Food Security and Culture Change

Let’s Honestly Face It

The Republic of Mauritius imports over 80% of all food consumed in the country. In the heyday of frenetic dreams of globalisation without tears, that was never perceived as a problem.

We would sell sugar, sunshine and shirts and then buy bread, butter and beans. Now what we have to face are WTO failed talks; western world economic downturn, not to say recession; global warming and climate change; energy crisis; soaring prices, etc. Food security has suddenly become a top priority, nay, a survival strategy.

We must get our priorities right. In order to get on with business as usual, some are of opinion that we must invest heavily in agricultural activities in Madagascar and/or Mozambique so that land would remain available for IRS villas and golf courses. Is this wise considering that freight will become more and more a factor fraught with problems? The region could offer some backup but cannot be our main source of food.

We have to plan the production of staples, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. Mauritius and Rodrigues have qualified people to do that. But food security cannot and must not be conceived only in terms of production and distribution. It has a very important cultural dimension. Our food culture must change and be made to change. Potatoes, manioc (cassava), maize, breadfruit, etc., can and must become staples, rice and flour playing second fiddle. Nutritionists and creative chefs will have the challenging task of teaching us what good eating means.

We must make AREU’s motto our own: GROW WHAT WE EAT AND EAT WHAT WE GROW. In Morisien it becomes “Plant seki nou manze, manz seki nou plante”.

Although the Denial Industry is very active to feather the bed of neoliberalism and protect the interests of a few corporations, there seems to be NOW a consensus that humanity’s future lies in a new course based not on growth but on development of a new kind.

Capitalism, as we know it, is based on two negative values: cupidity and selfishness. It has TWO faces, a mild one called social democracy and a very aggressive one best known as turbo-capitalism or market fundamentalism. The recent past has seen a lukewarm attempt to steer away from market fundamentalism but it now seems that pressure is building up to force the country to adopt the classical neoliberal doctrine with its wide assortment of deregulation and privatisation.

MID (Maurice Ile Durable) has not one iota of chance of success in a neoliberal environment; it has only a meagre chance of feeble success in a social democratic environment. But the further we move from the quick buck mentality, the closer we get to an environment based on the opposite of cupidity and selfishness, i.e. sharing and solidarity, the greater will be our chance of survival. Yes, MID is our survival kit if it becomes our vision and energy to make life meaningful in the wake of global warming catastrophes. MID is certainly NOT just another way to become rich.

MID’s success depends on nothing short of a cultural revolution.

When the full impact of global warming and world economic recession is felt, reality as we know it will change in such a drastic and dramatic way that it will no longer be a question of ‘should we do this or that?’ as if we have a choice but rather ‘there is no other way but …’. Do it or die! Gone will be the days of ‘manz banann dan de bout’ (have your cake and eat it).

Just imagine this scenario: (I think it would be wrong to consider this pessimistic.) World tourism is shrinking; purchasing power in the so-called developed world is on a constant decline; the price of oil has become prohibitive; the internal combustion engine has been banned worldwide, etc. As a consequence of all this, protectionism has become the key policy throughout the world faced by floods, draughts, storms, massive refugee problems which make Darfur a fait divers.

The state of MID must be very strong and not just be a facilitator of neoliberal greed for easy money. It needs economic clout and resources to ensure suvival, security, justice, social and cultural development. Market forces will have to play second fiddle. Market fundamentalists have to reckon with that.

Land is our fundamental resource. We need it principally to ensure food security and for the building of homes for all. Speculation and the use of precious land to build sumptuous villas for the world’s super-rich is certainly out of the question.

Food security does not merely mean producing what is traditionally consumed but rather exploring new possibilities. I am convinced that a slow shift to breadfruit as the staple will boost up national food security efforts. We should also seize this opportunity to adopt a new nutritional culture to fight obesity and diseases connected with it.

Gender equality should replace patriarchy. Sustainable development based on sharing and solidarity means a new kind of relationship between men and women and also a more humane and tolerant attitude towards people with different sexual orientations.

MID’s success depends also on universal literacy and this can be achieved only if we are prepared to face the truth. Primary schooling in its present form does not generate a high level and rate of basic literacy; most Mauritians are semi-lingual and semi-literate, having a meagre smattering of two or more languages, but unable to master any of them properly; a dynamic bilingualism featuring Morisien (Mauritian Creole) and English can be achieved with a judicious language policy… This universal literacy and Morisien/English bilingualism will promote learning as a continuous life enhancing process and favour greater creativity.

Technological development and the use of renewable sources of energy are necessary but inadequate if economic, political, social and cultural activities are conducted the way they are today. The concept of locally centered economy is well worth investigating into. For example we could reorganise Mauritius into 20-25 autonomous municipalities endowed with various economic, political, social and cultural activities and institutions. Within a municipality people will use muscular power (walk or cycle) and solar-powered public transport would service inter-municipal travels.

People must be empowered and grassroots democracy be made to thrive.

Are we ready for this? Certainly not! But when the worse comes to the worse, we will have to change course and mindset and adopt new values and strategies. The need for a radical cultural change is already behind the door. We will have to invent our own models.

When the national creative genius is freed from the fetters of greed and selfishness, thousands of new ideas will emerge to help us face our growing difficulties. The time for change has come whether we like it or want it or not. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with it.


* Published in print edition on 24 January 2014

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