Ajay Aakash Balkissoon’s love of agriculture goes back several generations to his great-grandfather’s time when he planted sugar cane, rice, coffee, cocoa, and cashew nuts as well as maintained a kitchen garden.
The lifelong appreciation of the field is his passion, pastime and profession and he is currently pursuing a BSc in Agriculture and Entrepreneurship at UTT.
Balkissoon, 19, from Todd’s Road, Chaguanas, is learning about the methods and sciences related to agriculture, as well as business and entrepreneurship as he wants to become an agricultural entrepreneur.
He started engaging in agriculture in the 4-H Club in primary school, and his decision to study agriculture at the tertiary level was based on his passion to give back to his primary school and community and feed the nation in the future.
Speaking to Guardian Media, Balkissoon said he was a member of The Sweet Hands 4-H Club which was founded around eight to nine years ago.
“The 4-H leader responsible for the club was Mrs Natasha Lee and the student body comprised the Standard Four class at Todd’s Road RC Primary School. At that time, the school garden was nothing but barren clay beds and grass. Upon establishing our student executive, we set to work on the school garden. After many days of preparation, we were able to plant our first crop of patchoi, lettuce and cucumbers.”
He said they were able to sell the produce and invested the money in hiring a tractor to plough and bank the garden. They were able to plant more crops and obtain more profits and, around that time, he was elected club president, becoming the third president of The Sweet Hands club.
Balkissoon said the students then decided to expand their variety of crops and set up an aquaponics system which involved the rearing of tilapia, as aquaculture and growing plants hydroponically using the nutrients from the fish waste. The club also engaged in a bake-off, an art competition, environmental quizzes and many other events.
He said being a part of the 4-H Club had a positive impact on him, teaching him leadership skills, and teamwork, and piqued his interest in agriculture.
Later when Balkissoon went on to Presentation College, Chaguanas, there wasn’t a 4-H Club but an environmental club, which he joined. The club was responsible for various beach clean-ups and planting various fruit trees within the school environment.
After graduating from college, he decided to pursue agriculture in tertiary education because he believed then and still does now that agriculture is necessary for a country to be self-sustainable. It is also the field that interests him the most.
Balkissoon said that agriculture enabled a nation to feed its citizens, yet the number of young people in the country that are involved in the field is very low.
He said he intended to contribute to the country’s food security and produce food for the people.
Balkissoon added that his intention was to educate the children at the primary school he attended about agriculture and its importance as well as motivate them to engage in producing their own food. He said hopefully they might go on to become farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs to contribute to the food security of the nation.
Balkissoon said he would encourage children to join a local community or a school 4-H Club as the opportunities for learning and growth are excellent.
Balkissoon’s intention, however, is to join the Todd’s Road RC Sweet Hands 4-H Club as a volunteer leader and educate the kids about agriculture and its importance.
Ajay Balkissoon salting a crop of pak choy at The Sweet Hands 4-H Club's garden at Todd’s Road RC Primary School in Chaguanas.
Balkissoon’s lessons in agriculture came from his parents at a young age and for as long as he can remember, they always had a home garden. He said, however, he did not fully appreciate its importance until he became a member of the Sweet Hands 4-H Club.
Currently, the family home garden contains lettuce, kale, patchoi, pimentos, chives, celery and various fruit trees.
He enjoys planting celery, cucumbers and hot peppers and his favourite vegetables to eat are melongene and peppers.
While Balkissoon is passionate about agriculture, he is also interested in neuroscience, psychology and business and his hobbies are gardening, reading and exercising, and playing football and table tennis in his free time.
Balkissoon’s favourite food is barbecued pork, his favourite dessert is cheesecake, his favourite television show is Peaky Blinders, his favourite movie is Interstellar and his favourite type of music is EDM.
He has two dogs named Milly and Blossom.
Balkissoon said that The Sweet Hands 4-H Club had taught him many things, but it was all due to the efforts of past teacher Natasha Lee trying to introduce the importance of agriculture and the necessity of learning outside of the classroom to their school.
He said at the time she was a voluntary leader, but now she is the National 4-H president. Balkissoon thanked her for introducing him to 4-H and inspiring him to pursue a career in agriculture.
Balkissoon’s father, Vijay, said that “Ajay, his four brothers and one of his sisters also attended Todd’s Road RC Primary School” and were all involved in the 4-H Club at the school at the time. Balkissoon’s sister Alyssa, 11, is the current president of the Sweet Hands 4-H club.
Balkissoon’s father is currently assisting the Sweet Hands 4-H Club with their garden.
He said that he was very proud of all of his children for their achievements to date, for they are hard-working, responsible and disciplined individuals, and he sees them being very successful in the near future. He said he has always been encouraging them in their home garden, the rearing of chickens and even rabbits in the past.
Balkissoon’s father is having conversations with the Sweet Hands 4-H leader, Mr Keith, to have other past students and other stakeholders get involved in doing an upgrade of the garden area shortly, and to lift the standards and level of their 4-H Club.