VALOR – Here We Go!

If anyone had told me while growing up in Guyana that I would be part of anything agriculture, I would have rolled my eyes and give them a dirty look. Yet two decades later, here I stand, completely immersed in agriculture in studies and work.  Being involved in VALOR is something I never expected to be a part of and yet, I am so grateful for this opportunity and the chance to connect, work, and learn from this incredible group of leaders.

My backstory. My parents grew up farming albeit a very different kind of farming. Neither are high school graduates for different reasons although poverty was the catalyst. At the last hurdle, my grandfather could not afford to pay the exam fees (back then it was in British pounds) for my mother to write the high school exit exams. She had grown up on a 5.5-acre diverse farm where a variety of fruits, ground provisions, and sugarcane were grown. He grew everything from coffee, to mangos, to plantains, to some tropical fruits you probably have never heard of. There were also a few head of cows used primarily for milk.  My father, being the eldest of ten siblings, dropped out of school around the age of ten to help tend to a 5-acre rice field rented by his family. They also planted cash crops (peppers, spinach, bora [a type of long beans], eggplants, etc. on the embankments.   Growing up, there was always something in season for me to pick whenever I visited my grandfather’s farmer, but I was never particularly interested in working in the backdam [farm] myself. 

While I was growing up, my mother in particular stressed the importance of education and never wasted an opportunity to remind my two siblings and me if “you don’t use your head, you will have to use your hands”. It was her simple way of reminding us of the labor intensiveness and dedication involved in farming. So, coming down to end of term exams throughout my primary and secondary education, she would remind me that if I didn’t do well on the exams, I would be taken out of school and put to “cut cane” [cut sugarcane] and/or forage some sheep, goats, or cows. For those that might not know, cutting sugarcane with a 22-inch machete to fill a trailer in tropical heat, is a very tough job.  It was not my dream job.

Though I took three mandatory years of agricultural science in high school, at the first opportunity to stream, I chose the business track and spent the final two years studying accounting and business. I matriculated to the University of Guyana and studied accounting and earned an assistantship to Morehead State University in Kentucky and did an MBA in finance. I even earned my CPA license in Virginia having moved here first for an internship and then again for a job. Then everything came full circle. I was recruited by an international development agency in DC for a large USAID Agribusiness program starting up in Iraq. I was asked to go out there for 35 days to train the local and expat staff and set up the office. They wanted me for my accounting and finance skills, I wanted it for the adventure and experience. Before I knew it, I was living there for two years.

The two years working on the agribusiness program in Iraq helped me to fully appreciate and understand the significance of the agricultural sector on improving the lives of ordinary people. Though my role was primarily finance and operations, I was deeply involved in conversations and discussions about feedlots, fish farms (carp), wheat varieties, pomegranates, packing sheds, windmills, mushrooms, dates, agricultural credit, etc.  It is here that my experiences growing up and my work in international development inspired me to pursue studies in agricultural economics and hence the reason I came to Virginia Tech. Having completed the M.S. in Agricultural Economics, I transitioned to the Ph.D. in Planning Governance and Globalization where my dissertation research focuses on the impacts of climate change on rice production and small farmers’ adaptation. So, there you have it, the short version of how I got here!

To be honest, my interest lies in several different areas. I am interested in teaching and research but would also like to advise on development programs locally and internationally. Food security and food sovereignty is another area I am interested in. Given my finance background, I am also interested in agricultural finance and agribusiness as a whole. I am also interested in sustainable agricultural development.  But above all, I am interested in learning from my fellow leaders the different facets of agriculture. An understanding of the technical aspects would only serve to enhance my ability to teach, research, and disseminate new knowledge to the next generation of agricultural students, professionals and leaders.

  I value hard work and believe I can do anything I set my mind to. I love to travel, seeing new places, meeting new people, and learning about their history and culture. My wife and I have this thing where we would like to go to a country beginning with each letter of the alphabet, well except X of course. I would also love to go to what I consider the four major sporting events in the world: cricket world cup, football (soccer) world cup, Olympics, and tour de France. We have actually gone to a couple of games at the 2011 cricket world cup in India. However, the other three have eluded us thus far. I am passionate about cricket though I wish I had more time to play. I dream of finishing my dissertation and traveling the world! And I aspire to make small positive changes in the lives of people that need the most help and to be a good husband and role model for our daughter. 

For now, my wife Sam (an aspiring Ph.D. student…not sure what she is thinking having seen me in action) and I live in beautiful Blacksburg. Our daughter Sofia is two and half going on sixteen. She keeps us on our toes.

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