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Jamaicans teach Haitians how to grow breadfruit

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer staff reporter skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 17, 2015



REFORESTATION efforts in Haiti, where only two per cent of forest cover is estimated to remain, got a leg up from Jamaica recently when a group of seven agronomists from that country visited Jamaica for a week-long intensive agricultural training programme.


The project was an initiative of non-profit, American-based organisation Trees That Feed Foundation. Its founders, Michael and Mary McLaughlin, teamed up with the Hope Botanical Gardens; College of Arts, Science and Education; and the Ministry of Agriculture's Boodles Research Station for the project.


"Our aim was to have training in grafting and circumposing to expose the participants from our neighbouring country as to how to produce more plants efficiently that can be used to reforest their country," said Joseph Johnson, who is in charge of plant propagation at Boodles.


He schooled the Haitians, as well as three workers from Hope Gardens, in fruit tree propagation, particulalrly breadfruit, mangoes and avocados.


The team of seven, all of whom attended agricultural college, are involved in reforestation programmes in their home country and already had an established relationship with Trees That Feed.


"These men all plant trees for us in Haiti," Mary told the Jamaica Observer.


"We have worked with all of these men, with the exception of one, for five years. Every time we go to Haiti we are always talking about Jamaica and they say 'Well, we would like to see Jamaica, and only two of these men have ever been on an airplane before, so we thought what a great opportunity to bring them here to have training like this," she continued.


McLaughlin explained that the companies to which the men are employed tend to reforest with timber trees, as fruit trees are more expensive. But Trees That Feed uses fruit trees because of the long-term sustainability as opposed to timber which is cut for firewood. This has helped not only the workers, but also the foundation to fulfil its purpose of creating agro-forests to contribute to food security.


One of the foundation's goals is to have breadfruit propagated all over Haiti, which would eliminate that country's reliance on importing the starch. The crop is availabe in the French-speaking island, but only in limited quantities as it is only concentrated in the western parts, closer to Jamaica.


McLaughlin said that when the men grow the seedlings, the foundation purchases them and donate to myriad reforesting efforts.


"It helps with employment and then you have the fruit, because we already have fruit in Haiti, we are working on breadfruit flour and we have one young man here and he makes about 500 pounds of breadfruit flour a month and we buy about 200 pounds from him and we donate it to school-feeding programmes over Haiti," she said.


McLaughlin explained that the Foundation is embarking on a similar path, with plans to buy 300 pounds of breadfruit flour from CASE and will either redistribute it in the country, or sell it to chefs in the US who will undoutedly develop recipes and create a buzz around the product.


"It went well; I think the participants were quite enthusiastic as they were sharing their views as to how it is in Haiti. We can see that they are at a level where they really want to go much further...they seem to have been very interested and learnt a lot," Johnson said.


The agronomists, some of who spoke English fluently, had no problem interpreting for their countrymen. They acively participated in the workshop, asked various questions and keenly watched and participated during the live demonstrations.


"I came to Jamaica just to participate in the training, but when I arrived in Jamaica, I saw a lot of things, very good things, I was very excited. The persons here respect us and when I go back to Haiti, I'm going to share the training with other people to change my environment in Haiti, so I was glad to be here today," participant Edward Joseph said of his experience.


When asked if she would do a programme like this again, McLaughlin replied in the affirmative before speaking to the different possibilities.


"Can you imagine if Joseph was able to come to Haiti what would happen? Already they are saying the students from CASE could come to Haiti to do an internship, but I think it's better if Haitians come to Jamaica because in Jamaica, we don't cook with charcoal every day, the air is clean, we value trees and when you go to Haiti, you just don't see these trees, you don't see the birds," the volunteer pointed out.


She added that she thinks Jamaicans are very conscious about the environment and said the agronomists could not stop speaking about how clean Jamaica was.


Trees that Feed Foundation, whose mission is to plant trees to feed people, create jobs and benefit the environment, first established operations in Jamaica before expanding to other developing countries in the Caribbean. It now has roots in eight other countries.