JACMEL, Haiti — Every year, a group of students at the State University of Haiti’s Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine (FAMV) leave the classroom to work directly with farmers as part of an intensive diagnostic field practicum.
Launched more than 20 years ago, educators say this nearly two-week Diagnosis of Agrarian Systems program is essential to the training of the next generation of Haiti’s agricultural professionals, giving fourth-year students firsthand knowledge of agricultural practices they need to help Haiti’s smallholder farmers to become more productive.
But something was different about the most recent program, which was held Feb. 14-25 in Marigot and Cayes-Jacmel. The roughly 90 students attending may not have realized it, but they were the first cohort to participate in this internship since an interdisciplinary team of faculty and researchers spent over a year overhauling and modernizing the curriculum to better meet the needs of today’s agricultural sector.
To improve the compulsory course, FAMV partnered with researchers at Feed the Future Haiti Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA), a project funded by the U.S. Agency for Development and managed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. AREA and FAMV worked behind-the-scenes to improve the course: AREA surveyed students and faculty to assess the program, analyzed course content, held a weekend retreat with FAMV faculty members to decide on ways to modernize its content, and lent the expertise of teachers and researchers.
“Helping FAMV to rework its program fits well with AREA’s mission, which is to assist Haitian agricultural researchers, professionals and institutions to modernize the country’s agricultural sector,” said Dr. Rose Koenig, interim director of international programs at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the principal investigator on the AREA project. AREA is managed by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which provided technical and financial support for the revamped course, plus the previous one held last fall in Ennery and Savane Carrée.
During the latest two-week field practicum, students were divided into groups to analyze two farming regions, Marigot and Cayes-Jacmel, where they interviewed farmers to learn how they grow, manage, process and sell agricultural products. They collected and analyzed data, and collaborated to develop a case study of these important agricultural regions. Dr. Wesly Jeune, the lead researcher on the AREA project’s soil fertility program, taught the students about soil science and demonstrated how to use GPS devices and digital tools to conduct a landscape analysis of these regions. Dr. Absalon Pierre, the AREA project’s human and institutional development specialist, taught a session on research ethics. Taisha Venort, AREA’s gender specialist, provided lessons on data collection and management techniques.
On the final day of the program, the students gathered in Jacmel to make presentations to faculty and local farmers about what they learned and offered some recommendations for improving farming practices.
“By identifying the problems faced by farmers and by using modern techniques, students are better able to meet the needs of Haiti’s farming sector,” said Lemâne Delva, Ph.D., AREA’s research director and a professor at FAMV.
Before wrapping up the event, FAMV Dean Jocelyn Louissant honored professors Beatrice Antoine Felix and Frantz Suprem for their lengthy service to the university and for launching the course more than 20 years ago.
“I am very moved and I am happy to receive this distinction after a long career working at FAMV,” Felix said.
Recognizing the importance of continuing to incorporate new knowledge and innovations, FAMV is still working closely with AREA on the program. AREA researchers surveyed professors and students to gauge the effectiveness of the new content and learning activities. AREA will share the results with FAMV in an effort to continue to make the program even better.
About the AREA project: In May 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded a five-year contract to a consortium of three U.S. land grant institutions led by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to support its Feed the Future initiative in Haiti. The consortium’s mission is to help Haiti develop and strengthen its system for agricultural innovation, and to increase production, household income and food security. The project is funded by USAID as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global food and security initiative. For more information, visit http://global.ifas.ufl.edu/area-project.
About Feed the Future: Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. For more information, visit www.feedthefuture.org.