Farming wasn’t my first career choice, but now I love it – Naitram Nihal

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Naitram Nihal in his cabbage farm

By Lakhram Bhagirat

Life has the uncanny ability to lead us down the path we need to go rather than the path we rather be on. While, at first, we may not be appreciative of the direction we are heading in, in the end, it all dovetails well with our ambitions.

This is exactly what happened with Naitram Nihal and now he can see himself doing nothing except what he is doing at this time. The 37-year-old farmer from Buzz Bee Dam, Craig, East Bank Demerara never really intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, rather he planned to head in a whole other direction.

While in school at the Central High School in Georgetown, the young Nihal aligned his studies with the hope of becoming an aeronautical engineer. That meant he had an active interest in the sciences and mathematics. In fact, he wrote mostly science subjects when he sat the Caribbean Examinations Council’s exams.

However, he soon became aware that the financial position that his farmer father was in meant that sacrifices had to be made and ultimately, he sacrificed his dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer.

“When I finished school, I wanted to become an aeronautical engineer, but due to finances, I could not have pursued that course, because I know my parents could not have afforded that. So, I said to my mind is best that I do what they do and try to accumulate so that I can pursue that. In the process of doing that, I started doing poultry farming as well and not only cash crop.”

“I am into poultry and extending and having customers and finding the business, I just can’t leave that to pursue aeronautical engineer. I have expanded what my parents had and what they did and now this is like a hobby for me now, because I like farming,” Nihal said.

He would eventually take over the business when his father, Bissondial Nihal, was killed in a tragic accident in January 2013. On January 27, 2013, just about 07:00h, a car driven by a drunk man crashed into the trailer of the tractor the elder Nihal was driving at the time.

“My father passed away in 2013 due to a tragic accident on the Friendship Public Road with a tractor-trailer. I was on that trailer where this was a drunk driver that hit the trailer from the back, causing the accident and he (my father) died instantly, so I didn’t branch off, I just continued what he was doing,” he explained.

So Nihal has been actively farming for almost 20 years now and that means that he has quite extensive knowledge on the field. Whatever he learnt in the initial stages was passed on by his father and the rest he acquired through trial and error since he did not pursue any studies in agriculture.

Naitram’s cabbage farm

He explained that his parents were farming cash crops in various locations and later acquired money and began purchasing land. Now, Nihal farms in the Craig Backlands on some of the 492 acres of farmland that falls under the New Hope Land Cooperative Society.

The journey

Nihal recently took Guyana Times on a trip to visit his vast cabbage and avocado farm in the Craig Backlands and the journey to get there is one that makes you leave with a deeper appreciation for what farmers do. A lot of people believe that farming is just growing food, but farmers do so much more than just dig holes and put down seeds to grow.

First of all, to get into the farmlands at Craig, it requires one to board a little boat and take a trip upstream. While that may sound easy, it is far from that. The water level in the canal determines how the boat ride would go and fortunately for us, the water was high making the trip much faster and easier.

On average, the trip would be about 30 minutes in the right conditions, but when the water level is low, it would take about twice that time. It also depends on the power of the engine pushing the boat and the weight in the boat.

When the Guyana Times team boarded the boat at Buzz Bee Dam and headed into the backlands with Nihal at the engine, it seemed as though it would be a relatively easy trip. What we did not cater for, and Nihal did not say, was the number of times we would reduce speed and clear the weeds entangled in the propeller of the engine.

Naitram preparing his boat to head to his farm

Nevertheless, the ride was serene and we got the chance to see a few species of birds while taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Appreciation for what our farmers do grew stronger when, at the halfway point, the team had to step out of the boat and roll it over the dam so we could have continued on the journey. It only got us to thinking of what happens when the boats are laden with produce from the farms.

The second leg of the journey was a bit harder, since the water level was lower, the canals narrower and the weeds plentiful. When we arrived at the farm, we were amazed by the sight of neat rows of cabbages and avocado trees still bearing although their season had passed.

Crops

Nihal, throughout his years of farming, has experimented with various cash crops ranging from ground provisions to other vegetables. He now concentrates mainly on cabbages, since there is a high demand for the product on the market at this time.

Avocado in its off season

Currently, he has over 7000 heads of cabbage on two plots, another plot with different varieties of avocado trees and another with eggplant (baigan). He told Guyana Times that at first, he tried to plant tomatoes on one of the plots and while the crop was successful, it required more time and investment.

“On this plot here, I had tomatoes but right now why I concentrate on the cabbage mostly is because tomato is a little bit more time-taking, because you got to stalk it and tie it and everything else. But cabbage now, I can have a continuous flow, because every month I can produce cabbage if I concentrate on one particular crop,” he explained.

The young farmer said that he was also looking to expand his farm revealing that he was contacted by the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) to collaborate on a red cabbage project. He noted that while he was willing to expand, he also needed to look at sustainability and profitability.

At this time, he said, there is a market for the variety of cabbages, so he is willing to take the project on.

“I really wanted to concentrate on a lot more things, but then how effective it is going to be and how profitable it will be for me?… I can’t look at that expanding alone, I got to look at the profit because I need to know if it is profitable for me to do it that way.”

Land preparation

For any crop to grow, the land has to be prepared properly in an effort to provide the plants with the necessary nutrients to thrive. Being a poultry farmer means that Nihal has access to organic manure in the form of the litter from his fowl pens and he utilises that to grow his crop.

He would start by clearing his plots and would then plough then till the land before he actually prepares it for planting. The process is backbreaking and tedious, but it is one that is necessary in order to guarantee a good yield and healthy crops.

“I would take all the fowl manure from that and put it into the land, but not just only the fowl manure that goes into the land, I would have placed over 150 bags of mould on this particular plot. But with that, you have to use a lot of limestone as well and you have to partner with the right people to get the right chemical and get plant nutrition, biostimulant and everything that is necessary to get this plant like it is.

“It is important that we prepare the land properly first and I use a lot of organic matter. You use fertiliser, but that is only once at about two weeks when you plant and that is it,” he explained.

Nihal reminded that watering was very important as well in order for the soil to remain moist so that the plants could absorb the nutrients they needed for nourishment.

He said that although farming was not his first career choice, he has grown to love it and could not see himself doing anything else. For now, he continues to make strides for the expansion of his business and is focused on moving up the ladder.

Farmers taking their produce out of the farmlands