“I am proud of what the entity (NAREI) has become; now it’s a household name and people are aware of what we do.”
By Staff Writer
Born and raised in the Corentyne as the eldest child to a farmer father and the village’s
“Milk Lady,” this week’s Special Person, Dr. Oudho Homenauth, is a testimony to the maxim that one can achieve anything—if one is willing to, of course.
It all began when a young Oudho, from the humble Number 67 Village, left his family at age 11 to come to Georgetown after securing a spot at Queen’s College—he would be the first person in his family to accomplish this feat.
And while everything may seem honey-glazed now, Dr. Homenauth reflects that he has had his fair share of encounters with “Lady Hardship” but like the protagonist in every story that has a happy ending, he persevered and yes, he conquered.
His many accomplishments have made him a massive contributor to the field of agricultural research in Guyana. He now serves in the capacity of Chief Executive Officer of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI)—the country’s premier agricultural research facility. He’s been there for the past 17 years.
Oudho Homenauth was born on November 18, 1956, and like any little boy, he recalled playing marbles, cricket and climbing trees in the quiet village he still calls home. He is a product of a family whose foundation was rooted in agriculture.
His parents, Fred and Jasoda (now 81 and 78 respectively) were not high wage-earners.
In fact, they sold the surplus of the produce from their kitchen garden, and milk as well as meat from cattle to provide for their seven children – the others being Paul, Moonesh, Nagwattie, Lovelyn, Deo and Kamine (the latter two now deceased).
“My parents, who now reside in New York, worked hard to ensure I got an education…It was rough most times…They sold greens, milk and cattle to pay my board and lodging in Georgetown…My mother was known as the milk lady and my father did the milking of the cattle and farming,” Dr. Homenauth recalled.
Oudho was the only one of his siblings to study in Georgetown. He attended the Number 68 Primary School and between the years, 1968 and 1975, he went on to study at Queen’s College. He was a Science nerd with aspirations for the medical field.
However, he took a slight detour and from the looks of it, he made the right decision. And while he is not a doctor in the medical field, he surely has made a tremendous impact as a doctor of the country’s soil.
ACADEMIC AND WORKING LIFE
To attend secondary school, Oudho had no choice but to travel to Georgetown and live
with strangers—this was a scary and challenging experience for him.
“It was extremely challenging especially when you leave your parents’ home so young and come into a new environment. I had never come to Georgetown before and I had to acclimatize in the sense that you met new people who had different values and ways of doing things.”
During his five years in secondary school, he was forced to change about nine places of lodging because the environment was not conducive enough for studying.
And, back home, while it was hard enough for his parents to sustain his siblings and themselves, they had to find boarding fees every month for five years.
“Finance was always limited in those days,” he recalled, while adding that he would communicate with his mother via letters during his time in school.
Oudho would only go home during his semester breaks, and that was a thrilling experience for him. He would hurriedly pack his bags and board the train destined for Rosignol. Upon crossing the Berbice River, he would take a bus to Corentyne.
He always travelled with his friends from school. They would share a joke or two, perform a few tricks and even eat fish and bread at a popular eatery in Mahaica. His return to Corentyne would be met with celebration.
He was like jolly ole’ Saint Nick; carrying a big sack of goodies and stories about his “adventures” in Georgetown. His siblings would listen to each story intently, satisfying their curiosities. The distance did no harm to the Homenauths’ strong family bond.
Dr. Homenauth briefly recalled his accomplishments in high school, where he usually came within the top three spots each academic year.
“I still remember it—in those days, the school use to give mid-term reports and they used to post it to your home (so) I didn’t see it, it went straight home and I got third (place) and my parents were happy.”
After graduating from Queen’s College, he taught a year at Manchester Secondary in Corentyne. He opted to teach there because it was close to his home and he wanted to be close to his family, since he had already been away for a number of years.
As he was teaching, Oudho sought to receive a scholarship to do medicine since he couldn’t afford it on his own. After that didn’t pan out, he decided to go to the University of Guyana (UG) where he pursued a degree in Chemistry.
He attended the University from 1975 to 1976, and from 1977 to 1978. He then joined the National Service, which had become a home away from home for him.
Collectivism was the order of the day at the institution. The billet and mess hall brought strangers together, who became lifelong friends.
Dr. Homenauth’s most valued memory of National Service was learning to shoot a Self-Loading Rifle on the range. While, he never hit the target, dressing up in the military attire and handling the rifle was a rush.
He would return to the University in 1978 where he spent two years finishing off his degree.
“After UG, I decided that I wanted to take up an academic career upon graduating. I started working at UG as an instructor in the Faculty of Agriculture from 1980 to 1983. I always knew I wanted to do something along the line of chemistry and I got to like soil fertility, and in 1983, I got a scholarship to do my Masters in Agronomy (soil) at the Mississippi State University to specialize in soil fertility, and I came back in 1985.”
“Between 1985 and 1988 I was at UG as a Lecturer One and I was promoted to Lecturer Two. I went back to study in 1988 at Cornell University, Upstate New York—on a scholarship to do my PhD.”
He spent four years there, and recalls his time there as challenging, since it was compulsory to do two minor subjects apart from the major one. He also did part time work at the campus to support his family.
Dr. Homenauth came back to Guyana in July 1992. He returned to the University of Guyana until 1999. During that time, he was a senior lecturer and Dean for the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.
He related that it was a demanding role to be a leader, but his colleagues expressed great
confidence in him. “UG was a wonderful experience…It is my cradle for whatever I have achieved…it gave me the opportunities…and made it possible for me to meet my wife who gave me four loving children,” he said.
A blushing Dr. Homenauth recalls how he met his wife, Usha, and also, the courtship.
“I met my wife at UG. She was a secretary in the Faculty of Agriculture and I was working in the same faculty. Both of us started working in the same field around the same time,” he says, as he journeyed back to the 1980s.
While working in the Faculty of Agriculture, he said he noticed his wife, and after sometime of “secretly” admiring her from a distance, it was time that he confirmed whether the “butterflies” were mutual.
“I had to ensure it was mutual and I had to do lots of things to find out if she noticed me too. It took some time but then I got through and after sometime, one thing lead to another and we got married,” he said.
Homenauth recounted, “In those days, you just couldn’t get a date easy. Her parents were very strict. Her father used to drop her to work and pick her up”. Usha Homenauth was from Enmore, East Coast Demerara.
By 1981, according to Dr. Homenauth, things started to work out and they started dating and subsequently got married on the 19th September 1982.
Between 1986 and 1992, Oudho and Usha produced four children. Dr. Ravi was born in 1986; Dr. Arun was born in 1989 and the twins (Esha and Navin) were born in 1992.
Now his wife, children, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Aurora, are in Canada. It has been almost nine years since they migrated. Dr. Homenauth says that he visits them regularly.
LIFE AT NAREI
In 1999, while on Sabbatical leave, Dr. Homenauth had applied for an attachment at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He was familiar with the Institute through being a Board Member, a responsibility that comes with being the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture.
Providing consultancy services to NARI allowed Dr. Homenauth to identify areas that needed improvements.
It was in March 2000 that he was appointed the director of NARI, and when NAREI (National Agricultural Research & Extension Institute) came into being in May 2000, he was appointed as its Chief Executive Officer.
Though his loved ones were abroad, and he obviously missed them, Dr. Homenauth selflessly opted to remain in Guyana, because he believed that making a contribution to his country’s development was paramount—and that is exactly what he has been doing in the agriculture sector to this day.
“I know I owe a debt of gratitude, because without the support from the government of Guyana, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have today…and I have job satisfaction here,” Dr. Homenauth said candidly.
And of course, he is proud of where the entity he currently leads, has come under his tenure.
“I came from an academic background to manage an entire institute with over 400 staff throughout the country. With hard work and dedication, the team has been successful and today, NAREI is closer than ever to achieving its objectives, including reduction of importation, diversity, and promoting value added.”
Detailing his transition as the head of the entity, Dr. Homenauth said that he first had to ensure that whatever his plans were for NAREI, they would be beneficial to the small-scale farmers. He first crafted a five-year strategy, which was followed by another. The third strategy will end in 2020.
“I am proud of what the entity (NAREI) has become; now it’s a household name and people are aware of what we do”.
He said a lot of young people are making progress at the institute.
“We were able to get a number of persons to do post-graduate training, and that is going to help this agency in the future. We have eight persons currently in training.”
While under his command, the institute was the first to establish shade houses, re-emphasize a number of spices, establish a turmeric factory and now looks to diversify into potato and onion production.
Dr. Homenauth revealed that the entity is now looking to explore corn and soybean production so that Guyana will be on the map as a leading exporter. With him at the helm, there’s little doubt that those goals will eventually be achieved.