Makings of a Haitian Agronomist: Spotlight on Frantz Roby

From MFK Agriculture Research and Extension Program Specialist Ben Wiseman

Haitian small-holder farmers face a myriad of challenges in a global market where agriculture is increasingly industrialized.  Haitian agronomists are out to face those challenges.  Agronomist Frantz Roby Point Du Jour was inspired to study agricultural economics after his high school teachers taught him about the struggles facing agricultural production in Haiti.  After studying for five years at the Faculté d’Agronomie et de Médecine Vétérinaire, Haiti’s premier agriculture university in Port-au-Prince, Frantz Roby was selected for an exchange program at Université Lavalin Canada where he secured further funding for graduate study in agricultural economics. As part of MFK’s collaboration with the Université Lavaland the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, MFK invited Frantz to complete his research thesis at MFK.  In July of this year, Frantz began a value-chain analysis on the peanut market in North and North-East Haiti.  His analysis aims to better understand how aflatoxin contamination can be stymied in the complex web of the informal Haitian peanut market.

Frantz Roby did not grow up farming.  He was raised in an urban area near Port-au-Prince where his parents teach mathematics.  He was introduced to farming while at university, where his affinity for mathematics and interest in economics led him to specialize in the economics of agriculture.  It may seem a little backward for a city-kid from Port-au-Prince to consult with small-holder farmers and informal peanut vendors, but not to Frantz.  Frantz points out that agronomists can develop coordinated strategies and provide expertise that would otherwise not be available to small-holder farmers.

(Frantz with a Focus Group of Peanut Merchants)

Many of the challenges small-holder farmers face would indeed benefit from coordinated efforts beyond their farming communities.  Frantz notes that the biggest problem faced by peanut farmers in North-East Haiti is the risk of planting.  With no irrigation systems and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, farmers are not sure of what they will get when they plant.  “They just hope,” says Frantz.  A project such as developing irrigation would require support from experts beyond the farming community.

Since the majority of production in Haiti comes from small-holder farmers, Frantz says, “If you want to solve a certain problem, you can’t avoid working with them.”  This points toward the need for collaboration between small-holder farmers and highly-educated agronomists in developing a robust production system in Haiti.  It also supports the premise of MFK’s own farmer training program which connects peanut farmers with the expertise of local agronomists.

Frantz’s biggest surprise from the value-chain research project was its complexity.  He notes that actors occupy various roles in the value-chain: an aggregator may also make peanut butter; a farmer may also buy and sell peanuts regionally.  Frantz said that he was amazed by the generous contributions of participants in his studies.  Even in the market where vendors were busy negotiating and selling, he found people ready to spend a long time in conversation. He needed extensive information from the actors and had nothing to offer them for compensation.  “The willingness of people to share with me really marked me,” he says.

After Frantz finishes his master’s degree, he hopes to continue to work in value chain analysis.  He appreciates that value chain studies can maximize financial benefit for actors in the value chain while also giving insight to other concerns on the value chain, such as quality.  Agricultural professionals such as Frantz have an important role to play in developing effective agricultural production in Haiti, and we wish the best for Frantz in his future career.

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of IDRC or its Board of Governors neither of Université Laval.