Recent history has not been kind to Haiti. In many ways the country is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, and access to nutritious food and basic health care remain elusive for many of the country’s residents.
But Junior Beauvais, 26, is trying to change that — one small seed at a time.
Beauvais, who is pursuing his associate degree in agricultural technology in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, recently received a grant of 15,000 euros— currently about $16,000 — from the multinational pasta company Barilla to start a seed bank.
This summer, Beauvais will construct a building to house heirloom seeds that he will gather from farmers throughout Haiti. According to Beauvais, the hearty heirloom seeds will produce more nutritious and more prolific crops, which in turn will generate more cash for farmers, and allow the farmers from his hometown, located near Jacmel in the southern part of the country, to send their children to school.
“I can build the seed bank in one or two months,” said Beauvais. “The longer process will include building a program to increase the number of seeds, buying construction equipment, paying for staff to educate farmers, and starting a seed buy-back program.”
The seeds he will gather are varieties of beans, sorghum, and corn.
The project is a huge leap in scale from what Beauvais remembers as his introduction to agriculture, which consisted of short walks in the fields of Haiti with his grandfather who was a farmer.
But Beauvais has made many strides since those short walks.
Zanotti assisted Beauvais in applying for the Barilla scholarship.
“Junior’s project speaks to a lot of things that a good development initiative should contain. It has the ability to be replicated in other places as well as be self-sustaining because eventually farmers will sell the seeds they grow back to his seed bank. It also incorporates a way to provide jobs for the local population,” said Zanotti, an alumna of the University of Bocconi in Milan, Italy, the entity that has hosted the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition conference for the last six years. “This project also demonstrates that there is a value in studying abroad not just on an individual level, but for the community as well.”
Indeed, once Beauvais completes his associate degree, he hopes to obtain more advanced degrees that would allow him to go back to the University of Fondwa in his hometown where he can incorporate the methodologies he’s learned here.
Those methodologies include practical fieldwork and classroom learning.
“The hands-on part of teaching is the most interesting thing I have learned at Virginia Tech,” said Beauvais, who also credits the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute for his success.
Beauvais will graduate in 2016. No doubt he will take the lessons of his grandfather and also his time as a student here in Blacksburg back to Haiti where he hopes to work as a teacher, and change the face of his community one student — and one seed — at a time.