The new soil-testing lab at the Zanmi Agricol Learning Center Fritz Lafontant in Corporant, Haiti isn’t sophisticated. But it works, and that’s enough to change the lives of many Haitian farmers. Recently, University of Georgia soil scientists David Kissel and Leticia Sonon traveled to Corporant, located in the country’s Central Plateau region, to install the new soil-testing lab. They gave lectures on the importance of soil testing and trained a handful of teachers and other officials on how to manage and operate the laboratory. “This is the beginning of farmers being able to assess the fertility of Haitian soils and determine how much and which fertilizers their crops need,” said Kissel, who is director of the Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The lab, created by a partnership between the college and Atlanta-based nonprofit League of Hope, opened at the end of June as the only working soil lab in Haiti. Kissel identified the soil lab as a need in the country when he traveled to Haiti on a fact-finding tour in 2010. He and Sonon, the coordinator for the college’s Soil, Plant and Water Analysis Lab, identified practical testing methods appropriate for Haiti’s soils and conditions. They installed low-cost instruments that are compact, tough and inexpensive to operate. The new lab is basically a scaled-down version of the CAES Extension soil-testing lab in Athens, GA. It took Sonon and Kissel about a year to design the steamlined lab and develop procedures that would work in Haiti. The information provided by the soil tests performed in the lab — including nutrient contents and pH levels — can help farmers choose the most appropriate crop varieties for their fields and fertilizers. The goal is to provide Haitian farmers with the information they need to increase their crop yields and feed their families. The lab — with its cement floors, folding work tables and rugged, energy efficient equipment — is located inside a new trade school that has opened to serve the Central Plateau region in the northeastern corner of the island. In addition to electrical, plumbing and carpentry training, the school will offer agricultural and environmental stewardship courses to farmers. The lab technicians who were trained by Sonon and Kissel will serve as part-time agricultural advisers to local farmers. They will run the lab, teach others to use the equipment and start demonstration test plots to show Haitian farmers that their yields can be increased with the right soil additives and fertilizers. “The idea was for us to go down and train the teachers, and the teachers would train their students, who could then spread the word about the lab,” Kissel said.Soil testing was a critical part of the success of American agriculture throughout the 20th century and one of the most common services provided by Extension agents across the U.S. Haitian farmers produce only 40 percent of the food the country needs. Food supplies in Haiti have never been abundant, but they have gotten worse since the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of the infrastructure around Port-au-Prince. This one soil lab is not going to solve that problem, but it’s a big step towards increasing the ability of Haitian farmers to feed their country, Sonon said.
YES: Live Free and DieI was born and raised in New Hampshire, home to the state motto “Live Free or Die” and the White Mountains National Forest, a big chunk of wilderness that attracts hikers, climbers, skiers, and snowshoers. More and more of these folks need rescuing every year.The Fish and Game Department oversees all search-and-rescue missions, with much of the field work done by volunteers and, in certain areas, by rangers employed by the U.S. Forest Service. Since 2006, there have been 957 missions costing $1.8 million.Even with a New Hampshire law that allows negligent hikers to be charged for rescue, fewer than 60 percent pay up.Every rescued wilderness traveler should pay a portion of the cost. Negligent or not, prepared or not, accidents happen. Rather than place blame on the lost and injured, we should assign shared responsibility for all those using the wilderness. As for the notion that some people might not call for fear of getting a bill? Well, isn’t that one of the categories for getting a Darwin Award?One solution, currently under consideration in New Hampshire, is a voluntary, once-yearly “Hike Safe Card,” which would entitle the bearer to no-charge search and rescue, with an estimated cost of $18 per card. This shares the cost and undercuts the risk of stranded hikers being too scared to call for help. And if it works in New Hampshire, maybe other states, not to mention the National Park Service, can also ease the massive cost of their rescues with similar measures.If the card becomes a reality in New Hampshire, you can bet I’ll be the first in line. In fact, I’ll give them as birthday presents until everyone I know who might need one has one. Until then, if someone needs rescuing in the wilds, send ‘em a bill.Tim Milton is the executive editor of EasternSlopes.com and lives and hikes in New Hampshire.NO: Don’t Charge for RescuesWe live in a sound-bite culture that seduces us with remarks like “let the idiots pay for their mistakes.” This is the same mentality that says lion attacks strengthen the zebra herds, but there are two small problems: We’re not lions, and we’re not zebras. We’re people, and we take care of our own.I can see why people are tempted to think it’s a good idea to force lost hikers to pay for their rescues. And I can see why cash-strapped agencies would like to recoup some of their costs. And I would like to do something to recognize the incredible risks careless hikers impose on their rescuers when they stray from the trail and remain lost for days. I just don’t think forcing the rescued to pay for their rescues is a humane response to any of these issues.Few things in life are more disorienting and terrifying than being truly lost in the woods. The one thing that sustains hope is the prospect that people will come looking for you. It’s a pretty short trail from billing for rescues to placing a dollar estimate on the value of human life. And let’s not forget the unintended consequences of what lost hikers might do if they know they’ll get stuck with a $25,000 tab for a rescue. Will they panic at the first sign of being lost? Will they take even more risks to get “found” sooner, and get themselves into deeper trouble? Will they never step foot off the main trail and abandon the spirit of adventure that got them hooked on hiking to begin with?I’ve seen the “you could be billed for your rescue if you get lost” warnings at trailheads and they make sense to me, especially at remote wilderness locales. And I understand when an agency might feel an outdoor adventurer has behaved so recklessly that he deserves punitive damages. But when it comes to setting a general policy I say: We find our people in the hope that on the day we’re lost, they’ll find us. Don’t put a price tag on that.Tom Mangan is a hiking enthusiast and freelance journalist hailing from North Carolina. He shares his hiking thoughts at Two-Heel Drive.