Redesigning Non Cane Agricultural Development

Despite the shrinking share of the agricultural sector in our economy, agricultural production has always been and will for many more years be a major income earner for the country and its people. In fact, it is essential for food security and productivity.

During the pre-independence and early post-independence days, Mauritius was heavily dependent on its agriculture and as such, it can rightly be said that the latter was the backbone of its economic activity. The sector provided means of subsistence to more than 75% of its population, and the major developments that the country has known in the manufacturing, industrial, tourism and commercial sectors all have agricultural production as their cornerstone. Though the share of agriculture in GDP has been on the decrease (<3% presently); with careful analysis, planning and a suitable package of incentives, new avenues and opportunities are bound to reorient it into a vibrant economic sector that would create opportunities for food production, for the yellow revolution and in turn for employment generation and entrepreneurship development – in line with new government’s ambition to transform the country into a “nation des entrepreneurs”. Since a large majority of the people with low purchasing power and unemployed youth live in the rural areas and suburbs, it is imperative to think out of the box in order to come out with viable and practically easier-to-implement solutions to meet those challenges.

Status and Chronology

Agricultural development has come across many crossroads and at each, new directions or orientations had to be given in order to attain a cruising speed. During the last decade, with the advent of DARE/AREU, the non-cane sector had known significant innovations which had brought about modernization in certain practices. Whilst semi-traditional farming is still present in many areas, a new generation of farmers is slowly emerging. The rate of change is consequential and visible as well.

Problem Areas

  • Although there has been sizeable progress in the sector, many problem areas that need urgent attention have also surfaced. Those can be identified as hereunder:
  • Soil health – In certain areas intensive farming has resulted in the overexploitation of the natural resources like soil and water.
  • Emergence of new species of invasive weeds, insect pests and diseases.
  • Lack of conviction on the part of the executive agencies.
  • Rising cost of production whilst the return on investment is either breaking even or is negative due to uncertain market scenario.
  • Mismatch between the quality inputs available or used and scientific advice – a major problem faced by farmers.
  • Pressure on the demand for water for domestic and industrial use.
  • Size of farm fragmenting and diminishing due to law of inheritance and land speculation.
  • Increase in environmental pollution due to excessive use of chemicals and “cocktails”.
  • Problem of adulteration of chemicals which add to the frustration of farmers.
  • Poor knowledge of the bio or organic products available in the market.
  • Lack of professional and industrial post-harvest technology and agro-industry.
  • Lack of attractive packages to interest youth in agriculture or incentives to professionalize agriculture/farming as a profession as it exists in developing countries.
  • Failure to provide a good and innovative marketing strategy and outlet for agricultural produce. A good strategy is the missing link in the Agro Industrial Kick Starting process.
  • Inadequate provision of compensation for loss incurred by farmers due to natural calamities. Timid efforts have been made by the SFWF but it is failing to gather momentum due to want of attractive packages of incentives.
  • Ultra-long gestation period in the implementation and follow-up of the schemes and strategies launched by the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Technology and development agencies.
  • Lack of successful development programs or extension programs using research findings as a basis.
  • Linkage between farmers, scientists and extension agents (farmer and scientist) at an ebb. Thinking out of the box is practically non-existent.
  • Precarious economic state of small producers.
  • Limited and saturated domestic market.
  • Limited interest by research and extension organizations in the economic non-traditional crops – a vivid example of existing possibilities is VITA RICE, (which was earlier deemed unimaginable in the local context).
  • Limited interest or awareness creation in medicinal and aromatic plants. This in itself could have created a major export potential. Further, with the mushrooming of spas across the Island, the potential for domestic take-away market is enormous.
  • Livestock research and extension services are at an ebb. They have not toed the line in keeping with demand and development. Very little or negligent efforts have been made to boost the sector. If ever it is done, it is repetitive and as such those are not being adopted by farmers. Very few innovative ideas have emerged from the research and extension services since ages. No wonder the milk village (as proposed by Government), is taking time to make headway. This sector ought to have ushered the alternatives to farmers not interested in sugar cane and thus generated more employment in agriculture.
  • The 2000 arpents scheme – poorly implemented and distributed.

Proposed Solutions

  • Innovative ideas, systemic planning and sincere execution of the same is required. Globalization has provided new opportunities to the Mauritian farmers. In fact globalization has brought threats but has also brought in tons of opportunities as well.
  • Farmers have to improve the quality and bring down the cost of production in order to compete in the world market. Efforts need to be made to identify and introduce high yielding, short duration, resistant and genetically superior varieties of vegetables and fruits, suitable for transformation and processing.
  • Development of suitable technology for diversification of farming. The NPIP II (a program launched in 2001 and which ought to have ushered a revolution in the north and throughout the country, instead of the aggressive transformation of good agricultural land for development purposes), needs to be analysed. The positive aspects, drawbacks as well as shortcomings need to be identified and the reasons and responsibilities thereof need to be understood.
  • Innovative ways of research protocols need to be thought of.
  • The conversion of those research findings into practical and economical possibilities.
  • Rigorous control on the land conversion unit needs to be observed.
  • The beneficiaries of land under the different schemes need to be closely monitored and assisted in producing for the high- end markets through emerging technologies.
  • Intensification of research in biotechnology, bio fertilizers, bio pest control methods.
  • Provision of high quality planting materials at reasonable price.
  • Precision farming concept for certain crops needs to be considered and introduced.
  • Effective quality control systems and standards like the Certified Global GAP. (not the model currently being practised), HACCP and ISO standards in food production are introduced. This would definitively provide a better visibility and quality assurance to our products in the international markets and forums.
  • Efficient training programs and accompanying measures for innovative farmers.
  • Development of Farm Plans according to different farm sizes.
  • Integrated projects for the development of the farm and home. Introduction of High-Tech farming as a family enterprise, e.g. high value cash crops under new technology (ies). These concepts could be oriented towards the women and youth in agriculture activities.
  • Model Farm concept to be reviewed and revamped as it will provide the single window to the producers. The one stop shop concept to be reviewed.
  • Technology transfer system, commonly known as extension, which is a highly dynamic system needs to be constantly reviewed and adapted to the prevailing conditions. Continuous need assessment surveys would be helpful to understand the areas of emphasis, specializations, systems and strategies required.
  • Effective collaborations between formal and non-formal extension.
  • Necessary infrastructure, processing and marketing facilities will have to be developed which would encourage farmers to go for diversification.
  • Developing farmer’s organizations for collective farming, marketing and processing etc……Diversification strategy needs to be complemented with transformation, packaging, storage, and marketing and for that to occur, a good market intelligence system is a must.
  • Search for markets within and outside the country with the assistance of sister organizations like Enterprise Mauritius, SMEHDA, Agricultural Marketing Board and others; and continuous monitoring and evaluation of the agricultural development programs should be rigorous.
  • Introduce the concept of Agricultural Technology Business Incubators which have produced proven results in India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Europe and Australia.
  • Ageing of workers and shortage of labour is a major limiting factor. Wages for the number of effective hours put in is another deterrent. Possibilities to improve, as in the case of EPZ sector, ought to be worked out.
  • Most importantly, key players (official agencies) need to be convinced of the development possibilities, and come up with innovative ideas accordingly
  • Alternate Farming in the wake of reduction in sugar price.
  • Vegetable and fruit production under certified organic conditions -Intensify research and create conditions that would be able to capture the local and international markets in organic produce.
  • Introduction of high-yielding cash crops and fruits that are in demand in the High end and European markets, in so doing special emphasis need to be put on the seasonal conditions prevailing in both the hemispheres.
  • The efficiency of R&D system needs to be enhanced and the enabling environment to be created.
  • Innovative ways of conducting research have to be developed such as pursuing a production to development systems’ (PCS) approach which comprises the entire set of actors, materials, activities, services and institutions involved in the growing, harvesting and handling of particular commodity, transforming it into a usable and/or high- value added product and marketing the final product.
  • Substitutions to imports – With appropriate Gap Analysis, identify crops that are imported and which could be produced locally and are profitable to the farmers as well. e.g. Maize, fruits, niche crops, crops that are constantly used in the Tourist (Hotel) Industry and crops that would be required for the transformation industry.
  • Milk & Meat production- introduce innovative agricultural extension and research approaches in order to create awareness and promote intensive integrated environment friendly small and medium dairy and goat farms supported by marketing strategies as it exists in Reunion Island -Intensive farms produce the Island’s near requirements in fresh milk, fresh milk products and meat and meat products. Too much of spoon feeding (which has created heavy dependency thereon) and less of hand holding is being undertaken in the sector. It seems that without financial and physical assistance of Government, entrepreneurship in the sector would not be possible; while the contrary is true as in the case of success stories of poultry farmers. A buffer production for Mauritius would be advisable.
  • Adoption of at least 15 Rural Farming Areas with the different Agro Climatic and Micro Climatic Conditions in the first instance, wherein the whole proper packages of practices are introduced and hand holding is done. Possibilities of entrepreneurships and employability to be worked out.
  • Encourage and assist small and medium transformation units. The collaboration of Enterprise Mauritius and SMEHDA should necessarily be enlisted as from the start. The value chain of agricultural produce need to be seriously implemented.
  • Creation of Food Parks- as in the industrial sectors.
  • Development and initiation of contractual possibilities in the agricultural sector. Possibilities are enormous.
  • Deliberate investments in partnership-building and shared governance are required to speed up technology adaptation and dissemination.
  • Given the declining land, water and bio-diversity resources and the intensifying environmental footprint, the task ahead is difficult but certainly not insurmountable, if joint efforts are made to move forward with new commitments to upscale and out scale innovations.

 

* Published in print edition on 6 February  2015

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