Four University of Florida graduates who grew up in Haiti are their own “It’s a Small World” exhibit: Lemâne Delva, Joubert Fayette, Boaz Anglade and Andrew Tarter.
They were each born in Haiti within a few years of one another, and each considers himself fortunate to get a good education and to excel in school despite the obstacle of being from a country that ranks among the world’s most impoverished. They each left their homeland, either as schoolchildren or college students, and graduated from universities abroad (in the United States, Costa Rica or Taiwan) and — finally! — they found a way to the University of Florida, where they each earned PhDs.
But UF and Haiti aren’t done with these scholars yet.
And, one by one, each joined an important research project launched in 2015 by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to tap the expertise of UF scholars to strengthen Haiti’s agricultural sector. Known by its French name of Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA, or Support to Agricultural Research and Development), the $13.7 million project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development with the aim of building the capacity of Haiti’s faculty, students, farmers and others to address the country’s food insecurity.
Rose Koenig, principal investigator of AREA, says the UF alums possess unique qualifications that match the needs of the project: food science and human nutrition (Delva), plant pathology (Fayette), food and resource economics (Anglade) and anthropology (Tarter).
Each of the scholars have been shaped by Haiti’s agrarian culture, which they say inspires them to transfer their knowledge to improve the nutrition and food supply in what is the Caribbean’s most mountainous country and among its most densely populated.
Delva, who graduated from UF with a PhD in 2012, directs the project’s research efforts and leads its postharvest loss management and food safety program from AREA’s office in Haiti. He gives credit for his success to his mother (“the smartest person I know,” he says) — a single mom with little schooling who farmed and did odd jobs to raise her six children, and pushed them to get good educations. For Delva that meant earning a bachelor’s from Haiti’s state agricultural college and a master’s in Taiwan before coming to UF.
Fayette, who possesses master’s and doctorate degrees from UF, is one of seven kids raised by parents who worked as teachers and in various jobs in the agricultural sector. He earned a bachelor’s in plant pathology in Costa Rica before coming to UF, and he now helps lead AREA’s research program to strengthen Haitians’ ability to diagnose and manage plant diseases.
Anglade (UF PhD ’15), whose family moved to Florida when he was an adolescent, and Tarter (UF MA ’10, PhD ’15), who also moved to the States when he was a child, both now live in the Washington, D.C., area, where they separately conduct research and teach university courses. They have helped lead AREA’s Extension Experiment program to examine the best ways to transfer knowledge and skills to farmers so they can improve their crop yields and financial success.
Tarter recently authored an extensive study for the World Bank on Haiti’s charcoal industry, a primary cooking fuel for Haitian households that has been blamed for the deforestation of the island. Anglade is now collaborating with UF faculty and AREA research staff to write publications on AREA’s findings related to the extension project.
A better future
“Our legacy of this project is to build capacity and create more educated Haitians for a better future,” says Delva, who frequently returns to the Florida campus to coordinate with AREA’s small project team, UF faculty and many of the 25 Haitian students who are being supported by the project as they earn master’s degrees. Most of these students are graduating this year, and all are committed to return to Haiti to serve as teachers, researchers and other agricultural professionals.
“Our legacy of this project is to build capacity and create more educated Haitians for a better future”
Joubert, who lives in Gainesville with his wife and daughter, is a tall and soft-spoken scholar — and a budding entrepreneur. He has independently invested with several other Haitians in a private tree-farming business in North Haiti, and one day he plans to return to provide desperately needed jobs to Haitians. He could probably speak for the others when he describes how Haiti is ever-present not only in his work but in his heart.
“Haiti is part of me,” he says. “I’m here but my thoughts are all about Haiti.”
A version of this story appeared in the summer 2019 issue of the Florida Gator magazine.