Moana Ramdial has one simple dream. “I honestly just want my parent’s hard work to provide what they did for us while we were growing up, to produce something for them to feel proud of. I mean, yes we are here and we are great daughters. But for us to be able to give them a legacy and continuation that they know their grandkids and their great grandkids, and all these people, will be in this thing that they made, and they actually did the footwork for, the hard way… that’s honestly my holistic goal. Everything else is fluff.”
In these difficult times, however, even simple dreams are hard to achieve. But if anyone can, Moana can. Perhaps with a little help.
Moana took over the family business – Golden Beans Estate — only in 2018, but she has been like a bulldozer. Energetic, bubbly, full of laughter, but determined, hard-working and focused, she has achieved quite a bit. The Estate became a finalist two years in a row, and Golden Beans has just launched it own line of chocolate bars four months ago.
It was a long and difficult trek to make it here, however, and things are precarious. Everything can disappear in a moment, as many of us have learned in this year and a half of covid lockdowns.
How she took over the business is a fascinating story. Her father, Ramraj, bought an abandoned cocoa estate in 1983 in Cedros where he grew up, because he missed his home so much. Every weekend he and the family would go down to the estate.
“The estate was honestly my dad’s hobby. There was nothing for him to get a profit from, a business from. He really just wanted to enjoy being out on the estate, sun on his face, make a day work, and come home. That was his thing. He enjoyed it. He did it on weekends, because every weekend we went down Cedros.”
“So Monday to Friday we would be in school in Port of Spain, and from Friday evening night time, by the time the sun set we driving down to Cedros. That’s what we knew. We would reach Cedros, I would be sleeping in the car, piled up on my sisters in the backseat.”
In 2016 a bushfire devastated half the estate. “This broke him. Even though he tried, he couldn’t pick back up. I think he had reached a point where he just started feeling tired.”
“I don’t think profit was an objective for him. If you get a hand of fig, well okay great. If you get some cassava, nice. We had Brazilian nuts and those kinds of things, so he’d be excited to bring it home and show us.”
In 2016 a bushfire devastated half of the estate. It really hurt him. “Even though he tried to pick back up and whatever, I think he had reached a point where he just started feeling tired now. Like all this time, all this thing he grow…” Then, the following year his wife became very ill. At the same time, his three daughters showed no interest in the estate. It started to become a burden for him. So Ramraj decided to sell.
Moana, however, the third of his four daughters, decided that she was not going to let this crucial piece of her childhood just disappear.
Moana recalls, “When he told me that, I said you know what? I need to be serious about this. I understand where he’s coming from. Let me start putting in the work. So it came at a time in 2017 we went down Cedros again and I sat under a mango tree and I told him, ‘Daddy, I think I could see myself doing this as a job. Like full-time, for the rest of my life. Just how you doing this right now.’”
“He said, ‘No. I don’t think so. You need to get a real job.”
“So, I said okay, all right, no problem. I did get a full-time job, but I ignored him. Completely”
Moana eventually learned about the agriculture, the business, she researched ,contacted people, went to all the technical meetings. She started to become the de facto and, then later, the actual head of the company.
One year after she took over, their beans became recognised as one of the top 20 finalists in the country.
In 2019, the year after she took over the company, their beans became recognised as one of the top 20 finalists in the country.
Farming has been hard for them and they have received little support from government. In 2011, however, the UNC-led People’s Partnership built an access road to their property. This was a great improvement. However, that road has not been maintained. Many of the other farmers that came in the area, because of the road, to grow crops like tomatoes and pak choy, find it impossible to access if they don’t have a 4×4. On top of that, the financing to get a 4×4 or other necessary farming equipment is also extremely difficult to come by.
Ramraj has long complained that the cost of fertilisers has long been too high. And nowadays, the availability of fertiliser is an additional problem.
I said you know what? I need to be serious about this. I understand where he’s coming from. Let me start putting in the work.
Then there are the water problems. There is no water supply for the whole area. Given the fire of 2016, Ramraj is understandably paranoid about the lack of water. In addition, government has been reducing and removing subsidies to the sector.
Given these issues, Moana kept innovating and thinking of solutions. Taking advice from agricultural and cocoa marketing experts, she moved away from selling to the big European chocolatiers and started selling to a smaller chocolatier in Chicago. They were getting good orders of 100 kg.
Then came covid.
Many estates closed during the past year and shut down production completely. Today, Angostura is looking for suppliers for one tonne of cocoa, and it is uncertain whether they will get it, because the estates have not been growing.
Moana’s purchasers in Chicago also cancelled their orders because they were going in lockdown. Furthermore, shipping costs rose so high that it equalled the cost of the product itself. So Golden Beans Estate lost that business.
“Because of all the cancellations I started panicking, because I have all this cocoa on hand. What I did was I said, you know now is the time for us to do research and development and value-added. Because if we have the chocolate it’s easier to store, it’s easier to sell, it’s easier to market than cocoa beans.”
But even with all of this, they are basically just breaking even at the moment. Yet to survive, not only Moana, but all the farmers in Cedros just want simple things, like access roads or a WASA supply or pond irrigation.
When asked if her business was under threat like so many others during the lockdown, Moana paused. “Because we don’t initially identify this as a business, it will survive. I think that is the key.”
But they are only breaking even at the moment. To survive, Moana and all the farmers in Cedros just want simple things, like access roads or WASA supply or pond irrigation.
“So even if we decide to shut down the business, the estate will still be there. Which means that my dad will go back to what he was doing before. If he gets a sale he’ll sell it. If he doesn’t we’ll make cocoa balls. That’s how it was.”
Their spirit is admirable. But is this really what we want with our farmers in this country? We have some of the world’s best cocoa, as we have known for 200 years. Just like Moana has a dream, so many farmers and agriculturalists have their own dreams. It should be our duty as a party to help our people realise their own dreams.
This is why one of the five economic booster shots as advocated by the UNC is to create self-sufficiency in agriculture and to help them.
As Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced on Monday 12 July 2021 at the party’s Virtual Report, “The UNC placed agriculture and food security at the centre of our economic recovery plan. We believe there must be a jumpstart to our agriculture sector by leasing 25,000 acres of former Caroni lands to create agricultural parks.
The UNC placed agriculture and food security at the centre of our economic recovery plan. We believe there must be a jumpstart to our agriculture sectorKamla Persad-Bissessar
At the same time, we proposed spending at least 10% of the PSIP to develop agricultural access roads, irrigation and drainage for these agricultural parks, and incentivising the private sector to establish an agro-processing plant.”
We want to help Moana – indeed, all farmers and citizens like her – achieve their dreams right here in Trinidad and Tobago, our home and our piece of earth that we can truly call our own. That should be the job of every government, and the UNC is committed to that.
That should be the job of every government, and the UNC is committed to that.