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Abstract

Theories of Haitian underdevelopment, and of the causes and solutions to that underdevelopment are many, complex and often competing. At a very basic level though, Haitian development involves the mastery of ever changing conditions and requires continual innovation, adaption and the ability to create and exploit resources both internal and external to the farm, to the community and to the nation. The capacity to innovate and adapt is thus essential and is a foundation of sustained economic and social development. The purpose of this paper is to consider the phenomenon of innovation in rural Haiti by examining two case studies of technical and social innovations for soil conservation The studies are prefaced with a historical review of indigenous and donor responses to soil erosion, and a synopsis of theories concerning how innovations emerge and the factors influencing that emergence. Special attention is paid to the role of history and culture, political economy, and social organization in innovation. The studies suggest that the soil conservation innovations examined can be understood as thrifty and incremental cultural evolution; that small groups were loci for innovation; and that knowledge shared between scientists and peasants in a conversational approach positively affects the generation of innovations.

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