and a hotspot for tropical wildlife and biodiversity. The team will be working hand-in-hand with local partners such as the Friends for Conservation and Development, Friends of the Vaca Forest Reserve, Cayo Women for Conservation, the Belize Zoo Tropical Education Center and the Belize Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Ultimately, the research and extension projects will empower local forest and wildlife stewardship. Concurrently, the undergraduate Fellows will learn invaluable skills to become leaders in agricultural and conservation efforts at home in the U.S. and abroad. The Fellows also will increase their intercultural competency, facilitating their participation in the global workforce needed to feed the 7 billion inhabitants of planet Earth in a sustainable and responsible manner. More information is available online at this link:

After the initial faculty mentor visit to Belize in March 2017, Adam Willcox stated, "I am excited to share the vibrant culture and biodiversity of Belize with our undergraduate fellows. It is our sincerest hope that our research and extension can contribute positively to the incredible efforts of our local partners and friends to manage the Vaca forest by supporting local livelihoods concurrently with conservation."
This project is supported by the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences Education and Literacy Initiative Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2016-06392.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture

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