Nazeer Ahmad
- Soil Scientist

The soil does not belong to us ..our children"
- Professor Nazeer Ahmad.

Professor Nazeer Ahmad enjoyed wide international recognition for his work in Tropical Soil Science and traveled to over eighty five (85) countries of the world as a consultant and advisor in soil and land use problems. He was awarded the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) Gold Medal for his contribution to research in Soil Science in the Caribbean and Latin American Region.

Now Emeritus Professor of Soil Science of the University of the West Indies, he is credited with having improved research and teaching facilities and he developed a postgraduate school of research in Soil Science. He built a sophisticated Soil Science Department that equalled those in developed countries and was the sole or joint supervisor of approximately one hundred (100) research students who are now working in many countries of the world.

Nazeer Ahmad was born on 27th January 1932 in the farming village of Dundee, in Demerara, Guyana in a subsistence farming family. He was the third child of eleven. From as long as he can remember, he helped in the various micro-enterprises of his family’s small farm which for livestock included cattle, horses, donkeys, sheep, chicken and ducks and for crops, ground provisions, a kitchen garden, coconuts and rice. As a child, he was intimately involved with all these enterprises and often his day started at about 4 a.m. assisting on the farm.

In his early childhood he was exposed to all aspects of agriculture ..it was the growth of crop plants and how this can be influenced by soil-management which stirred his imagination. When he was not yet 10 years old, during his school garden classes, his teacher told him that a chemist could analyse the soil and inform what “fertilizer” to apply to increase crop yields. From that very moment he wanted to learn more since he felt that the hard labour of his father and family justified better rewards.

Ahmad’s education started at the Novar Canadian Mission School where he was greatly influenced by his headmaster, Mr. James Hamilton Gopaul. He sandwiched his schooling with participation in all the farming activities of his family. On weekends and during the holiday periods, he was fully occupied in farm work. In spite of this, he excelled at school and in 1946 he was awarded a scholarship to attend Berbice High School in New Amsterdam. This was a first traumatic experience for him, since he had to leave home. While at high school, his farming activities were confined mainly to school holidays when he returned home.

After only three years at high school, he wrote the Cambridge School Certificate and gained a Grade One pass. This performance, in addition to his demonstrated knowledge of agriculture at an interview for British Guiana Agricultural Scholarship, convinced the Selection Committee to nominate him for the award of the scholarship in 1949. The scholarship was tenable at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) Trinidad, to which he had applied. Up to this time, he never thought of agriculture as a professional career ..as an occupation. He wanted to be a surgeon ..a lack of funds prevented him from pursuing that goal. He thus left his home and family at Dundee Village on a more permanent basis to undertake his course at the ICTA (Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture). He knew the practical aspects of growing crops and raising livestock ..he was soon to gain exposure to the field at a scientific level.

Ahmad found ICTA an ideal institution for learning since the classes were small, the students received individual attention, and the teachers were very knowledgeable. He worked his way to the top of his class and was awarded the Diploma (DICTA) in 1951. By invitation, he undertook the postgraduate course (AICTA) which he completed in 1952, having conducted research on the chemistry of rice soils. On the recommendation of his supervisor, Professor Frederick Hardy who also inspired him, his scholarship was extended to enable him to attend McGill University, Canada for his master’s degree in soil science. In 1954, the National Research Council of Canada gave him a research grant to undertake a project at the University of British Columbia, where he completed his master’s degree in 1955. He was then offered an open postgraduate scholarship to the University of Nottingham in the UK to complete his doctoral degree in 1957.

Ahmad and colleagues in the field

On the completion of his studies, Ahmad was first employed at the Division of Agricultural Chemistry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Guyana. At that time, expatriates mostly held senior positions, ..because of his superior qualifications and academic record, he could not have been overlooked and he was appointed Head of the Division. He quickly and effectively took steps to improve the capability and effectiveness of this Division. His efforts were facilitated by a United Nations Special Funds project to conduct soil and land use surveys and to undertake relevant research to improve the agricultural productivity of these soils. While in Guyana, in addition to developing the plan of operations for the survey investigations and to get this major project started, he conducted basic research on several aspects of soil behaviour which he published and which attracted international attention.

In 1961, Ahmad accepted a position as Lecturer in Soil Science at his alma mater, now the Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of the West Indies in Trinidad. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1965 and in 1969 he became Professor of Soil Science and Head of the Department of Soil Science. As he moved through the University ranks, he worked tirelessly to improve research and teaching facilities and developed postgraduate research in this specialized discipline. He was very successful in obtaining research grants from many sources to support his work and that of his students and colleagues.

He participated in numerous international scientific conferences worldwide as a specially invited scientist and organized at least four such conferences at UWI, St. Augustine. He left the University in 1995 and was named Emeritus Professor of Soil Science, UWI, one year later. He assumed the duties of Director, National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Guyana and retired from this post in 2000.

Ahmad provided sterling service to international institutions and bodies such as the International Society of Soil Science and the International Board for Soil Research and Management. He also served on the Rubber Research and Development Board of Malaysia. As an indication of his international recognition, he was invited to serve as Fulbright Professor of Tropical Soil Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois in 1982-1983. He published over 200 scientific articles including several chapters in books and authored or co-authored three books on Soil Science.

While his achievements in research have earned him international recognition, Professor Ahmad is also proud of his accomplishments as a teacher and his ability to inspire many hundreds of students over the years. In his opinion, this is an equal or even more important contribution. Although now retired, he is still active as a consultant in soil science in the Caribbean region and finds more time for his hobbies, which include woodworking, auto mechanics and gardening.

Professor Ahmad delivering a lecture

Still passionate about soil he advises, like the famous Persian poet Khalil Gibran: “The soil does not belongs to us ..to our children and while we may use it while we occupy it, we should return it to its rightful owners in at least the same condition in which we found it”. He urges: “There should be greater awareness of the function and importance of the soil and in preserving it and improving it since it is our greatest resource.” Soils have changed drastically over the past fifty years when they were first surveyed mainly due to inappropriate management and degradation. He advises that soil fertility management should be promoted to avoid soil degradation. It is also his belief that more soil research in the Caribbean is needed.

His advice for children is to: “Have a balance in education choices; a basic science background is important as it gives the opportunity to be flexible in choosing a career at the appropriate time. An interesting and rewarding career in soil science can leave you satisfied.” He adds: “Use your God-given attributes to the optimum and do everything you can to exploit your abilities and talents; leave behind your achievements, so others can be inspired and benefit from your contributions to the world.”

 

 
Sources:

Interview with Nazeer Ahmad

Selected Publications:

Ahmad, N. (1961) Aluminium toxicity of certain soils on the coast of British Guiana and problems of their agricultural utilisation. Transactions of the VIIIth International Congress of Soil Science 2: 161-170.

Ahmad, N., Jones, R.L. and Beavers, A.H. (1967) Genesis, mineralogy and related properties of West Indian soils. I. Montserrat series derived glauconitic sandstone, Central Trinidad. Journal of Soil Science 19: 1-8.

Ahmad, N., Jones, R.L. and Beavers, A.H. (1967) Genesis, mineralogy and related properties of West Indian soils. II. Maracas series formed from micaceous schists and phyllite, Northern Range, Trinidad. Journal of Soil Science 19: 9-19.

Ahmad, N. and Jones, R. L. (1969) Genesis, chemical properties and mineralogy of limestone-derived soils, Barbados. Tropical Agriculture 46: 1-16.

Ahmad, N., Walmsley, D. and Cornforth, I. (1973) Methods of measuring available nutrients in West Indian soils. III. Potassium. Plant and Soil 39: 635-647.

Ahmad, N. (1982) Vertisols. In: Pedogenesis and soil taxonomy 11B. L.P. Wilding, N. E. Smeck and G.F. Hall (Eds.) Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company. pp.91-124.

Ahmad, N. (1990) The agricultural environment in Latin America and the Caribbean and the greenhouse effect. Developments in Soil Science 20: 249-265. Elseiver, Amsterdam.

Ahmad, N. and Wilson, H.W. (1992) Acid sulphate soils of the Caribbean region – their occurrence, reclamation and use. Soil Science 153:154-164.

Ahmad, N., Books, D. and Mermut, A.R. (Editors) (1996) Vertisols and technologies for their management. Elsevier, Amsterdam, Holland.

Ahmad, N. (Editor) (1996) Nitrogen economy in tropical soils. Kluwer Publishers, Dordrecht, Holland.

Education:

Novar Canadian Mission School, Guyana

Berbice High School, Guyana

Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA), Trinidad
     – Diploma of ICTA in Agriculture, 1951
     – Associateship of ICTA in General Tropical Agriculture with emphasis on tropical soils, 1952

University of British Columbia, Canada – M.Sc. in Soil Science, 1955

University of Nottingham, UK – Ph.D. in Soil Science, 1957

Memberships:

American Society of Agronomy

Association of Professional Agrologists of Trinidad and Tobago

Association of Professional Agriculturalists, Guyana

British Soil Science Society

Caribbean Food Crops Society

Clay Minerals Society

International Soil Science Society

Awards:

  • IICA Gold Medal in Agriculture, Inter American Institute for Co-operation in Agriculture

Photo Gallery

View Nazeer Ahmad's Picture Gallery

 

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