Monday, April 27, 2015

Former LCI students' award-winning project offers hope for Haiti

Former Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute student Junior Beauvais
The mayi tchaka Junior Beauvais eats when he returns to the rural Haitian village where he was born tastes nothing like the flavorful corn and bean stew his grandmother used to serve.

The recipe hasn't changed. What has, he says, is the quality of the corn and beans.

For generations, farmers in the mountainous village of Fondwa, a narrow strip of a community about two hours southwest of Port-au-Prince, provided food for their community by growing heirloom corn, peas, and sorghum.

Starting in the 1980s, though, the region has been flooded by genetically modified seeds distributed for free by nongovernmental organizations. Taking advantage of the cheap seeds, Haitian farmers quickly sold off their heirloom seeds and planted the modified ones.

According to Beauvais, this switch has had negative long-term consequences. The modified seeds, unsuitable to the terrain, aren't nearly as productive as the heirloom varieties. Crop yields have dramatically decreased, wrecking Fondwa's economy and creating health problems and malnutrition. In addition, the hybrid crops don't produce seeds that can be saved, forcing farmers to buy more each season.

Those who have tried to switch back to the heirloom seeds, however, have found that they are nowhere to be found. Beauvais had an award-winning idea to change that.

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