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  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Agriculture
  • Climate Change
  • Global Development
  • Development

A joint project between Cornell and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) is preparing agricultural students to develop skills, knowledge and abilities in sustainable agriculture and natural resource management for Puerto Rico. Through the Student Internships and Faculty Training in Sustainable Management of Agricultural Systems (SuMAS) project, students and faculty from Cornell and UPRM engage at the intersections of agricultural and social science disciplines on a diverse range of topics, from natural resources and crop sustainability to integrated pest management and animal-livestock science production.

Funded by a USDA-NIFA Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education grant, the course and summer internship led by Maricelis Acevedo connects students with Cornell faculty for experiential learning and research focused on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.

In 2022, students from UPRM spent their summer at Cornell for an intensive internship with faculty from across the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Elian T. Pabón Vázquez

Major at the University of Puerto Rico

  • Agronomy

Cornell faculty advisor

Summer project: 
"I worked in a rainfall simulation project. The objective of the project was to evaluate nutrient loss from manure and compost source applied to soils.

What do you wish more people know about agriculture in Puerto Rico? 

"For me, people need to understand that producing food is not simple or easy. Therefore, when the food production system is valued, I think people will take Puerto Rico's agricultural situation more seriously."

What's the importance of agricultural sustainability in the context of Puerto Rico?

"Puerto Rico does not have food security; therefore, we must evaluate our food production systems and begin to value these systems. Furthermore, the island could go through atmospheric events that could put the food production systems in a worse state; hence, we must evaluate the agricultural sustainability in PR."

What did you enjoy most about your Cornell experience? 

"I liked the laboratory in which I worked. Also, being able to visit different farms to be able to compare the production systems of New York with those of Puerto Rico was a gratifying experience."

What kind of impact do you want to have in the world: 

"I want to be able to contribute to the agriculture of my Island. Also, through the knowledge acquired, I can help farmers to have better crops and soils."

Fabiola C. Quiles Ruiz

Major at the University of Puerto Rico:

  • Horticulture

Cornell faculty advisor:

Summer project:

"This summer, I got to learn about circular economy for organic resources such as human waste. In Rebecca's lab, the research is focused on how we could use human urine as fertilizer for a sustainable food production. This idea turns what is considered as a 'waste' into a useful resource that replaces the chemicals we put in our crops."

What's the importance of agricultural sustainability in the context of Puerto Rico?

"The importance of a sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico is for having a good system of production that meets the demand and doesn't affect our natural resources. It is important that we protect the health of our soil, water, and air for future generations to use and benefit from."

What did you enjoy most about your Cornell experience? 

"At Cornell I enjoyed meeting new people from different backgrounds and learning how each one of them is working their way to make the world more sustainable in different aspects than it is now. In the department I worked for, they had endless barbecues which led on to people sharing their work, trying foods from different cultures, and enjoying time with each other. Another enjoyment has been the accessibility of hiking through beautiful scenery surrounded by nature."

What kind of impact do you want to have in the world?

"Starting with my island, I want to be able to protect our natural resources and to make agriculture accessible for everyone. I want to find a way to teach communities and schools on how they could grow food sustainably and how they could do their part in making practices that will benefit the decrease of global warming. Exposing the truth and the science behind agriculture and the importance of our natural resources."

Harriel González Soto

Major at the University of Puerto Rico: 

  • Agricultural and Environmental Systems

Cornell faculty advisor: 

Summer project: 

"During my summer internship at Cornell University, I was working on DeNitrification-DeComposition (DNDC), carbon calculators, R programming language, and a review on the topic of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). DNDC is a program that helps run simulations of the agrochemistry of carbon and nitrogen in agricultural systems. With DNDC you can control variables like the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, air temperature, precipitation, fertilizer amount, and soil porosity, among other factors. All of these factors can be manipulated to simulate different scenarios where one could study how the crop will behave, predict its yield, track nitrogen leaching, and even gas emissions. The other programs and topics we worked on during the internship helped us analyze greenhouse gas emissions, facilitated extraction and interpretation of data, and aided in assessing the environmental impact of agricultural systems.

What do you wish more people know about agriculture in Puerto Rico?

"I wish that more people in Puerto Rico know about the importance of agriculture, especially young people. I wish that in every school, students could have the opportunity to visit farms and see that the food they eat is thanks to the big effort of farmers. In this way, we can motivate them to get involved in agriculture. This must also be accompanied by increased government attention to the agricultural sector. Puerto Rico has the potential to improve its food security, but we must have greater sovereignty in our agricultural market."

What's the importance of agricultural sustainability in the context of Puerto Rico?

"One numerical data that you could commonly hear regarding food security in Puerto Rico is that more than 80% of the food Puerto Ricans eat is imported. On top of that, many local farmers are affected by what is called 'food dumping' which causes them to compete with products of lower costs making it difficult to sell their produce. We also need to work on agricultural extension services because some farmers have a hard time adapting to technological advances and knowing how to balance the social, economical, and environmental aspects of their farms."

What did you enjoy most about your Cornell experience? 

"I was amazed at how each farm with its different sizes was able to grow crops on the scale they wanted. Of course, all this was not exempt from previous challenges, but little by little they were identifying the practices that worked best for them and thus boosted their operations. All the farms we were able to visit were aware of the environmental impact of agriculture and made efforts to run their operations with a sustainable approach. All this motivated me to return to Puerto Rico and share what I learned because although we are a small Island, we can do more for our agricultural sector."

What kind of impact do you want to have in the world

"I am well aware that the only reason many of us have the privilege of eating three times a day or more is due to the efforts of many farmers and agronomists. However, there are hundreds and hundreds of people who are starving, many others are obese, and on top of all this, the predictions are that the world population will increase and we must increase food production. These are challenges that need to be worked on, and agriculture plays an important role in helping to solve them. Since I was little I have said that my vocation is to work with plants, and I have a great desire to work on the aforementioned challenges through plant research. In this way, also identify agricultural systems that meet our needs taking into account an economic, social, and environmental balance. To this, I add my desire to one day be able to contribute to the research of plants in space."

Noelia Curbelo

Major at the University of Puerto Rico:

  • Agronomy and soil

Cornell faculty advisor:

Summer project:

"I have been working with graduate students in the labs on carbon sequestration and economic circulation. In Johannes Lehmann's lab, they have a lot of biochar research. Biochar is a black carbon produced from biomass sources to convert biomass carbon into a more stable form. Its primary purpose is carbon sequestration. Research on this includes its behavior in soil, effects on plant growth, impact on soil-plant relationships, and microbial dynamics. In Rebecca Nelson's lab I worked on ecological remediation research and the soil factory project. This work supports the idea of a 'circular economy,' in which resources are recycled rather than contributing to pollution, and is prototyping a unit that will convert human waste into soil for urban agriculture. One of the research I worked on was using urine as fertilizer."

What do you wish more people know about agriculture in Puerto Rico?

"Puerto Rico produces only 10 to 15% of what it eats; the rest is imported. This means that the food security of Puerto Ricans is dependent on the situations in the world. Any problem that affects the supply chain affects our access to food."

What did you enjoy most about your Cornell experience? 

"What I enjoyed most about Cornell was the people. First, everyone was super friendly to me and helped me get settled. They were super patient with me when I was speaking since English is not my first language. Also, meeting people from different countries and continents was surreal, and everyone was welcoming. I was afraid of feeling out of place, but I never felt that way."

What kind of impact do you want to have in the world

"I want to be part of creating sustainable agricultural systems in Puerto Rico; I want our farming systems to be so good that they can serve as examples and be adapted to other nations in similar situations. I also wish to promote the study of agricultural science and create a better relationship between farmers and agricultural extension services so that all agricultural decisions are based on science."

Ricardo Torres-López

Major at the University of Puerto Rico:

  • Agronomy (Undergrad), Soil Science (Grad, in progress as of fall 2022)

Cornell faculty advisor:

Summer project:

"This summer I worked primarily on data collection for an On Farm Experimentation project focused on evaluating, alongside farmers, a fairly new biological input that claims to reduce the application rates of nitrogen fertilizers in corn production."

What do you wish more people know about agriculture in Puerto Rico?

"Agricultural production in Puerto Rico has a great potential to attend many of the islands social and economical issues. Great soils, water availability, adequate climate for year round cultivation and highly skilled people means we have the capacity to meet our own food demand and even export our surplus. However, corruption, lack of support from the local government, heavy reliance on imports, and other barriers, some related to our colonial status, have limited the expansion of this industry."

What's the importance of agricultural sustainability in the context of Puerto Rico?

"Transforming our local ag industry into a more sustainable one is of significant importance since we are in great need of creating the conditions necessary for current and future generations to remain in the island and lessen the loss of talented professionals due to migration. Agriculture is a great tool for this since it has the potential to improve our weak food security — due to our heavy reliance on imported food products which represent at least 80% of what we consume — contribute to fiscal stability, generate jobs and mitigate the effects of climate change."

What did you enjoy most about your Cornell experience?

"The things I enjoyed most were working with highly talented individuals and the resources and facilities the university has to offer. I also really enjoyed the landscapes around the Finger Lakes region."

What kind of impact do you want to have in the world?

"I would like to impact the world by being part of the new generation of farmers and agronomists in Puerto Rico that transform our local industry into a more sustainable one and in this way set an example for other countries to follow and achieve sustainability within their own context for the sake of generations to come."

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