What started as a casual question of, “Would you like to go to Haiti?” is turning into a largely volunteer effort to help communities find ways to improve nutritional options through sustainable farming.

Staff from Southern University and LSU visited three communities in Haiti for about 10 days in January and found a range of needs — from saving seeds for future production to more complicated projects, including large-scale food preservation.

Even though the major earthquake that wrecked large areas of the country was five years ago, there are still many needs in the country, one of which is food security, said Carl Motsenbocker, professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences at LSU.

“They have to import more than 50 percent of their food,” said Ann Savage, extension associate with LSU Agricultural Center.

LSU has a history of working with Haitian groups, and there is an LSU/Haiti Task Force made up of several programs at the university.

At the first stop in Jacmel, a largely deforested mountainous region where soil erosion is a concern, one farmer has planted trees to help hold the soil in place and provide food, Motsenbocker explained. The farmer planted three acres with the moringa tree, which provides highly nutritious seeds and leaves that are high in protein, calcium, potassium and vitamins C and A.

The farmer has a small solar-powered dryer about the size of a refrigerator to preserve a portion of the seeds, but it’s too small to process all the seeds produced on the property. A larger dryer would allow for the farmer to process enough excess seed that could be sold.

“Moringa, they can dry it, store it and it won’t go bad,” Savage said. The farmer is looking for $25,000 for a better dryer.

“I think it’s something doable, and it’s concrete,” Motsenbocker said. It could become part of a fundraising effort through the newly formed Manje Pou Tout (Food for All) program, which Slow Food Baton Rouge recently took on as a project.

Although the exact projects Manje Pou Tout will take on are still being discussed as the information from farmers and community organizations is prioritized, putting together a fundraising effort to get a more industrialized dryer for the community could be one option, Motsenbocker said.

“He’s just at the point where he said, ‘I need to have a nursery to give trees to neighbors,’ ” Motsenbocker said. “It’s all quite exciting and that’s just one site.”

Although a larger horticulture dryer will be expensive, there were a number of more simple, less expensive projects that could be taken on by the Manje Pou Tout program.

“They don’t have a weather station so they don’t know how much rain they get,” Savage said.

Other needs brought up by farmers and community organizers is a need for better seed-saving technology because finding the right kind of healthy seed can be difficult. Farmers save their money to buy seed, but sometimes it hasn’t been stored properly or the seed farmers find isn’t the right variety for the climate, Savage said. Better education on seed saving technology would allow farmers to create their own seed bank, saving money and improving productivity.

In addition, some community leaders expressed a need for more fresh produce.

Savage said homes have plants in the front yard, but it was for decoration, not consumption. A better emphasis on how much produce can be grown in a small area could bring more fresh produce into people’s diet and that just takes some education.

“There’s no electricity, no running water, no sewerage, so everything you do has to be in context,” she said.

One possible solution that raised a lot of interest was a bucket irrigation kit. It’s nothing fancy, just a five-gallon bucket that comes with drip irrigation tubes attached to it. Water is poured into the bucket and then it slowly leaks out the water for vegetable or other gardens. The one kit, which costs about $10, can water two rows about 32 feet long. The system saves labor, time and water in areas where running water isn’t available.

In the central plateau region of Haiti, the group from LSU and Southern University met with a nonprofit group working to improve nutrition and health, which has an agriculture education component.

“They realized a lot of the health problems were related to malnutrition in the area,” Savage said. “There’s a lot of sugar cane production there so you’ll look at the kids and they’re just eating sugar cane.”

As the Manje Pou Tout program moves forward, the Baton Rouge community will be given the opportunity to get involved either through money or the donation of tools, Motsenbocker said.

“To feed people, you have to start in the backyard,” Motsenbocker said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.