ALBERT GRELA

Agriculture M&E Relief operations Assignments' map Videos

Agriculture, a way of life as much as a profession

I grew up in a small village in the East of Belgium, surrounded by dairy farms. Although my parents were both involved in education, I always enjoyed the farm atmosphere and some long walk in the forest. The decision to study agronomy was a search for a lifestyle outside the cities and my personal way to address the environmental concerns which were taking shape in the late 70's.

The pre-college experience

I used to tender dairy cows during my early teenage with a farmer short of family labor. I enjoyed the milking and feeding as well the hay harvest.

Later, I proposed myself as a shepherd in the Alps and drove Merinos sheep in the valley of St Julien d'Asse (France). I also harvested lucerne and sainfoin  and irrigated few hectares of maize.

During an other year, I worked in a lavender distillery.

These experience were quite essential for my understanding of the practical aspects of farming and to perceive acutely the labor constraints faced by the farming families.

I got quite impressed during these times by the books of Rene Dumont (French agronomist, presidential candidate for the Green Party).

The college time

I joined the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences of Gembloux (Belgium) in 1979 and graduated in 1984 with a specialization in Tropical Agronomy.

This was a great time despite the heavy load of studies. The sweat and suffering of the fundamentals of math, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology and statistics happen to be a great asset for my professional life. I feel that economy, social sciences and the history of agriculture practices were poorly considered. I feel nevertheless very satisfied by the knowledge acquired and by the stimulation to search and observe which was communicated to me.

During these great five years, I got the chance to launch a new beer, register the trade mark and establish the foundation of its marketing. 

I also got involved in reviewing the status of the student association and took part in the review of the curriculum.

As a postgraduate course, I joined the first year of an MBA cycle and got during the same time a degree in development study from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium).

The theories and ideas of Henri Laborit have open my views to the world of the brain physiology and the biological determinism of human behaviors.

The career

The variety of jobs and countries has been a great enlightenment. For sure, it was not plain sailing all the way but it has provided me quite a few stories to tell to my daughter. 

The very first and very temporary job I worked as an agriculturist was for a small research center called : " Centre Indépendant de Propagande Fourragère". The salary was minuscule but we had to travel throughout Belgium to collect samples of maize cultivated for silage and to analyze their nutritive value. It was interesting despite the very long hours spent on the roads.

Socfinco

The company was the consultant for large oil palm plantations financed by the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

I worked in two of their plantations in Nigeria and into a subsidiary in Sao Tome.

The large industrial plantations were a good school for planning, logistics, use of heavy duty machinery and financial management.

I got the opportunity to train a batch of extension agents and to implement a set of indicators to follow up costs and productivity.

The operations were very diverse as some parts of the plantations were at deforestation, replanting, immature and full exploitation stage.

The change in world oil price and the funding arrangements forced Socfinco to trim sharply the expatriate staffing therefore I was sent back to Belgium.

You click here for some pictures and a map

Food and Agriculture Organization

Pronounce it FAW and you will remember the succulent Italian cuisine of Rome.

Fortunately for my body shape, I did not work in the headquarter but in a regional project based in Kathmandu (Nepal) (RAS/79/121). As part of an Himalayan Pasture and Fodder Research Network, I got the chance to establish experimental plots to evaluate fodder grasses and legumes in some very remote places like Wabthang in Bhutan or Marpha in Nepal. I also established and analyzed some grazing trials where some of the sheep got eaten by bears. I was also quite fortunate to study the carrying capacity of yak pastures situated at 4,500 masl.

As the CTA (Chief Technical Adviser) had to retired two years before the end of the project, I took the lead of the network and organized few seminars and trainings on top the experimental works described before.

Some maps and details are availble for : Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan

Irrigation Development Project - Mid Western Region - Nepal

After quite many years spent in various non agricultural assignments, this was a chance to return to the core of my qualifications : promoting improved seeds, diversifying crops, getting advantages of markets. The job was challenging as I combined the responsibility for the agricultural activities with the tasks of monitoring and evaluation and GIS. DVD authoring and web publication were also part of the job.

The location of the project offers a very interesting transect of agro-ecological zones (mountains, hills, plain) and economical conditions (from the completely remote subsistence zone to the urban periphery).

The type of irrigation systems is also very diversified with small surface irrigation systems (25 ha), deep tube well systems (40 ha) and large command area (2,500 ha) involving a diversion from a major river.

The cropping pattern involved quite many elements : wheat, rice, barley, lentils, pigeon pea, mustard, potatoes and several vegetables. 

Several challenges were facing the Project : difficult physical access, a violent Maoist insurgency, very bureaucratic self center institutions and the general poverty and very limited literacy typical of Nepal.

The conditions were demanding and a lot of creativity and flexibility were required to make the day.

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