It does not take someone to be a highly experienced consultant or a rocket scientist to see that our agriculture is changing for the worse. A close look at the figures (number of planters, farms, farm size and land under production and farm labour etc.), shows a decreasing trend in the whole production process. To my interpretation of the above, Mauritius is running the risk of losing one of the very sacred characteristics – the individual ownership of productive land due to speculative actions of Real Estate Development Program. Yet, Government is investing massively in support institutions for negligible outputs.
Various schemes (which appear attractive on paper) are being introduced every now and then. The unfortunate part is that those schemes are not properly tested and analysed and canvassed prior to their launching. Even the last report of the National Audit Office has mentioned same in its last report. A well detailed paper published in June 2020 and entitled, “Food Production: Are Agricultural State Lands Optimally Utilized?”, puts emphasis on the status of those State Lands wherein millions of rupees are spent for the monitoring. The results are alarming. This report covers the crops and livestock sectors.
The Mission statements of both the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security and FAREI are very eloquent. The Ministry is having as mission to enable and facilitate the advancement of agriculture and agri-Business by providing an enabling and conducive environment for the promotion of quality agricultural service delivery. The FAREI is to support and implement priority research, development and training programs & projects and appropriate technologies for food security amongst others.The overall policy and strategy of the Ministry, according to the Director of Audit, is to increase production of food crops and animal products to satisfy local demand and to enhance import substitution so as to reduce dependency on imports.
In the field, the situation is far more different because farming in itself is an art form. The minute by minute decisions made by farmers far surpass the empirical knowledge and absolutely defy bureaucratic management, and that is at risk in Mauritius. The recent climatic hide and seek (drought and flash floods) are ample examples of the fate wherein those insecure food producers are in as compared to the secure research and extension and for that matter the whole administrative support staffs of the Ministry are in. It is strange that up to now the authorities have not come up with strategies to come out of this precarious situation the farmers are facing year in and year out. Yet, a major chunk of Government budget is devoted to the salaries and other benefits of its employees while negligible amounts are earmarked for capital project funding.
Throughout the world, strategies are evolving for the better and win-win situations are being created for all stakeholders involved including governments and revenues, whereas in Mauritius a complete decline or neglect is being observed. It is high time to reorganize the whole setup and to bring about the changes wherever required and if necessary to scrap or cull the faulty systems and come up with a much more proactive method or process of production wherein the whole of Mauritius gains both socially and economically.
It must be agreed that an arsenal of opportunities was created during the days of Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU). At the dawn of this century, AREU was a household name in Mauritius. Regularly, new product, instruments and crops were introduced successfully; here the hydroponic production – which was the guarded secret of two producers – was successfully introduced among the farming community, the Sheltered Farming and Quality Declared Seeds concept followed then after. But with the advent of FAREI and low evolution of the agricultural services, a slow death of the whole production system has been noted. Innovative ways of farming with light mechanization and post-harvest technologies and entrepreneurship and training were common features with a long waiting list in areas of interest. The Institution was a constant source of information and training. Communication, which is an essential arm of Extension, has greatly suffered recently.
Previously, the written and spoken and audio visual press including the national television had weekly information programs for the farming community and the general public. Since as far as the late sixties Extension Services would come out with a regular monthly information known as Farming News. Call it a paradox or whatever else, that the essential tool of information and communication has become obsolete. Dairy and goat farming which was a very common farming activity has also or nearing the same situation, in spite of the fact that budget and staff have considerably increased. Many Directors and a CEO have succeeded, yet the decline is tangible.
Much has been written and spoken on the re-engineering of the whole process but those have met the deaf ears of the authorities. The blame can’t be imputed to the Minister and his senior administrative staff, but somehow it is felt that more rigors were needed to be applied. Common sense says that they would be too happy to see the progress made under their respective administrations. But the responsibilities of this state of affairs lies somewhere else in the technical hierarchy and other technical advisors and other closely related parastatals. Recently Landscope Mauritius had announced with pomp the leasing of lands to potential producers. It would be good to have an idea of the status and whether production has improved considerably or not. Similarly, the Ministry had launched with great pomp the organic production of food crops at Britannia. The results are that due to poor planning and monitoring, the project has helped in impoverishing many potential entrepreneurs. Hence the title of this paper as there is a strong feeling of the absence of a driver and a team to drive the process and give a new ray of hope to the country and all stakeholders involved. But the whole question that has to be answered is who will bell the cat?