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Alumni Series: Ryan Delaney

Ryan Delaney, Co-Director, Carbon Roots International


Ryan Delaney: My name is Ryan Delaney, and I’m a recent graduate from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.

I’m co-director of Carbon Roots International. We concentrate on international development using sustainable practices to help rural farmers in Haiti improve their agricultural practices making it easier for them to grow more, feed their families and reduce the poverty that they live in.

Deforestation is a huge problem in Haiti, and it has reduced tree cover to about one percent of the original stands. This has resulted in a huge amount of soil loss. It decreases agricultural production making it very hard for one acre farmers to feed and provide enough to feed their family. We use an innovative technology called biochar, which allows us to produce charcoal from crop wastes. After you harvest your corn you have a lot of biomass left over. You can turn that into charcoal, and when you mix it with your soil it actually improves crop yield by 30 to up to 300 percent allowing families to feed their children and sell enough at the market to actually get their children to go to maybe fourth grade instead of only third grade and send them to the hospital when they need to.

One exciting aspect of our projects in Haiti is we’ve been able to convert crop waste into a fuel that people can actually cook with. When we first took that corn, those corn stalks and packed them into little briquettes and gave them to some of the people to cook with it, the look in their eyes of amazement that they were able to actually cook with this renewable sustainable fuel that used to be a waste product was priceless.

The School of Sustainability provided me with the opportunity to interact with many different people from different backgrounds and learn how to have a conversation with everyone from a social scientist to an economist to a biologist and how to work with them to come up with solutions to problems and work within the context of different disciplines.

My experience at the School of Sustainability helped me learn how to overcome the skepticism of the community and work with the community through stakeholder engagement. When we first got to the community and told them that we were going to make charcoal out of crop waste and improve their crop yields through charcoal in the soil, nobody really knew what we were talking about. They kind of thought we were crazy. We worked with them and took our time and implemented some pilot projects, and after a while they actually saw the results of these projects and that we actually could do what we said we were going to do. Once they saw the results they were jumping aboard left and right. They were all about it.

The School of Sustainability provided me with opportunities to listen to lectures of great thinkers from around the country and around the world who were doing fantastic work to address sustainable problems, provided me with support to start my own company, funding support, and advice on starting a company, which I had no idea how to do and everything that’s inherent in that.

My work with Carbon Roots in rural Haiti with impoverished small scale farmers has given us the ability to really improve their crop yields and improve their food security, address problems like malnutrition and allowed them to get proper diet just through our simple work of improving their soils and using sustainable practices to improve their livelihoods.

The aspect of sustainability that really is important to me is the social justice aspect and seeing people where because of any number of environmental, economic and social factors they’re unable to get some of the world’s fundamental rights such as healthcare and food every day. I think sustainability provides an opportunity to come up with real solutions to those problems that you find in the developing world.

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