USAID program supports university scholars investigating ways to make Haiti agriculture more productive and inclusive
In Haiti, the research and development pipeline is curtailed by a lack of funding.
This is a big challenge for Haitian scientists who – like scientists anywhere in the world – depend on each other to continuously build upon the new knowledge gained through previous research.
But a pilot program launched by a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development is investing in Haitian scholars as they work to refine new techniques and approaches that can help make Haitian farmers more productive.
In 2019, the USAID-sponsored Feed the Future Haiti Appui à la Recherche et au Développement Agricole (AREA) project launched an initiative to support three research teams at the State University of Haiti’s College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (or FAMV) to conduct research projects to examine important aspects of Haitian agriculture.
“It was very important for AREA to support my project because without AREA I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” says Romain Exilien, a Haitian agricultural sciences professor whose research team investigated the use of ladybugs and other natural enemies to combat aphids that plague Haiti’s sorghum fields.
There is a lot riding on such agricultural research in Haiti, a poor country that suffers from chronic food insecurity and generally low agricultural productivity. The majority of Haiti’s farms are small, and they are operated by subsistence farmers who lack modern tools and advanced techniques to improve productivity and crop yields.
While the farmers have many needs, one of the most crucial is the support of agricultural researchers who can bring new ways of doing things, says Lemâne Delva, director of research for the multifaceted AREA project, which is managed by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“There are many talented researchers in Haiti. But they need more support to use their talent,” Delva says.
AREA’s pilot project program is two-pronged effort. First, AREA provided more than 30 awards of up to $4,000 each to researchers at institutes of higher education and R&D centers for much-needed supplies and equipment. These items included lab instruments such as high-powered microscopes; devices to measure soil, water and temperature; insect collection tools; GPS devices; and clinometers used to measure the slope of soil.
Next, AREA awarded a total of nearly $50,000 to three teams at the State University of Haiti’s College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (or FAMV) to fund research projects to examine important aspects of Haitian agriculture.
FAMV Professor Myriam Hyppolite and her team surveyed 197 households in two rural regions in Southeast Haiti to analyze the challenges and develop possible solutions to help women to cultivate home gardens and raise livestock to feed their families and generate much-needed income. She documented that women face many constraints, particularly archaic agricultural tools, irregular rainfall and the absence of credit. She recommends the development of policies and programs to provide targeted financial support so women can purchase better tools and supplies, step up access to agricultural training, and provide postharvest assistance for better storage and food processing.
FAMV Professor Robers-Pierre Tescar and his team of scholars examined the effectiveness of the fertilization methods practiced by farmers in the mountainous Kenscoff region. Farmers struggle with severe erosion because of deforestation and extreme slopes of the land, which makes the use of fertilizer less effective as it washes away during rainy seasons and is not dispersed effectively during droughts. The result is reduced crop yields and the inefficient use of limited financial resources. “The farmers don’t have information on how to use the fertilizers properly and what quantity of fertilizer to use for optimum growth,” Tescar says. Among the recommendations he and his team made –- in addition to providing better training to farmers – is to build a series of specialized small reservoirs to capture rain and allow farmers to irrigate their plots.
Exilien’s project targeted how to lessen the crop losses in sorghum, which is one of the most widely consumed grains in Haiti, and notable for its use in malta. In the last few years, aphid outbreaks have become a major problem in Haiti, causing nearly a 70% loss in sorghum crops in one recent year alone, experts say.
Exilien and his team inventoried the tiny yellow aphids in eight sorghum-growing regions, where they used scientific methods to calculate that the fields contained more than 100,000 aphids. The team harvested samples of the pests, sorghum and four natural enemies of aphids – namely ladybugs and hoverflies. Through careful and consistent observations and data analysis, they determined that ladybugs were by far the most effective predators of aphids, consuming up to 75% of the aphids during the study period. The team also studied effective means of rearing and releasing the ladybugs to control aphid outbreaks.
Exilien is hopeful that using natural predators can help farmers to control the pests in a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. The idea is after initial release of ladybugs the bugs naturally multiply, potentially making additional releases of ladybugs unnecessary. The results could prove important to farmers who have little money to invest to regularly apply pesticides.
“That makes the difference to a farmer. If you do a one-time release of ladybugs you don’t have to release another,” he says. “You know the biological control is better than the chemical control for the health of the environment and people’s health.”