How Smart are Haitian Farmers?

Although many lack formal education, most of the farmers I have met are a proud reminder that our world has plenty of brilliant people with minimal education, and highly educated half-wits.

In this reflection, I would just like to share some of the surprising, pleasing, and humorous anecdotes and information I have received while doing agricultural practice surveys with these folks.

Joseph Simevoir is the owner of a beautiful piece of land. His home garden is well shaded, cool, and bursting with trees. Simevoir has one of the biggest personalities in Bois Jolie – he followed us on many of our home visits, telling stories, cracking jokes, and being generally distracting and disruptive. And, of course, snapping photos with his Zanmi Foto camera.

He has not, however, always lived in Bois Jolie. Before the earthquake in 2010, he was a security guard in Port-au-Prince. Due to the disastrous state of the city, he sought out family in the central plateau, and began working on people’s farms, until he got his own land in Bois Jolie.

As I mentioned before, he has more trees than most farms we visit. I was very surprised to find out that he never made charcoal, given his abundance of raw material. When I asked him why he didn’t make any charcoal, he told me he just didn’t have enough trees to do so (which myself and the other agronomists all laughed at). Furthermore, he said, if he cut off a branch of an avocado tree, he wouldn’t get to eat the avocadoes on it anymore. Makes sense to me.

Jean Nelson, who never ceases to amaze us with his devotion to agroforestry, has beautiful coffee trees taller than myself, numerous terraces, and a thick canopy of mixed-use trees. His land is by no means deforested. In a corner of his farm, he has built a small seedling and sprouts nursery, where he planted carrots and greens and small crops. The design was quite clever, and although most of the crops failed, I have no doubt that if he keeps at it, the set-up will be one of his most useful creations.

Then there is Exime Estime, a soft-spoken man who reminds me often of a wise old mouse from the Redwall series of books by Brian Jacques.

When we asked him what he did to help make extra money, we were surprised to hear that he taught Kung Fu to the local kids.

Francine Gabriel, is a great casino (a card game) partner and a notorious cheater at go fish. This wasn’t a part of my survey but I’ve played cards with him enough to know.

So, how smart are Haitian farmers? Well, not only are they very smart, but they are resourceful, creative, imaginative, and have wonderful senses of humor.

Furthermore, they are not just farmers. They are parents, friends, comedians, and have complex thoughts, families, and personalities. They have good days and bad days. They have weddings, send their kids to school, give them chores, and let them get Kung Fu lessons.  At the end of the day, they are human beings, with all the joy, and baggage, that such a form brings.

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