Set to graduate on Aug. 10, Riphine Mainviel told us what it was like to grow up in Haiti, reflected on her studies as a University of Florida horticulture master’s student and gave us us a glimpse of what she will do when she returns to her homeland. She is one of 25 students supported by the UF/IFAS-managed Feed the Future Haiti AREA project.
Q: Tell us about your family and what it was like growing up in Haiti.
A: I am the oldest of a family of five children. My father is a lawyer and my mother was a vendor; ;unfortunately she passed away just after I completed my undergraduate degree in 2014. I was born in Petit-Goâve, in the west region of Haiti, where I did all my primary and secondary school. After high school, I moved to the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, for my undergraduate studies. I earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 2014, and then I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in the south region for a while before I moved to the north region. Then, in 2017 I got a scholarship from USAID to pursue a master’s degree in horticulture at the University of Florida.
After this study, I will return home with a new perspective on culture, a new language, and a great education, which are very important assets for my career.
Q: Were (or are) your parents, grandparents and/or other family members involved in farming? How so?
A: As you may know, despite the weakness of this sector, agriculture remains the main activity of about two-thirds of the Haitian population. It is difficult to find a family that is not involved in agriculture. My grandparents, as well as my parents, were farmers; they used to have several plots where they grow a different kind of crops. But my grandparents used agriculture as their primary source of income, whereas my parents used it as a side hustle.
Q: Tell us why you chose to study agriculture. Did you experience or witness food insecurity while growing up?
A: In Haiti, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for more than half of the population, and our smallholder farmers are facing a lot of challenges with both biotic and abiotic stresses that affect their productivity. On the other hand, the agricultural sector offers a lot of opportunities since food is an essential commodity. So, I chose to study agriculture to contribute to the improvement of farming in Haiti, and because there is a lot of opportunities for employment or to run a family business.
The political instability also causes a severe brain drain. These people that could contribute to solving these problems are obliged to migrate to other countries in search of more opportunities, because of all kinds of insecurities that prevail in Haiti. On the other hand, it constitutes a handicap even for the few researchers that choose to stay in Haiti, where daily activities can be hindered for almost a month.
Q: Why UF? Why did you decide to continue your studies and come to the University of Florida to earn a master’s degree?
A: My desire to pursue my study at UF was based on its rank among the top universities and the opportunity to achieve my goals with a quality of education and its well-advanced technology.
Q: Tell about your research project and why you chose to examine this issue..
A: Common bean is a crucial component of Haitian daily diet. It is a significant source of protein and income for small-scale growers in Haiti. However, the varieties of common bean cultivated in Haiti are low yielding averaging 0.6 tons/ha due to the many biotic and abiotic stresses and minimal input used in agriculture in Haiti. Besides, there is a lack of information on the genetic structure of common bean varieties cultivated in Haiti. My research project was to evaluate the agronomic performance of 13 elite common bean-breeding lines under development by the UF-AREA and the Legume Innovation Lab programs and determine the genetic diversity among 92 common bean accessions in Haiti. This project will aid the selection of advanced breeding lines for release to growers and elucidate the genetic structure of common bean accessions grown in Haiti for breeding and conservation purposes.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish when you return to Haiti? Where do you hope to work?
A: Upon my return to Haiti, I would like to apply all the knowledge and skills I learned during my study at UF to contribute to the improvement of agricultural productivity and food security in Haiti. I hope to continue to work in plant breeding, and especially with vegetables like common beans. My goal is to develop new varieties with essential traits such as high yield, disease, and pest resistance that can thrive under different biotic and abiotic stress with minimal input, typical to Haitian agriculture. Besides their high nutrient content, my interest in vegetable breeding is motivated by their ease to be handle genetically, their short life cycle, and the promising market of vegetables. I dream of a great career in vegetable breeding. Also, I would like to share my knowledge to the future generation by teaching some breeding courses at the undergraduate level.
Q: What are some of the important things you learned that you hope will help your career?
A: Studying in the U.S. brings me out of my comfort zone to explore, understand, and appreciate a new nation, its culture and history and also to meet new friends from different backgrounds. It allows me to learn a new language which will be very beneficial for my career. It allows me to experience a style of education that is different from what I have been exposed in my country. After this study, I will return home with a new perspective on culture, a new language, and a great education, which are very important assets for my career.
Q: In your view, what are the biggest challenges to solving the food security issue in your homeland?
A: First and foremost, there is a lack of support from the Haitian government for our smallholder farmers. Consequently, the farming’s productivity is limited due to low input used. coupled with the increased environmental degradation, which ultimately leads to inadequate food availability in the country. Also, with the high unemployment rate in Haiti and the increasing depreciation of Haitian gourde, more than half of the population are struggling to have access to food.
The political instability also causes a severe brain drain. These people who could contribute to solving these problems migrate to other countries in search of more opportunities because of all kinds of insecurities in Haiti. And, it constitutes a handicap even for the few researchers that choose to stay in Haiti, where you can have long periods when daily routine activities are hindered.
Q: Please tell us anything else you would like to share with our audience: all those who care about the welfare of Haiti.
A: I believe Haiti is a country replete of natural resources that are underutilized. A national awareness of my Haitian compatriots, mostly the politicians, could help to solve most of the problems that the nation is facing.