On January 13, 2021, Hugh Brammer breathed his last in a hospital in Brighton, England. He died at the ripe age of 95 years and thus conventionally speaking it was not an untimely death. But Hugh’s absence from this world saddens us because of what he was to the last.
He was one of those very few non-Bangladeshis who always wished the best for this country. And he was professionally a very energetic person and almost to the last breath he had been academically active and writing about Bangladesh agriculture, its physical and other perspectives and how best to take it to greater heights.
He was always ready to engage in debate and put out his arguments based on sound and solid scientific empirical evidence, not being afraid to go against the tide. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge about the country’s soil, variations of its characteristics, climate, cropping patterns and how farmers behave under different situations.
Born in 1925, Hugh had his MA in Geography in 1951 from University of Cambridge. He joined and worked for Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) for 26 years from 1961 to 1987 co-directing soil reconnaissance surveys in several countries including Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, he travelled extensively and came to know about the country’s agroecology literally like the palm of his hand, hardly matched by any other person in his position, inside the country or outside. And his knowledge and wisdom he left in the form of about 125 publications including books, book chapters and journal articles.
Ten of his books on Bangladesh agriculture, soil, ecology, climate change and sea level rise, flood management, etc. have been published by the University Press Limited. Even now he had been involved in writing up a few more papers for which he requested me for certain data which I was most happy to send him. His last mail to me was in early December 2020.
Hugh’s contribution to advancement of knowledge had been recognised through many awards that he had received. He had been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE), President’s gold medal for services to Agriculture, Bangladesh; Award of Merit by Tropical Agricultural Association; Busk medal for scientific discovery and research by Royal Geographical Society, London; an Honorary Fellowship at Downing College Cambridge, and Lifetime Achievement Award, University Press Ltd, Bangladesh.
Hugh in his own way had been dreaming for a “Sonar Bangla”. But his dream was not tinged with romanticism as many of ours are, but solidly rooted in ground reality. The best we can do to honour him is to continue.
(The writer is a former research director at BIDS)