Mauritius was once a forest land. The Dutch, it is said, destroyed most of the ebony trees to build ships. So too went the dodo, which is remembered throughout the world as an extinct species from Mauritius. This is the land, with its lush green, picturesque mountains and emerald seas which we pride ourselves about when claiming our tourist signage.
But in the last several decades there has been so much of unplanned construction going on that it seems we are bent upon turning a once green forested country into a concrete jungle. This is going on at devastating speed. Not to speak of hideous billboards mushrooming on both sides of the roads and housetops and from green fields.
More worrying is that good arable land is being replaced by concrete. Many times, opinions have been voiced but they have gone unheeded. Recently, according to the Audit Report on “Boosting Food Crop Production”, there has been a drastic reduction in the production of potatoes, onions and garlic. This is an alarming situation.
It is true that planters need to be fully assisted in meeting the food/alimentary needs of the country. It is alleged that MSPA has not released sufficient land earmarked for agricultural purposes so far. But we know that annually so much of green land too is giving way to buildings. What will happen in the next 20 to 50 years? Are we blocking good cultivatable land and the lives of future citizens, our children’s children?
Negative attitude towards cultivation
Moreover we Mauritians have taken a very negative attitude towards cultivation. While the big estate owners managed to make so much of wealth out of the land, on a smaller scale the small planters and ordinary farm workers also – albeit with much struggle – were able to carve a comfortable enough life. We have good soils too. This allowed succeeding generations of poor descendants of indentured labourers to climb up the social ladder by rearing cows, goats and cultivating small plots of land in their back and front yards. They married their children, educated them and sent them abroad for tertiary education and professional training. However, the trend has been that once they returned to the country, they turned their back on the same cultivatable land which provided the means for their education and new career. Quite some people plod laboriously and continue to work in sun, rain and cyclonic weather to supply us with the vegetables we have on our plates. Isn’t it time to instill the concept of gentleman farmers to bring a more favourable perspective and orientation towards the land?
This is no blame game – but attitudes towards the soil that feeds us must be made to change. As it is we import most of our foodstuffs. We have no minerals. We have only our human resources to fend for ourselves. Cannot we devise a scheme to become self-sufficient as far as possible in our eatables at least? For that we should also congratulate the Mauritian genius for its “debrouillardise” and the ability to have been able to forge ahead in economic development, free education and a welfare state that has given the lie to the Meade and Titmuss Reports post independence.
But the writing is already boldly on the wall. We have to educate the population in food sufficiency. There are so many things that we can grow ourselves. Quite a good number of citizens have innovated with cultivation of fruits and vegetables on their housetops and some have been so enterprising as even to illegally cultivate plants of gandia in their houses! If that can be done, then why not inculcate the idea of having a kitchen garden as once most households had?
Agriculture in schools
In the past Government Primary Schools carried a small plot of land where gardening was taught to children. Beekrumsing Ramlallah was a strong advocate of this project in the columns of Mauritius Times and through petitions to the Government. He himself as a teacher encouraged agricultural activities at the schools he taught.
From time to time NGOs and Thinking Groups such as Lalit and individuals like Dev Virahsawmy, Yvan Martial have raised their voices about sensitizing the population in food production. We are talking of the good meritorious virtues of murunga, fruit à pain and other pamplemousses and citrus fruits. A robust awareness campaign should be carried out and attractive incentives given. There used to be also Young Farmers Clubs. If Israel as a desert land has been able to raise a green land to provide food, why cannot we do so with the green belt that we still have at our disposal?
On the other hand, it is to the credit of the Government that it has taken the good and desirable initiative of embellishing and sensitizing the population in cleaning the surroundings and developing an aesthetic sense for the country. Mauritians are great travellers with the air and other facilities available. Those who have been to Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi should be amazed at how beautiful garden cities these are.
Delhi has taken particular care in not only being a splendid green belt where trees abound but its landscaping is a joy to the eyes. As for Kuala Lumpur it is amazing to note how the concrete buildings spring out literally out of gardens all over. Our Port Louis used to be full of trees, especially mango trees. Alas we have made Port Louis so dirty and unaesthetic too. In European cities, flower boxes appear all over under window sills. In Mauritius, the Government Treasury Building, now the Prime Minister’s Office, sets the good example. This could be copied by other big corporate bodies, banks and buildings. Why cannot we make the drains of Port Louis pollution free so that the drain water can flow smoothly and not be jammed and produce foul-smelling water logging? We could encourage planting of decorative plants to embellish our pavements as we have by the Emmanuel Anquetil Building? The lay-bys along our National Highways have yet to benefit from good and aesthetic landscaping.
Perhaps the Prime Minister’s Embellishment Campaign should also include and revive the once “Fleurir Maurice” campaign initiated by Mrs Chandrani Buckhory. Attractive prizes would be a good incentive.