Haiti agricultural education conference designed to keep giving
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Scholars who participated in a recent University of Florida-sponsored conference on agricultural education in Haiti said the biggest takeaway is what they will take back to use in their own classrooms and research projects.
“When we attend meetings of this nature it’s important to think ‘what can I do immediately when I leave here?’,” said Mercy Akeredolu, Ethiopia-based technical director for a project to strengthen the capacity of agricultural education institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. She spoke to attendees at the Innovation in Agricultural Education conference, which was held in Port-au-Prince May 3-4. “We can go back and train other faculty members on some of the tools we have learned. This is a way of making what we learned to reach farther.”
Such a transfer of knowledge was what the conference was designed to achieve, said Grady Roberts, a professor of agricultural education at UF and a co-organizer of the event — the first one devoted exclusively to the scholarship of teaching and learning agriculture at the postsecondary level in Haiti.
“I am very pleased with how the conference turned out,” he said. “It exceeded my expectations. I was especially pleased with the level of engagement and interactions between participants.”
More than 100 attendees
Roberts and Akeredolu were among more than 100 professors, government officials and development experts from Haiti, the U.S. and other countries who came together for the conference, which was sponsored by the UF-managed project known as Feed the Future Haiti AREA. AREA stands for Appui à la Reserche et au Développement Agricole, or Support to Agricultural Research and Development.
Roberts and other AREA staff in Gainesville, Fla., and Port-au-Prince spent about nine months organizing the event. It is one of the key activities of the AREA project, which was created in 2015 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to aid the long-term reform of the Haiti’s agricultural system by, among other things, modernizing agricultural education at Haiti’s institutes of higher education and helping professors create better learning experiences.
At the conference, university educators of animal science, biochemistry, horticulture, agronomy and other disciplines presented their research findings and best practices on everything from ways to enhance college-level agricultural labs and classroom experiences to understanding how participatory learning impacts farmer innovation in rural Haiti.
Akeredolu, technical director for Winrock International and the Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE) project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, made a presentation on a midcareer training program implemented at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia that uses a new “demand-driven and value chain-oriented curriculum.”
Marie Alexandra Alexandre, a chemistry professor at Université Notre Dame Haiti, gave a presentation on improved course materials that she uses to teach general chemistry in a laboratory setting.
“It was the first time for me to speak at such a big international event,” she said. “Having the opportunity to present a paper on an innovation I made in my chemistry class honored me as a woman. I recommend that other faculty members in Haiti initiate changes in their way of teaching to strengthen the agricultural sector in Haiti.”
Aaron Giorgi — a graduate fellow in Ohio State University’s Department of Agricultural Communication, Education, and Leadership — gave a presentation on creating a wellness model to help first-generation college students succeed.
“I really like some of the speakers who have spoken,” Giorgi said during a break at the conference. He said many of the innovative practices and creative ideas that have been exchanged could be adapted to the specific conditions in Haiti, which in addition to suffering from chronic food insecurity is the most mountainous Caribbean country and suffers from widespread soil erosion.
“The same thing doesn’t work everywhere. So, if you come to Ohio and learn how to raise corn in Ohio, that may give you some ideas but you need to come back here and innovate that into a context for the slope of Haiti’s mountains. So, the conference serves a dual purpose.”
Faculty Development Academy
Many of the Haitian professors who attended the conference, including Alexandre, have been involved in another unique AREA program called the Faculty Development Academy. More than 200 faculty members at AREA’s seven partner institutions of higher education in Haiti have participated in the academy, which is designed to train a cohort of master teachers who train other professors to improve college-level courses and curricula. The idea: Implementing innovative teaching methods can spark creative solutions across the agricultural sector — from the way food is being grown to the types of crops available.
Jene Thomas, the director of USAID’s Haiti Mission and one of the keynote speakers, saluted the conference’s focus on “innovation,” which he said is needed more than ever if Haiti is to educate more agronomists and use new technologies to replenish its seed stocks, deal with soil erosion and watershed management, and improve its farming and agricultural sector.
“You are able to help Haiti and to help each other to find those solutions and I want to thank you for that,” Thomas told the attendees.
“Count on our support to continue this program. This is a great initiative and thank you for all the commitment, the time and all effort to come here and be part of this and the support you are providing,” he said. “We appreciate it, we thank you and we value your partnership.”
Absalon Pierre, a co-organizer of the conference and AREA’s human and institutional capacity development specialist, hopes the momentum generated by the event continues.
“The challenge now is keeping the professors and other attendees in the same spirit and to create more opportunities for them to share ideas and learn from each other,” he said.
— Contributor: Remixon Guillaume, AREA communications specialist in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.