ISU sociologist works with USAID task force on rebuilding education in Haiti

AMES, Iowa - Rebuilding Haiti's agricultural and educational institutions after a severe earthquake struck the nation Jan. 12 will be the focus of a U.S. government task force that includes an Iowa State University sociologist.

Cornelia Flora, Distinguished Professor of sociology, has been named to the Task Force on Haiti, part of the United States Agency for International Development's Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD).

The aim of the task force is to figure out how to rebuild the country's universities and other institutions so they can improve how agriculture is done in the Caribbean nation.

"Given what is happened in Haiti with the earthquake, but also a long history of soil depletion and underproduction, the BIFAD group is trying to say, 'How can U.S. universities be the most useful in rebuilding Haitian agriculture at a higher level?'" she said.

"And how can we help rebuilding agriculture universities to be able to provide the kind of research, teaching and extension that makes sense for their small-holder agriculture?" said Flora.

The challenges of working with the smaller-scale, part-time farmers is much different than working with agriculture in Iowa.

"It's one thing to train people to work with farmers in rural Iowa," she said. "It's quite another to work with small holders, and subsistence agriculturalists who will be farming some of the time and doing construction, for instance, the rest of the time."

Iowa State has some expertise that Flora feels could be good for Haiti.

"One of the things ISU might be able to offer is that we have some excellent master's level agronomy courses that are distance education," she said. "We might want to offer them in Creole (the language spoken in Haiti)."

Also, Flora points out that ISU's soil laboratories may offer insights about the current soil conditions in Haiti.

Flora thinks a good resource for the task force may be looking at how agriculture is working in the Dominican Republic, the nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Soils there are similar to Haiti but have been better cared for, she said.

She also hopes the rebuilding efforts will be led by current or former Haitians.

"There are a lot of Haitians who have been trained at U.S. land-grant universities who might be willing to go back and lead the effort. It really has got to be led by Haitians," said Flora.

Other members of the task force are predominantly from U.S. universities with expertise in dealing with Haiti or similar areas.

"Iowa State has a lot of expertise in areas like Africa," said Flora. "The things we've learned there may be very helpful in working in Haiti."

Flora has been to Haiti in the past, but works mostly with other Latin American nations. She thinks that will be valuable experience for her.

For now, the group doesn't plan to visit Haiti, but will work with Haitians remotely.

"My feeling is the best way we can strengthen Haitians may be long distance," said Flora. "Last thing they need right now is more foreigners walking around."

Later, as the task force feels it is appropriate, the group may visit the island to see if there is more they can do, she said.