Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
LONG ROAD, Portland:THE JAMAICAN sugar industry is set to get sweeter with many more acres of land being put to sugar cane cultivation. And it has taken the entrepreneurial zeal of Errol Ramdeen of Long Road, Portland, to get this going.
It's really a very long road for Ramdeen, a man whose mettle seems to be as strong as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth's and whose resilience is like that of the mythological Phoenix.
He is no newcomer to cane farming. He was involved in it years ago, but because of certain challenges, he had to put it on hold. He had also forayed into cattle and goat rearing, and coconut, mango, and banana cultivation. Those, too, were beset by problems such as plant diseases, storms, and praedial larceny, which took a fatal turn in October 2000.
Ramdeen was confronted on his property by an intruder wielding a knife. He shot the man, who died on the spot. In response, irate residents killed and stole his goats and set fire to his several, high-end and heavy-duty vehicles, the 17th-century Hector's River Great House, and other buildings on the property. Ramdeen was charged for murder but was subsequently acquitted.
However, his financial losses, from which he is still reeling, amounted to more than $100 million, he said. The incident happened two years after he had received an agricultural loan. Yet, he said he was never fazed by the uprising and still does not worry about it. "Mi cudd'n feel no way because it nuh happen aready. Mi feel bad, but mi nuh put it pon mi brain. Mi no worry bout it. Mi jus try again," he told Rural Express.
Ramdeen said he still sees some of the people suspected of burning his property, and not one, he said, ever told him sorry. And he has not forgiven them, he said.
The ruins of the great house and other burned-out buildings are still on the property, and so are the small, two storey building in which he was born and an adjoining one.
He acquired the property from his father, who had bought it from his former employers. The elder Ramdeen was employed first as a 'grass builder' on the Hector's River Estate but moved up the hierarchy to 'headman', book-keeper, 'busha', overseer, and owner. A classic rags-to-riches story it was.
The estate encompasses 970 acres of seaside, hilly, flat, and undulating lands that straddle the border between Portland and St Thomas. The main road runs through it. Two hundred acres of it are now under sugar cane at different stages of development. The aim is to plant 400 acres.
The land has various types and levels of vegetation. Some of it was cleared specifically for sugar cane cultivation. This was after Ramdeem was approached by the owners of Golden Grove Sugar Estates in St Thomas. Instead of leasing his land to Golden Grove, Ramdeen is allowing the owners of Golden Grove to clear it, plant, and manage the sugar cane. The returns are to be shared by Ramdeen and Golden Grove.
Ramdeen's son, Junior, believes the arrangements are an excellent deal. "It is not a bad offer. If you have unused land it makes sense. It makes a lot of sense," He said. The clearing and levelling of the land was perhaps the most challenging aspect of getting off the ground. "Hectic and costly", it was according to Junior. Production started in July last year and reaping is expected to begin in May.