Leaders of Haiti’s state agricultural college tour UF/IFAS labs

Rose Koenig (center), principal investigator of the AREA project, hosted two leaders of Haiti's state agricultural college — Jocelyn Louissaint (left) and Ophny Nicolas Carvil on a tour of UF/IFAS labs.
Rose Koenig (center), principal investigator of the AREA project, hosted two leaders of Haiti’s state agricultural college — Jocelyn Louissaint (left) and Ophny Nicolas Carvil on a tour of UF/IFAS labs.

By all accounts, Haiti’s nearly century-old State University of Haiti’s Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine (FAMV) was an impressive green oasis in Port-au-Prince, graced by a majestic stand of mangoes and a modernistic main building.

But that was before the catastrophic earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, which devastated Haiti’s capital and shocked the world by causing the deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of people.

The epic quake also destroyed the centerpiece building of FAMV, the highly selective agricultural college that each year trains hundreds of Haiti’s engineers in agronomy. Nearly nine years later, the small campus still bustles with activity, but students mostly receive instruction in makeshift classrooms, some on the roofs of the remaining academic building, and rub elbows in under-equipped laboratories.

That’s the backdrop for a recent visit by two of FAMV’s leaders, Dean Jocelyn Louissaint and Vice Dean of Research Ophny Nicolas Carvil, who came to tour scientific labs at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Their mission: to learn about the design and operation of IFAS’ teaching and research labs as they rebuild their campus and prepare to set up new laboratories. Another important goal: To deepen their college’s ongoing collaboration with UF/IFAS Global.

They were hosted by Dr. Rose Koenig, interim director of IFAS Global, and her team at the Feed the Future Haiti project known as AREA, a French acronym for Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole, or Support to Agricultural Research and Development.

During a whirlwind three days on campus, the Haiti visitors not only met UF professors and researchers who can help them set up modern scientific laboratories, but they saw plenty of familiar faces, including FAMV graduates who conduct research in UF/IFAS labs while they earn master’s degrees through an AREA program to train Haiti’s next generation of agricultural leaders.

Touring the many labs at UF/IFAS

Louissaint and Carvil explored UF/IFAS’ most high-volume labs and met Dr. Rao Mylavarapu, director of Analytical Services Laboratories, where each year UF/IFAS analyzes where more than 50,000 soil, water and other samples. They visited the Plant Pathology Lab, and labs under the umbrella of the Agricultural and Biological Engineering — such as ones devoted to robotics, water quality, biosensors, precision agriculture, agroclimate — and even dropped in to learn about the Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab.

Additionally, they met with Kevin Heinicka, director of the UF/IFAS Office of Facilities Planning and Operations, to learn about what goes into planning and constructing modern scientific laboratories. Frank Moses, whose mechanical, electrical and fire protection engineering firm has designed dozens of labs for UF and other universities, also consulted with the Haitian visitors via a conference call. They discussed not only technology and equipment, but issues related to utilities (such dealing with a power outage, a not infrequent occurrence in Haiti), safety (how to ventilate noxious gases?) and practical (how many sinks does a lab need?).

During a brief interview in between meetings and lab visits, Louissaint said, “FAMV is in the process of its rebuilding its facilities after the earthquake. For this mission, we discussed with UF and the AREA project how we can better set up our new labs. The way we design them.”

FAMV has begun construction on its multimillion-dollar reconstruction project (1), with the first phase scheduled for completion in late 2019, Louissaint said. This phase will include about 15 chemistry, soil, plant pathology and other laboratories — triple what the college has now. He added it’s difficult to be precise about the completion date for the entire project because they are still seeking the remaining funding needed.

But Louissaint and Carvil indicated that building laboratories is one thing, but understanding how to best equip, manage and run them is another. And, that’s a big part of what they learned here.

“We hope specialists in this area can go to Haiti and to see how the labs will be really functioning and provide additional services we are looking for,” Louissaint said.

Carvil added, “That’s why we are here. We are trying to take advantage of our relationship with AREA to build capacity, not only for our faculty but also for students. We are grateful to the AREA project staff here in the U.S. and in Haiti to have given us this opportunity.”

To provide even more meaningful insights, Heincka, Moses and Mylavarapu are planning to fly to Port-au-Prince in the coming weeks to spend a few days consulting with faculty, staff and others to better understand their needs and provide on-the-ground guidance.

“We have agricultural research facilities all over the state, and some were built in the 1920s and the most recent this year,” Heincka said. “Why do they have to start from ground zero? Why can’t they learn from what we’ve learned? That’s what we are trying do.”

Consulting about plant pathology issues
A sign on FAMV’s campus in Port-au-Prince shows a rendering of the redeveloped campus on the site of the main building that was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

Carvil said the trip also allowed them to consult with IFAS plant pathologists on some of Haiti’s most challenging issues involving plant diseases.

Carrie Harmon, who runs the UF/IFAS Plant Pathology Lab, said she had a productive visit with the Haitian academicians.

“We discussed ways my program can provide diagnostics’ services to Haiti, as well as how we can help build Haitian diagnostic capacity by training their folks – here in my lab or there, in their own facilities.”

She emphasized the importance of a good plant diagnostic lab to a healthy, productive agricultural sector. That’s because there is a never-ending need to precisely identify and manage new and emerging pathogens and pests — undeniable threats to Haiti’s insecure food supply and fragile agricultural sector, which is dominated by subsistence farmers who have limited resources.

“You can’t manage plant health problems if you don’t know what they are — diagnosis is critical,” she said.

In Port-au-Prince, visitors to FAMV’s campus these days can glimpse what FAMV’s future might look like. A large sign depicts an architect’s rendering of a sparkling, rebuilt campus.

If all goes according to plan, before FAMV celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2024, this vision of Louissaint’s and Carvil’s will become reality — with a little help from UF/IFAS and the AREA project.

(1) The building project is financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and has been promoted by the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development. The French Development Agency (AFD) helped fund the building study.


Posted: November 14, 2018

Category: Agriculture, Crops, Pests & Disease, UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Teaching,
Tags: Appui à La Recherche Et Au Développement Agricole (AREA), AREA, Area-project, Carrie Harmon, FAMV, Haiti, Joceyln Louissaint, Kevin Heincka, Nicholas Carvil, Rao Mylavarapu, Rose Koenig


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October 23, 2019

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August 2, 2019

Hi William, I'm not sure we can help with your project. We are a small team working on targeted research and this goes outside what we have resources to do. I hope you understand and best of luck with your project! Charles Boisseau, communications manager

William A. (Dell) Branson
July 30, 2019

Hello, I am on a Agricultural Mission Team with The Torch Worship Center. We have a 35 acre mission in Deyemon Haiti. We need assistance with planting bananas and coffee with our next mission trip scheduled for August 30 - September 7. We are looking for plants and technical guidance in planting approximately 50 plants of coffee and bananas. Please help us !

Caroline Staub
June 13, 2019

Thank you, I am glad it was useful. We will be speaking to farmers soon about what they've learned so stay tuned.

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August 27, 2018

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June 17, 2018

Thanks. I'm Bredy Charlot an agronomist who works for the ministry of agriculture in Haïti. Climate changed need specific attention in the field if agriculture . We need substancial assistance in agriculture research versus climate changes. There are so many changes in the agriculture calendar. The impact is very importante and needs specific trainings for all in this field.

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Renita Hanna
April 24, 2018

My name is Renita Am very interested in learning more about this program and production in Haiti I would very like to get involved and learn hands and help to make Haiti stable again my heart goes out to this country that is so rich in culture and history.

Lise Bouffard
March 15, 2018

Very interesting! Bravo Haiti! et bravo Frednaud Charlotin et compagnie pour votre beau travail. D'une adepte des produits des fruits de l'arbre à pain en Jamaïque - qui sont utilisés dans le cadre d'un programme de petits déjeuners pour les enfants dans un milieu rural. Lise B.

March 14, 2018

Would be happy to share our HACCP plan developed in 2008. Today we have Safe Quality Foods certification for exports and it is much more comprehensive. The FSMA demands such an approach to allow importers to export to them. We are developing a slowly slowly approach to growth and try to improve annually with small manageable sustainable steps. Every tropical cyclone sets us back but we again just commence the thousand mile journey.

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December 15, 2017

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December 10, 2017

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