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University of Florida graduate student stands out at Orlando climate change conference

Precious Nyabami On Stage
Tom Bayles, WGCU
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University of Florida graduate student presents her findings at the 2022 VoLo Foundation Climate Correction conference in Orlando

An international climate change conference in Orlando featured dozens of experts who spoke of carbon sinks, carbon traps, carbon sequestration and of being carbon neutral.

Only the youngest, most soft-spoken, and newest scientist received a standing ovation.

26-year-old Precious Nyabami, a University of Florida graduate student, was honored for her discovery that farmers can easily trap a whole bunch of planet-warming carbon.

Nyabami was nearly last to speak. She was clearly nervous to be presenting in front of 200 people. She was a graduate student speaking to a room full of academics with doctoral degrees, and scientists with decades invested, both working to clearly prove climate change is upon us.

Through slick presentations and multi-person panels the professionals made compelling case after case that if we don’t act right now to stop, or at least slow, the earth’s warming due to mankind’s activities, catastrophe awaits.

Nyabami started literally at the ground. By planting simple, no-maintenance cover crops, like sun hemp or cow pea outside of the growing season, the plants trap five times the amount of greenhouse gases than the weeds that would otherwise pop up here and there on fallow would.

Even better, she explained, the carbon in the cover crops gets trapped in the soil when the farmer tills the land to prepare for the next crop. In addition, cover crops tilled underground decay to enrich the soil naturally, saving on the costs of buying fertilizer, and the environmental costs to mine it.

“The cover crops, we plant them when the field would be bare, and they absorb the carbon from the atmosphere and then store that in their biomass in the plants and then at the end of the growing season the farmers till them in the soil. Once they decompose they store the carbon in the soil and they can also be nutrients for the growing crop the farmer chooses,” Nyabami said. “And so this way they can actually reduce the amount and the cost of the fertilizer that would have been necessary to grow the new crop.”

The audience at Lowe's Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando rose to their feet to applaud Nyabami, who was looking toward the back of the stage as she was preparing to leave, then turned around to see why everyone was still clapping.

"Oh my," she said.

David S. Vogel who, along with his wife and co-founder of VoLo Foundation, Thais Lopez Vogel, presented the Fourth annual Climate Correction conference 2022 in Orlando. They also selected Nyabami as the winner of their Vista Award for devising ways Florida agriculture can help stem climate change, which includes a $10,000 research scholarship.

Nyabami’s research was the clear winner as far as the Vogel’s were concerned when it came to Florida-specific, climate-change-correcting, farmer-friendly solutions.

“She knocked it out of the park," David Vogel said. “The contest was about climate solutions that could be applied in Florida and hers was a very scientifically vigorous presentation about how cover crops could be used to save the health of the soil.

“And she gave a very convincing scientific argument that it was both beneficial for the environment and the soil and also lucrative and cost-effective for farmers because you are creating an additional crop in the process and preserving the health of the soil.”

VoLo Foundation is a private non-profit largely dedicated to accelerating the use of science-based solutions to lessen or reverse the impacts of climate change worldwide.

The Orlando event is an annual conference focused on driving innovative solutions to address climate change. This year’s focus was on Florida agriculture and the ways scientists could devise to slow or reverse agriculture’s effects on the growing climate change concern.

The presentations from other scientists at the conference ranged from how hops in beer could be manipulated to ease climate-changing ag processes to how artificial intelligence is being used to reduce the amount of chemicals introduced to the environment during food production to lessen the impact on the environment.

Nyabami grew up in Kigali, Rwanda. Her mother taught English and her father was in international relations with the government. She earned her undergraduate degree in Integrated Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before moving to Gainesville.

When she finishes her master’s degree in a few months she plans to take some time to explore whether branching out into the the private sector, or returning to school for her doctorate will be her next move.

“I am so grateful to have these opportunities,” she said.

Nyabami explains here research in a short video here.

VoLo Foundation is offering the general public a way to learn some of the knowledge shared at the Orlando climate conference plus dozens of additional presentations.

Florida Climate Week is a free, five-day virtual summit marking Earth Day with a focus on climate action and solutions in Florida.

Held online from April 19-23, Florida Climate Week is designed to educate people about the harm climate change is already creating, as well as learning ways to create a sustainable planet for future generations.

More than 45 online classes range from topics like the merits of instituting a price on carbon to simple steps people can take today to reduce their environmental footprint. Climate change experts will provide insights about cutting-edge research, the latest technological innovations, and solutions to accelerate global change. Registration is free here.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

If you’re interested in receiving a monthly environmental newsletter from WGCU, sign up for the Green Flash today.