Ramdeo Boondoo gets Chaconia gold for his life in agriculture

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Chaconia gold medalist Ramdeo Boondoo on his sweet potato farm in Palmiste. Pictures of Roger Jacob

Ramdeo Boondoo, recipient of the Chaconia Medal (gold), won the title of Sweet Potato King.

After years of experimenting with a multitude of strains, he’s selected at least five that he thinks are “sexy” enough for the market.

Boondoo, 73, a generational farmer, author and president of the Root Crop Farmers’ Association, received the country’s second-highest honor on Republic Day for his contribution to the agricultural sector.

On Thursday, Newsday caught up with Boondoo at his sweet potato farm in Palmiste, central Trinidad, as a worker cleared bushes between beds of sprouting sweet potato vines and his son, Dinesh Boondoo, drove a tractor near.

From the age of 13, Boondoo, then a pupil at Todd’s Road RC School, had the foresight to answer a question from his headmaster days after the country celebrated its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 when he declared that the country could never be independent. if he couldn’t feed himself.

Ramdeo Boondoo inspects the sweet potato plants on his farm in Palmiste.

His focus and vision over the next 60 years brought him many challenges and successes to become one of the leading farmers producing high quality varieties of sweet potatoes, cassava, eddoes and tania among other provisions. , on his 60 acres cultivated under the aegis of uncle. Ben Green Gate Farm.

Farming has been in his blood from an early age and Boondoo spent three decades working for the now defunct Caroni (1975) Ltd which rose through the ranks from cane cutter to supervisor.

Through a process of trial and error, Boondoo grew a multitude of hybrid sweet potato plants until he was convinced that the shape, texture and color were perfect.

Buyers are drawn to products that look good, or sexy as he prefers to describe his tubers, and his supplies are almost all made for food processing plants that can turn them into fries, logs or other convenience foods. cooking pot.

The traditional sweet potato cannot tolerate drastic changes in weather patterns and takes on forms that are unappealing to the consumer, he said.

The old varieties, after being peeled, if they are not put in water, they tend to turn black. With his hybrid plants, this does not happen.

He said that to prevent this, chemicals had to be used to prevent oxidation, but it made no sense to promote healthy eating and then use chemicals.

Its purple variety has the color of a beet root.

“You want to eat the right thing, apparently that’s what I do, I’m 73, I’m going to be 74, I think it works.”

He lives by the mantra that once you do a job you love, you don’t work and remembers those words from the late Executive Chairman Emeritus of Ansa McAl, Anthony Sabga, at a ceremony years ago. many years.

“I don’t feel tired when I’m done here…I’m psychologically happy. There’s nothing like a day off for me. Plants and animals don’t take days off .”

Boondoo says part of his daily routine is to “talk to my plants” and make sure African snails and other pests are kept at bay.

Besides his love for his plants, Boondoo’s other passion is to pass on the knowledge he has acquired over the past six decades to anyone interested in agribusiness.

“My goal is to try to get the word out to young people. There’s nothing negative about it, only positive.”

A variety of sweet potatoes grown by Ramdeo Boondoo.

Asked about the type of investment needed to cultivate a two-acre plot, Boondoo says that with a maximum of $20,000, someone can earn up to $20,000 in profit. A sweet potato crop takes about eight months to a year to mature, with three months of harvest.

“Anything good takes time, it doesn’t happen quickly. Lots of patience, dedication and the engine of passion,” helps make the job easier, he says.

Asked about the emotions running through his mind as he sat on stage with other recipients on Republic Day (September 24) at the National Academy of Performing Arts, Port of Spain, Boondoo said said it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

“I was so happy to be given this award, the second highest in the country. I was sitting there with doctors, professors and other people who excelled in their respective fields. I was sitting there, I feel so proud to do it.”

He said it was high time a farmer was recognized for his contribution and said his journey had not been easy.

“Most of the time the authorities weren’t very supportive of you, sometimes I was looked at like I was crazy. I know I wasn’t crazy, I know I was going to achieve all these things,” he said. he pointed to his fields.

Like many other farmers, Boondoo said the issues of land tenure, flooding and predial theft weigh heavily and hopes that one day the agricultural sector will get the respect and attention it deserves.

“I don’t think agriculture is getting the priority it deserves.”

He said the government should not get involved in growing food, but should focus on providing good roads, settling land tenure issues, establishing a properly functioning predial flight unit, controlling invasive pests, such as African snail and other diseases and reducing the cost of inputs. . He hoped that the $3 million allocated in the budget would be put to good use to help eliminate or control the snails.

A view of Ramdeo Boondoo’s 60-acre farm in Palmiste. Boondoo says the government should not go into cultivation but should help farmers by providing proper access roads and other infrastructure.

While acknowledging the multitude of subsidies given to farmers by the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, he said that often repayment of capital investments such as machinery and other inputs are only reimbursed after two years.

“Farmers don’t have a lot of means, so we have to act quickly, there is too much bureaucracy.”

On whether the Agricultural Development Bank has been effective in helping fund projects for farmers, Boondoo said that even if there were delinquent farmers, he believed the last resort should be seizure of a farm. .

“AfDB must look at every situation. During this covid situation it was not easy on the farm, I take money out of my pocket to put it here to pay one worker, normally I have five workers but I can’t employ five workers, that’s bad.

He suggested that the AfDB reach out to their farmers, advise them in times of crisis and advise them on the options available.

“In humanity, we have to help someone up when they fall and dust their knees and help them up. This is what ADB should do. ADB should not seize the farm of whoever it is. I feel sad when I see in the logs farms for sale by ADB. This should be the last resort.

When asked if he saw a future for agriculture in TT, Boondoo said Nostradamus had prophesied that the next world war would be about food and water.

“I say that all the time.”

He said that since 2010 he had been advocating the use of cassava flour to replace wheat, but no one took it.

“Now they sing the song about cassava flour and all that stuff.”

Boondoo estimates that TT farmers can produce about 50% of the food consumed by the country using the former lands of Caroni (1975) Ltd. He is skeptical of the proposed venture to grow food in Guyana, wondering who will benefit.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs is to get involved in agribusiness, which will not only help reduce the food import bill, but also help ensure this country’s food security at a time of dwindling global resources.