Haitian master’s students in spotlight at agricultural research forum

A group of master of science students supported by the AREA project pose for a photo on the University of Florida campus.

A group of master of science students supported by the AREA project pose for a photo on the University of Florida campus.

The Feed the Future Haiti Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole, (AREA project, or Support to Agricultural Research and Development) is hosting a research forum on Friday, Aug. 9  to highlight the accomplishments of 25 Haitian University of Florida and Louisiana State master of science students. The scholars will present the results of scientific projects ranging from cultivating higher-yielding crops, better managing plant diseases and improving production techniques in the face of climate change.

In the fall of 2015, the news spread across Haiti via social media platforms, newspapers and word of mouth.

A special University of Florida-managed project to build Haiti’s capacity to improve its agricultural sector sought applications from Haitians to earn Master of Science degrees. After a rigorous selection process, 25 college-educated applicants were awarded scholarships to UF and Louisiana State University to begin graduate studies in nearly every field of agricultural sciences, including horticulture, biological engineering and entomology.

Now, the majority of these scholars completed their master’s studies and they are returning to Haiti to put to work what they learned and to help address their country’s chronic food insecurity challenge.

Rose Koenig is the principal investigator of the project.

Rose Koenig is the principal investigator of the project.

“We are proud to have helped develop these talented and dedicated professionals,” said Rose Koenig, Ph.D., principal investigator of the multifaceted AREA project, which UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences launched in 2015 with a $13.7 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We are confident that their expertise and research skills will help address major food production challenges in Haiti and lead to improved household food security and livelihoods.”

At a daylong forum on Aug. 9 at UF/IFAS’ Straughn Professional Development Center, panels of graduates will discuss their research, their plans for when they return to Haiti and the future of Haiti agriculture. Speakers at the event include UF Vice President for Research David Norton, USAID Haiti Mission Director Gary Juste and USAID Economic Growth and Agricultural Development Director Camilien Saint-Cyr

The research forum comes a day before a majority of the 25 master’s students will graduate from UF. Adding two students who graduated from LSU on Aug. 2 and two others who already graduated from UF, this marks the culmination of scholarly work of 17 of the 25 students.

They collectively represent one of the largest cohorts of international students to graduate with master’s degrees from UF/IFAS and the largest supported by USAID Haiti in at least a quarter century.

Riphine Mainviel conducted some of her research on bean plants at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida.

Riphine Mainviel conducted some of her research on bean plants at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida.

During their graduate studies, the students worked on research projects in the field throughout Haiti, at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida, and in numerous laboratories and research facilities on the campuses of UF and LSU. Each student studied closely with professors not only at UF and LSU but with Haitian research professionals who served on their graduate committees, and many of them had opportunities to present their research results at academic conferences, and work with agricultural leaders and farmers across the Caribbean country.

“The aim was for them to build relationships among agricultural professionals that do not end at graduation but last a lifetime,” Koenig said.

Graduating students said they are eager to help address a long list of agricultural challenges faced by Haiti, such as improving the fertility of degraded soils, educating the next generation of students, developing higher-yielding varieties of crops, managing crop-destroying pests and plant diseases, and improving agricultural policies and the management of precious water resources.

Riphine Mainviel, who graduates from UF with a master’s in horticultural sciences, said she intends to work as a plant breeder so she can continue her research to develop new lines of beans that are higher yielding that the varieties grown in Haiti. “After my studies I am returning home with a perspective on a new culture, a new language and a great education, which are very important assets to my career,” she said.

Rédjino Mompremier earned a master’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering from UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.

Rédjino Mompremier earned a master’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering from UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.

Rédjino Mompremier, who is graduating from UF with a master’s in agricultural biological engineering, said, “I’ll advocate for a program to collect long-term weather and water-flow measurement data to help Haitians better manage watersheds and improve agricultural productivity.”

Liliane Poinçon, whose UF master’s thesis focused on how Haiti’s important farmer’s associations serve women, said: “I want to work for youth and women’s empowerment for many reasons, mainly to improve their access to education and to support entrepreneurship.” While earning her degree Poinçon won two awards and presented four presentations at academic conferences across the U.S. and Canada.

Liliane Poinçon's UF master’s thesis focused on how Haiti’s important farmer’s associations serve women.

Liliane Poinçon’s UF master’s thesis focused on how Haiti’s important farmer’s associations serve women.

Lemane Delva, a Haitian native who holds a Ph.D. from UF and serves as director of research for the AREA project, said Haiti desperately needs professionals with advanced degrees to fill leadership roles and provide expertise to tackle pressing food shortages and nutrition challenges.

“No matter where they end up working, their research and expertise is going to have a significant impact on the agricultural sector in Haiti,” Delva said.

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