James Rhoads is MFK’s agriculture development specialists. He heads up the program to develop more and better peanuts in Haiti. This James’ first in a continuing series about MFK’s agriculture programs.
After a year of work, I’m kicking off the first of what I hope will be a continuing series of posts about MFK agriculture programs. Apparently I timed this inaugural post well, because this is the first time that I’ve been able to get reliable data from some of our peanut trial plots!
I’ve been collaborating with the second year agronomy students at the Universite Chretienne du Nord d’Haiti (Northern Haiti Christian University) to learn about peanut production in Haiti and test a few varieties and basic inputs. The students have been very enthusiastic about working together and it’s been great for everyone involved to build some experience designing plots to help test their ideas about crops. I believe we’ve had more questions posed than we could possibly answer, but one major issue was apparently resolved.
St. Louis-based documentary filmmaker Frank Popper joined me for a visit to UCNH. Here, Frank talks with the agronomy students about the merits of peanut production in Haiti.
Because peanuts grow underground, one of the most difficult issues for peanut farmers is determining when to harvest their crop. In Haiti, farmers have been growing peanuts for generations, but when asked how to determine if a peanut plant is mature enough to harvest, they offer you a conflicted response: "It shows you it is mature when all its leaves dry up and the plant dies." In other growing conditions, this would not be true. But here in Haiti, there are several diseases that attack peanuts, dry up the leaves and, ultimately, kill the plant. If the plant does succumb to disease, then it is as mature a plant as it will ever get, so you should probably go ahead and harvest... so there is some truth to their statement. Unfortunately, these diseased peanut plants are weakened, produce fewer peanuts, are harder to harvest and probably are more likely to have aflatoxin problems (more on aflatoxin in some other post!).
At the university, we discussed these disease problems with the agronomy students to see what we could do about it. Two ways to deal with this problem are to 1) choose varieties that have been bred to have natural resistance to these diseases, and 2) spray fungicide. We tried both. We sprayed a foliar fungicide on half of the plots and not on the other. In the picture below you can see that none of the varieties that we currently have available have much resistance to the diseases in Haiti, so those plants all died. However, the plants that were protected by the fungicide were still green and growing. I just harvested the other half of the plot (2 weeks later) and will measure the results soon. This will be the first reliable data that we have been able to collect.
Our next step will be to try some of the varieties we have been sent via the ICRISAT, the global research center for peanuts and to see how few fungicide sprays we can get away with without losing too much yield.
Yet another exciting week of peanut farming in Haiti! It’s so rewarding to experience these little victories!
Universite Chretienne du Nord d'Haiti trial plots. Through testing, we learned that none of the peanut plant varieties that we currently have available have much resistance to the diseases in Haiti, so those plants died. However, the test plants that were protected by the fungicide were still green and growing.
Meds & Food for Kids saves the lives of Haiti's malnourished children by producing and distributing highly nutritious foods, including Medika Mamba, a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food endorsed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Because of its commitment to Haiti's long-term development, MFK produces Medika Mamba in Haiti, with Haitian labor, and with many Haitian raw materials.