Prof Aims to Improve Life of Haitians Via Agriculture

January 29, 2010 - News Release

As Haiti grapples with the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake, a University of Guelph researcher is setting up a lab aimed at improving the lives of Haitians and limiting the destruction caused by natural disasters.

Prof. Manish Raizada of the Department of Plant Agriculture is investigating how indigenous and innovative agricultural techniques can better the livelihoods of Haitian farmers as well as prevent devastating mudslides following natural disasters.

“Haitian farmers struggle with hilly land, deforestation, and heavy and intermittent rainfall, which all contribute to massive soil erosion,” said Raizada. “Extreme drought and downpours from climate change will only further devastate millions of Haitians. The purpose of this research is to work towards long-term reconstruction of Haiti that will not only help establish sustainable agriculture in this extremely impoverished country, but will also protect people from the threat of mudslides.”

Raizada will use a 10-acre parcel of land near Kingston, Jamaica, for his field research. The lab is being set up in Jamaica because it has a climate similar to Haiti’s and already has the infrastructure in place to support the initiative, he said. The long-term goal is to set up a field lab in Haiti.

As part of his research, Raizada has begun working with farmers in Ile a Vache in Haiti in collaboration with Friends of Ile a Vache, a small Canadian NGO, to conduct an extensive survey of the needs and practices of 1,000 Haitian farmers.

“For adaptation strategies to be adopted, it is critical to involve the stakeholders at each stage of the process. We can learn from indigenous practices that might have been lost and determine which agronomic practices and seed varieties are acceptable based on feedback from the Haitian farmers.”

One indigenous farming technique Raizada will be testing in the lab is planting crops on rows of dirt mounds.
“This is an ancient farming technique that was used because the mounds of dirt act like a sponge, helping to retain water and prevent the nutrients from running off,” he said.

In addition to testing indigenous farming techniques, he will use the lab to investigate new ways of farming that will boost soil-nutrient retention and reduce runoff.

Some of these innovative techniques include investigating different intercropping practices to decrease soil erosion from wind and rain as well as testing the root structures of plants to see which are most effective in stabilizing crops, particularly on hillsides. He will also study agricultural practices that would provide year-round groundcover for farmland, further protecting it from erosion.

Because deforestation is a major contributor to soil erosion and mudslides in Haiti, Raizada will be experimenting with fast-growing woods and more sustainable tree-harvesting practices.

“Haitians rely on trees as cooking fuel,” he said. “One way to reduce deforestation is to continually harvest just the branches from trees, which promotes regeneration of the trees. This not only helps prevent soil erosion but also maintains a constant crop of trees to get wood from.”

As part of the effort to reduce deforestation, Raizada will also work towards introducing more efficient cooking stoves that require less wood and building solar-based stoves.

One of the final stages of the project is to develop sustainable agriculture kits that will include seeds for staple crops, green manures and pesticide-deterrent crops as well as storage bags and a picture book of best farming practices to aid illiterate farmers.

“Rather than giving handouts, this bottom-up project will provide Haitian entrepreneurs with low-cost appropriate seeds and technologies for them to start their own agribusinesses as well as the sustainability to lift the Haitian economy out of cycles of poverty.”

For media questions, Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

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