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Commentary: The Purdue University experiment in Haiti
Published on August 21, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

I must thank Joel Lorquet for his brilliant public relations billboard informing internet users about the latest events and about the most comprehensive news on Haiti garnered from the major news outlets. As soon that I learned about the report of Purdue University on its weeklong visit to Haiti, I cleared my calendar to be present at the El Rancho hotel on August 11, 2017, for the colloquium. Agriculture is in my DNA, I have been told often by friends and family members I should have been an agronomist.

It was a momentous event. I told the chairman of the group, Dr Mark Russell, the last time I was so excited for Haiti, it was some 60 years ago, when Pote Kole or 4C the program sponsored by the United States government in the 60s for the integrated development of Haiti was in full force.


Indeed under the leadership and the inspiration of a former student of Purdue, Dr Branly Eugene, who is now general director of the ministry of agriculture, the university has been conducting student field visits in the northern part of the country for the past six years. It has culminated today in a full regalia visit sponsored by the government of Haiti to extend its welcoming mat for Purdue School of Agriculture to help Haiti revive its main industry, which is agriculture and husbandry.

A whole team that includes:

• Dr Indrajeet Chaubey, Associate Dean and Director of International Programs in Agriculture;

• Dr Salamar Armstrong, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy;

• Dr Michael Brzezinski, Dean, International Programs;

• Dr Dharmendra Mishra, Assistant Professor, Food Science;

• Dr Prafulla Regmi, Post-Doc research associate, USDA-ARS;

• Dr Mark Russell, Professor and Head, Youth Development and Extension Education; and

• Dr John Sanders;

all experts in their field in the area of food production, food conservation, and food marketing -- promises within five years to put Haiti on the map as a self sustaining entity capable of feeding its population and found enough left over to sell to its Diaspora scattered all over the world the nostalgia comfort of homey organic fruit and produce.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now.  He can be reached at
In my conversation with Dr Eugene, the director of the agriculture ministry, I wanted to get a commitment from him that this project would not turn out to be one of those Calyces to Scylla experiment where the Haitian population is often the victim of a scheme that promises much, but delivers little. With the passion of his youth, he assured me, he will strive beyond all politics maneuvers to insure that Purdue helps Haiti succeed.

Sitting with Dr Russell, I advise him he should also get an anthropologist to be part of the recovery team. I tend to believe the culture of self-defeat endured by Haiti in particular, the whole Caribbean in general, is due to the fact the people of the region as well as their governments have failed to apprehend the fact they are not citizens only from their independence era, they are also the citizens of the colony that existed three hundred years before. Therefore they have accumulated in their ethos a baggage of impediments and internal barriers that must be explored and conquered before they can move forward as emancipated people.

Haiti is cruising on a two way street, with the majority of the population as in slavery times, without education, formation and sophistication living in harmony; with a minority well educated, sophisticated and insouciant of the misery of the masses like the colonists. Its governments have been for the most part predatory upon the population like the former colony, helped by an international community that feeds on or participates into that predatory feast.

In the question and answer after the presentation, I suggested to the team the best way to implant them in Haiti is to try to establish a division of or have a foot into the University of Henry Christophe in Limonade, the northern part of the country. A big white elephant donated by the Dominican Republic after the earthquake, it is languishing due to sectarian conflicts such as Port au Prince against the rest of the country, poor management of student leadership and misuse of the resources by the executive managerial branch of the larger university. Purdue could rescue the University of Limonade by enhancing first its school of Agriculture and as such, stop the hemorrhagic flight of Haitian students towards the Dominican Republic, Canada and the United States.

Purdue is a large public institution with a student body of 41.000 students near Chicago but in Indiana. Its reputation for venturing into the international area is uncontested. It is operating in 28 countries including in Afghanistan where no one dares to get in; it is in Colombia and in India. It is focusing on Haiti now, hoping to bring about sustainable change where there have been very few success stories.

The promises are clear and simple:

• Help Haiti build a sustainable and secure food production system by enhancing its capacity to feed and power its people;

• Entertain join strategic planning and partnership to discover and exploit niche connections, become a preferred supplier of organic and nostalgic food products;

• Develop and enhance the entrepreneurial spirit;

• Strengthen the ecological integrity with informed decisions that improve the economical and the social well being of most.

Purdue will profit of its experience in Sub-Sahara in Africa where it has helped some 2.5 million farmers to rise out of poverty with its own design PICS, a pouch device that reduces post harvest storage loss. The model has been implemented in 24 countries in Africa and in Asia. It is licensed to ten distributors worldwide and some five million bags are now in use.

Purdue School of Agriculture’s international reputation is well deserved. It has three world food prize laureates: Phil Nelson, Gebrisa Ejeta, and Akintomi Adesina. With some 300 faculty members with expertise in agro- and bio-engineering, animal science, biochemistry, botany, food science, forestry, horticulture, soil improvement, animal waste, Haiti can only profit of the experiment.

I told Dr Mark Russell that I am a volunteer to help Purdue succeed in Haiti and as such regain its lost standing of Pearl of the Antilles.
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