Ready to Lead Haiti’s Agricultural Sector, Scholars Prepare to Head Home with UF Master’s Degrees
HOMESTEAD/GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Riphine Mainviel and Rédjino Mompremier have firsthand knowledge of Haiti’s struggles to address food insecurity, a weakened agricultural sector, and a struggling economy. As natives of Haiti, they each grew up facing the challenges with their families.
This week, they are looking forward to graduating from the University of Florida on Aug. 10 and bringing their knowledge home to improve Haiti’s agricultural sector and, ultimately, its economy.
Mainviel and Mompremier are among 25 students enrolled in a UF-managed project called AREA (an acronym based on the French translation of “Support to Agricultural Research and Development”). Four years ago, the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences launched the project, funded by a $13.7 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to build Haiti’s capacity to improve its agricultural sector.
Mainviel, who is graduating from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) with a master’s degree in horticultural sciences, said she intends to work as a plant breeder so she can continue her research to develop new varieties of beans that are higher-yielding than those grown in Haiti.
“After my studies, I am returning home with a perspective on a new culture, a new language, and a great education, which are very important assets to my career,” she said.
Mompremier, whose wife and child are excited about his return home after he accepts his master’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering from UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, is determined to use models to forecast water-management issues and help prevent agricultural crises caused by flooding and drought in his homeland.
“I’ll advocate for a program to collect long-term weather and water-flow measurement data to help Haitians better manage watersheds and improve agricultural productivity,” he said.
Graduating students said they are eager to help address a long list of agricultural challenges faced by Haiti, such as improving the fertility of degraded soils, educating the next generation of students, developing higher-yielding varieties of crops, managing crop-destroying pests and plant diseases, and improving agricultural policies and the management of precious water resources.
Liliane Poinçon, whose UF master’s thesis focused on how Haiti’s important farmer’s associations serve women, said: “I want to work for youth and women’s empowerment for many reasons, mainly to improve their access to education and to support entrepreneurship.” While earning her degree from UF/IFAS CALS in family, youth and community sciences, Poinçon won two awards and presented at four academic conferences across the U.S. and Canada.
Lemane Delva, a Haitian native who holds a Ph.D. from UF and serves as director of research for the AREA project, said Haiti desperately needs professionals with advanced degrees to fill leadership roles and provide expertise to tackle pressing food shortages and nutrition challenges.
“No matter where they end up working, their research and expertise are going to have a significant impact on the agricultural sector in Haiti,” Delva said.
Back in 2015, news of the program spread across Haiti via social media platforms, newspapers and word-of-mouth as it sought applications from Haitians wanting to earn Master of Science degrees.
After a rigorous selection process, 25 college-educated applicants were awarded scholarships to UF and Louisiana State University to begin graduate studies in nearly every field of agricultural sciences – horticultural sciences, entomology and nematology, food and resource economics, and agricultural and biological engineering, to name a few.
On Aug. 9, the day before graduation, the AREA project will host a research forum at the UF/IFAS Straughn Professional Development Center in Gainesville, Florida, to highlight the students’ scientific projects, which included cultivating higher-yielding crops, better managing plant diseases and improving production techniques in the face of climate change.
“We are proud to have helped develop these talented and dedicated professionals,” said Rose Koenig, a UF/IFAS faculty member who serves as principal investigator of the AREA project. “We are confident that their expertise and research skills will help address major food production challenges in Haiti and lead to improved household food security and livelihoods.”
During their graduate studies, the students worked on research projects in the field throughout Haiti, at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida, and in numerous laboratories and research facilities on the main campuses of UF and LSU. Each student studied with professors from their university as well as with Haitian research professionals who served on their graduate committees, and many of them had opportunities to present their research results at academic conferences and work with agricultural leaders and farmers across the Caribbean country.
“The aim was for them to build relationships among agricultural professionals that do not end at graduation but last a lifetime,” Koenig said.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.