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The story of how 'magic beans' were brought to Haiti to revive its barren soils and feed its devastated people, is no fairy tale.

It is the true story of Dr. Ludovic Capo-chichi, an eminent researcher at Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures (AITF), who continues to inspire the scientific community with his heart, as well as his mind.

Ludovic received the 2012 Contribution to Community Award from his AITF peers for his selfless, volunteer contributions to Haiti, devastated by the 2010 earthquake.

Applying scientific expertise to solve real-world challenges is what we do at AITF. Ludovic went far beyond the expected. He spent countless evenings and weekends to bring hope and 'magic' to the people of Haiti.

 

Technology

Ludovic’s story begins in French-speaking Benin, West Africa, where he was born. Young Ludovic went on to postsecondary studies and became an agricultural engineer. It was in Benin that he started working with Mucuna, a crop with the nickname: magic bean. Soon Ludovic was caught in its spell.

Mucuna became the focus of his research and Ludovic earned international acclaim for his expertise in the genetics and breeding of the magic bean. “Mucuna is a fast-growing legume, well adapted to tropical and semi-tropical climates,” says Ludovic. Part of Mucuna’s magic is that it establishes quickly and provides immediate cover for soils at risk of erosion. It produces a huge amount of biomass — 100 tonnes per hectare, per year — and replenishes soils with nitrogen.

“In Benin, planting maize following Mucuna would yield 3 – 4 tonnes per hectare without the need for nitrogen fertilizer applications,” says Ludovic. “This yield rate compares to what would be achieved adding fertilizer at 130 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. For this reason, Mucuna is often grown as a ‘green manure’ crop to prepare and enhance soil fertility for other crops.”

The magic in Mucuna doesn’t end there. Mucuna’s chemical composition is also unique. One of its components is dopamine, a key neurotransmitter in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Research on extracting and concentrating Mucuna’s chemistry continues holding potential for innovative applications in pharmaceuticals, nutrition and medicine.

After working on Mucuna projects in Benin for several years, Ludovic was offered a USAID scholarship to study plant breeding and genetics at Auburn University in Alabama. He earned his master’s degree and then a PhD, focused on the agronomic and genetic attributes of Mucuna.

From there, Ludovic joined AITF through the r&D Associates Program and a position with Dr. Anthony Anyia at its research facility in Vegreville, Alberta. His research focuses on barley and canola vigor and genetics.

Ludovic was at work in Vegreville when the earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. More than 230,000 Haitians were killed and a million-plus left homeless.

The dire need for food revealed the impoverished state of Haiti’s farms. The pressures of population, invading noxious weeds and declining soil fertility threatened sustainable agriculture in Haiti. 

Chemical fertilizers were too costly for small farmers, meaning the yields from traditional crops like maize were desperately low.

Ludovic knew he could do something, so he got involved. He spent his free time on weekends and holidays initiating an international development project to help Haiti achieve food security.

He connected with former colleagues. He spread the word. He began developing a plan.

With financial help from friends and colleagues and on his own time he travelled to Haiti to share his vision with highranking government officials.

“I’d never been to Haiti,” said Ludovic. “When I got there I realized just how serious the situation was. I needed to do something.”

He used his connections to secure Mucuna seed from a colleague at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. Then he provided the seed to Haitian communities and farmers.

Ludovic also engaged his colleagues at AITF to link with Albertan and Canadian companies to develop a high-value market for the seed and seed extracts Haiti would produce.

 

Status

Ludovic continues with his cause, working with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and the international community. He believes Mucuna will help restore Haitian farm soils. He also believes markets can and will be found for its seeds and extracts.

“Dr. Capo-chichi’s effort shows the commitment of a caring person,” said Dr. Valentin Abe, executive director of Caribbean Harvest Foundation, in a letter he wrote to AITF. “Caring not only for the environment, but also for the welfare of millions of poor Haitian farmers. It shows the ability to solve problems with available technology and innovative solutions.”

Ludovic became a Canadian citizen in 2011. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his wife and three children. His is not a fairy tale. Yet it is brimming with the magic of human kindness and ingenuity.

So much so that Ludovic’s colleagues gave him a standing ovation at AITF’s 2012 Corporate Awards ceremony.

To see more stories and videos, visit our Success Stories Map.

 

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Dr. Ludovic Capo-chichi PhD    

Research Scientist

   
Bio and Industrial Technologies Division    
780-632-8468    
ludovic.capochichi@albertainnovates.ca