Agriculture, Water and Climate Change: New possibilities and Solutions in Mauritius
Interview with Prof. Lalljee
Reflecting about water and all the subjects related to it, we need to consider agriculture, the sector with the highest level of water use. Moreover, because of all the consequences that climate change is carrying with it, how the is agricultural sector going to change? And what can be done to use the water in an efficient and responsible way, given the fact that this natural resource is going to be affected by climate change consequences as well?
We talked about these issues and much more with Professor Bhanooduth Lalljee, Head of the Department of Agriculture and Food Science at the University of Mauritius, expert in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture and land management, efficient water utilisation and government consultant for environmental policies.
Prof. Lalljee gave us a very clear framework about the agricultural sector in Mauritius. The country used to be almost 100% agriculture based, with agricultural industry mainly dominated by sugar cane. 90% of the arable land on a total area of about 90.000 hectares was dedicated to sugar cane plantation with 121 factories. Just before Mauritius Independence in 1968 sugar cane factories were already reduced at 23-24. In 1975 the country signed the Lomé Convention (trade and aid agreement between the European Economic Community and 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) and through that Mauritius had the possibility to export 500 tons of sugar to Europe at a guaranteed price. Thanks to that, the country was able to invest the money in other sectors of the economy. Later on, due to the phenomenon of globalisation, the World Trade Organisation decided to liberate the price of sugar. As a consequence, sugar price has fallen down by almost 36% and agriculture was no longer profitable for Mauritius. Talking through numbers, the area dedicated to sugar cane passed from 90.000 hectares to 15.000 hectares, from 33.000 small planters to 18.000 small planters. So the agricultural sector had to reinvent itself: in order to be more efficient, the sugar cane business has now only four big factories which produce also energy, so they are called “flexi-factories”; they passed from a raw-sugar export to a refined-sugar export, working on the refining and packing processes too now. Moreover, the sector has diversified from sugar to foodcrops making Mauritius self-sefficient for vegetables. Agriculture used to contribute almost 9 to 10% of the GDP, now agriculture contributes less than 3%. Despite this decrease, agriculture is still one of the biggest employer in the country.
Climate change impacts are going to affect the sector even more than what has already happened. Too hot, too cold, too much rain or not enough rain can bring the sector down. That’s why we asked Prof. Lalljee which kind of tools could help agriculture to face the consequences of climate change. As you can see on the video-interview, the Professor gave us a wide range of possibilities. A very interesting initiative has been presented by Prof. Lalljee: in collaboration with Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU), they are working on a project on crop insurance. This option allows farmers to have always a certain amount of income guaranteed both in bad and good times. This practice is not new for Mauritius: in 1962, after a terrible cyclone, the country decided to start the “Cyclones and Drought Insurance Board”, now called “Sugar Insurance Fund Board - SIFB”. This good practice has worked perfectly during the years and it has been replicated in other small islands being a very successful story. There is also an insurance for vegetables and food planters and it is called “Small Planters Development Fund”. This fund works in a very precise and localized way: government’s officers go around to check the damage that planters have to face and then certain kind of compensation is made up. The particular thing is that this compensation is not through finance but through seeds, compost, technologies, technical know-how. There is also a compensation plan for fisherman: “Bad Wheather Allowance”. If the meteo declares that the wheather today is bad it means that the fisherman can’t go out so the government give them a minimum salary for that day. Mauritius Government has also a good Strategy Plan for Sustainable Development and it implements several activities to promote Sustainable Agriculture. For example compost is given to the small planters for free in order to discourage the use of chemical fertilizers.
Very good practices that let us hope that some problems can be fixed too: a better coordination of the projects implemented in the Maurice Ile Durable framework, a more efficient water distribution system with new pipes and less water losses, a wiser use of water by the population. Many people are working on these issues so the future is on its way…do you want to sit and wait or contribute?