Ian and his insects
AS A TEEN, Ian Gibbs was a classic bookworm who enjoyed the simplicity and beauty of science. “I was a typical geek who loved science at school and I like chemistry,” he told EASY Magazine. And though he did not become the chemist he dreamed of being, Gibbs’ passion for science propelled him to be one of the region’s top entomologists.
When Ian was just about to complete his Bachelor’s in natural science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, a position at the then Sugar Technology Research Unit in St Thomas was available. In January 1978, Ian got the job as a technical assistant and found a way to study for his final exams and balance work requirements.
Shortly after that stint, he became a graduate assistant at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). As the years went by he climbed the ranks to scientist and was the entomologist for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. He was able to travel throughout the region and provide his CARICOM neighbours with technical assistance pertaining to a variety of pests.
“My first love was in the area of biochemistry and I had applied to the University of Birmingham in England to do a degree in medical biochemistry and I was accepted, but I did not come out of a rich family; so I could not afford to go. To some extent I was disappointed but I got the opportunity to go to Cave Hill where I also gained a Masters in biology with an emphasis in entomology.
“When I became the head of the CARDI unit for Grenada that experience was nice; I thoroughly enjoyed myself there. We did a lot of work down there on different types of fruit crops and teaching the farmers about irrigation systems and pest controls.”
While Ian was having a splendid time in the Spice Island, his mother became terminally ill and as an only child, he had to return to Barbados. He resigned from CARDI and helped his father take care of her.
Ian landed a job at the Ministry of Agriculture as an entomologist and carried on from there. At this point in time, he had done so much work with CARDI and developed so many relationships with farmers and officials that he did not realise the lasting impression he had. It was only until he was invited to provide technical assistance for Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Agriculture on the giant African snails, that he realised how much he was appreciated.
“While I was there I was invited to a reception and the previous executive director of CARDI made a few remarks at the event and he looked at me and said: ‘That is one of the icons in the Caribbean’, and I felt pretty good.”
Since then, he has received numerous awards for his contribution in agriculture. Ian also worked for several other Government institutions and international organisations.
He worked in the farm advisory division and as farm services manager at Roberts Manufacturing Company Limited, he was the plant nursery manager at the Caribbean Horticulture International, he was a former chairman of the Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum, and the list goes on.
In addition, he also wrote a number of publications on pigeon pea pod borers, defoliatore and sap-sucking insects and Diamondback moths.
Although he did not get to be a chemist, Ian is proud of his accomplishments in entomology, noting that he was able to travel as far as Israel to represent Barbados.
“Right now I could call up the head of the Centre or Agriculture and Biosciences International in Switzerland and ask, “Matthew, how are you going”. Same thing goes for the head of the United States Department of Agriculture Laboratory in Southern Texas.
“We have done all sorts of work in collaboration on pests such as chilli thrips pest, which does a lot of damage on cotton and peppers, Harrisia cacti mealybug in the southern half of Puerto Rico and we even supplied them with natural enemies found here in Barbados.”
Ian also worked in St Lucia and recalled the days when he helped officials control the population of the polka dot wasp moth, which was attacking the oleander ornamental plants in Cap Estate.
“After I got into the field of entomology it started to grow on me like a fungus and I have spent over 35 years in the area. I’ve gotten numerous opportunities, so I guessed everything still turned out good in the end.
“You have to like what you do which is three-quarters of the job, work hard to achieve your goals and try to make a positive impact.
“I remember in my early years at CARDI I was out in the field in St Lucia and St Vincent everyday for the whole day assessing the levels of a pest called sugarcane root borer. And when I came in after work I was soaked with sweat right down to my underwear.
“I also think I have developed a trusting and healthy relationship with the general public to the point where my phone rings all the time.” (SB)