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A standard Extension practice now available to Haitian farmers By Merritt Melancon

The new soil-testing lab at the Zanmi Agricol Learning Center Fritz Lafontant in Corporant, Haiti isn’t sophisticated. But it works, and that’s enough to change the lives of many Haitian farmers.

Recently, University of Georgia soil scientists David Kissel and Leticia Sonon traveled to Corporant, located in the country’s Central Plateau region, to install the new soil-testing lab. They gave lectures on the importance of soil testing and trained a handful of teachers and other officials on how to manage and operate the laboratory.

“This is the beginning of farmers being able to assess the fertility of Haitian soils and determine how much and which fertilizers their crops need,” said Kissel, who is director of the Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The lab, created by a partnership between the college and Atlanta-based nonprofit League of Hope, opened at the end of June as the only working soil lab in Haiti.

Kissel identified the soil lab as a need in the country when he traveled to Haiti on a fact-finding tour in 2010.

He and Sonon, the coordinator for the college's Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Lab, identified practical testing methods appropriate for Haiti’s soils and conditions. They installed low-cost instruments that are compact, tough and inexpensive to operate.

The new lab is basically a scaled-down version of the CAES Extension soil-testing lab in Athens, GA. It took Sonon and Kissel about a year to design the steamlined lab and develop procedures that would work in Haiti.

The information provided by the soil tests performed in the lab — including nutrient contents and pH levels — can help farmers choose the most appropriate crop varieties for their fields and fertilizers. The goal is to provide Haitian farmers with the information they need to increase their crop yields and feed their families.

The lab — with its cement floors, folding work tables and rugged, energy efficient equipment — is located inside a new trade school that has opened to serve the Central Plateau region in the northeastern corner of the island.

In addition to electrical, plumbing and carpentry training, the school will offer agricultural and environmental stewardship courses to farmers.

The lab technicians who were trained by Sonon and Kissel will serve as part-time agricultural advisers to local farmers. They will run the lab, teach others to use the equipment and start demonstration test plots to show Haitian farmers that their yields can be increased with the right soil additives and fertilizers.

“The idea was for us to go down and train the teachers, and the teachers would train their students, who could then spread the word about the lab,” Kissel said.

Soil testing was a critical part of the success of American agriculture throughout the 20th century and one of the most common services provided by Extension agents across the U.S.

Haitian farmers produce only 40 percent of the food the country needs. Food supplies in Haiti have never been abundant, but they have gotten worse since the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the infrastructure around Port-au-Prince.

This one soil lab is not going to solve that problem, but it’s a big step towards increasing the ability of Haitian farmers to feed their country, Sonon said.

(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Haiti Group 1
Haiti Group 1

UGA soil scientists Leticia Sonon and David Kissel recently traveled to Haiti to help set up a soil-testing lab and to teach several teachers and school officials how use the equipment. Haitian agriculture expert Eddy-Jean Etienne, far left in front, traveled to Athens in March to train with Kissel and Sonon, so that he could help supervise the lab.

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UGA soil scientists Leticia Sonon and David Kissel recently traveled to Haiti to help set up a soil-testing lab and to teach several teachers and school officials how use the equipment. Haitian agriculture expert Eddy-Jean Etienne, far left in front, traveled to Athens in March to train with Kissel and Sonon, so that he could help supervise the lab. Download Image
Haiti Lab 3 0018 42F0
Haiti Lab 3

Graham Huff, coordinator of Atlanta-basednonprofit League of Hope, watches as group of Hatian teachers and school officials go through a battery of tests in the new soil-testing lab. The lab is the only working soil lab in Haiti.

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Haiti Lab 2
Haiti Lab 2

Leticia Sonon, coordinator of the University of Georgia Extension Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Laboratory, teaches a group of Haitian teachers and school officials to use the soil-testing lab equipment that they recently delivered to the country. Sonon, and Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratory director David Kissel, spent about a year design the lab, which is compact, durable and inexpensive to operate.

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Hait Lab 1
Hait Lab 1

Leticia Sonon, coordinator of the University of Georgia Extension Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Laboratory, teaches a group of Haitian teachers and school officials to use the soil-testing lab equipment that they recently delivered to the country. Sonon, and Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratory director David Kissel, spent about a year design the lab, which is compact, durable and inexpensive to operate.

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