Bringing Seeds of Hope for Farmers in Rural Haiti
Former UNIF Agronomy Students Junior Beauvais and Enel Delices saw the need for sustainable agriculture practices, and an opportunity to create jobs for local farmers when they applied for a grant from Barilla Pasta in Milan, Italy to start a seed bank in Fondwa.
Junior, as the grandson of a peasant farmer, and Enel as the son of a peasant farmer, both know how fragile the soil environment is in Haiti, and how much families depend on it for their livelihood and survival. Junior obtained his agronomy degree jointly from UNIF in Haiti and Virginia Tech in the U.S. in 2016, and Enel completed his coursework at the University of Fondwa in 2016.
(Left to Right) Junior Beauvais and Enel Delices; Spring planting in Fondwa; Junior and Fang Wan presented the project at Barilla’s corporate offices in Parma, Italy.
Honoring UNIF’s values of respect for the environment and for traditional knowledge and practices, Enel and Junior designed their project to bring back native crops to Fondwa and the surrounding communities.
In the 1980’s, throughout parts of Haiti, international non-government organizations distributed free genetically modified seeds. Over time, farmers found that these modified seeds were not as productive as native varieties. Unfortunately, heirloom (native) seeds have been increasingly difficult to find in parts of rural Haiti.
As novice social entrepreneurs, Junior and Enel developed the concept of a Native Heirloom Seed Bank to reintroduce native crops, including varieties of sorghum, Congo peas and corn. Their project, awarded $15,000 Euros from Barilla in 2015, has employed local farmers to collect seeds from the remote areas surrounding UNIF. Some of the seeds are stored; others have been sold at low cost and planted in the steeply terraced fields. If the seed bank project proceeds as Junior and Enel have planned, following the harvest, seeds will be re-sold to the seed bank creating additional income for the farmers.
“This project speaks to a lot of things that a good development initiative should contain. It has the ability to be replicated in other places as well as be self-sustaining because eventually farmers will sell the seeds they grow back to the seed bank. It also incorporates a way to provide jobs for the local population”, said Laura Zanotti, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech. Dr. Zanotti is a member of the Board of the University of Fondwa, USA and assisted Junior and Enel in applying for the Barilla scholarship.
The Heirloom Seed Bank potentially serves the nine communal sections surrounding Fondwa and nearly 1,000 farmers and 8,000 residents. The seed Bank Project also serves as practicum opportunity for UNIF Agronomy students to model elsewhere in rural Haiti.
Little did Junior and Enel know just how timely and valuable their seed bank would become. When Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on October 4th, the fall crops in Fondwa were nearly ready to harvest. In just a few hours, the high winds and torrential rains felled trees, killed livestock and washed away most of the fields in Fondwa and the surrounding communities. Included in those who lost their fields were 80 farmers who had planted heirloom seeds.
The next few months will be extremely difficult for farmers in Fondwa and for many families whose survival and livelihood depend on the food they grow. Right now, Junior and Enel are working to bring hope to farmers in Fondwa and the surrounding communities. They are working side-by-side with farmers to restore their fields for spring planting and also assisting families in rebuilding their homes. Fortunately, the container housing the seed bank was not significantly damaged and the native seeds will be available for the next planting season.
In the future, Junior plans to return to rural Haiti and teach at a university after completing graduate studies. Enel currently resides in Fondwa and has worked as a translator for organizations collaborating in the community. He also serves as a youth mentor.
Junior and Enel, as UNIF students, are featured in the recently released documentary, Father Joseph written, produced and directed by Jeff Kaufman at Floating World Pictures. To obtain your copy or to provide one as a gift, click here.