Arvin Boolell MP

Farmers have every right to put legitimate questions:

  1. a) Why is it that only certain produce would be subjected to bioassay? Why have pulses and rice been exempted?
  2. b) Why is it that there is NO provision for dispute mechanism? If you refer to section 5(3) the officer in charge has unfettered powers. His or her decision can be arbitrary.
  3. c) Why is the sugar sector spared? According to Agronomist Cyril Monty, approximately 1700 tons of pesticides are used annually to spray 50,000 hectares of land under sugarcane cultivation. 

TARGETING PLANTERS

The bill therefore is being introduced to pinpoint farmers mainly. Unfortunately, this is a tunnel vision of the real issues.

The answer to the adverse impact of excessive use of pesticides is neither Smart Agricultural practices nor Organic Agriculture. I grant you that both can be adjunct to Responsible Agriculture.

In the past, farmers through AREU had expert advice from COLEACP, CIRAD, to adapt to new techniques and be in compliance with SPS NORMS. Under Freight Rebate Scheme Exporters freight forward their produce to Europe. Unfortunately, there had been dumping of Victoria Pineapple by irresponsible exporters and it could have put at risk our market access.

PREAMBLE

The preamble of the bill is to regulate, control and monitor the importation and use of pesticides in or on certain fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds with a view to inter alia minimizing risks to human beings and environment. The issue cannot be narrowed to planters. They cannot be held responsible if there is no butterfly in our gardens, and bumblebees needed for pollination are becoming rare. We are all responsible and have to act responsibly if we want to minimize risk. The causative link of pesticides to cancer is well established. It is wise to wash vegetables thoroughly under running water for several minutes as a necessary precaution.

CLEAR REGULATIONS

From pre to post harvest or farm to fork clear regulations have to be prescribed. Before the bill is voted and the act is proclaimed nothing stops the Minister to revisit the legislative framework. I can’t understand why there is no provision for the setting up of a board with relevant representatives.

One of the major problems is the number of pests which enter the Country because of increased movement of People and freight.

PQs

Common things are not being addressed and wrong signals are being conveyed. How could one trust a Government whose priority was to release land for construction of a Nine-Hole Golf Course? Do you know the amount of Chemicals and water needed to upkeep a Golf Course? It’s good to remind the Minister that a study was conducted to assess the number of Golf courses needed in a Small Island Developing State whose focus is on sustainable development.

Making History

The Minister will go down in history as the one and only who gave instructions to clear acres of forest land for vegetable growing despite vast acreage of land is constantly being abandoned and yet to be rehabilitated. If land is not well prepared there will be seepage and it becomes a fertile ground for pests and vectors.

Everybody is for AgroEcological farming or Smart Agriculture but neither one nor the other is the panacea to the food solution. Under the circumstances some who can afford the luxury of Bio or Organic food will be stuffed but the vast majority will be starved. There is even a debate as to the naturalness of Organic Agriculture. Nature is cruel and Agriculture has always been unnatural.

Use of Neem, Biopesticide,

Integrated Pest Management

I wish Neem could be used widely as it is an effective pesticide but biopirates or bioprospectors had got in first to try to patent neem tree, turmeric, and basmati rice from India as the patent law allowed. Let us therefore be rational, practical, and pragmatic and ask a relevant question.

What is the yield of food crop per acreage with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Biopesticide or compost? They can be adjunct therapy to lower the use of pesticides and to achieve the set objective.

Our objective is not to cross the threshold of MRL (Maximum Residual Level) of pesticides.

A DAUNTING TASK

I must admit it is a daunting task but not insurmountable. The battle is won if we could put our finger on the trigger to follow the trail of traceability. There should be no weak or missing link in the supply chain. All the way from farm to fork no stone should be left unturned. There is nothing more pleasing to the farmer if his produce is quality product.

He should be accompanied. He is the victim of stolen produce from his farm. Up to 15% of produce that are sold are stolen products probably harvested prematurely and sprayed with chemicals – pesticides and ripeners for sale. Do you recall that a Lady died from consumption of a baby Calabash?

Accompanying Measures

Of course, accompanying measures are extended according to needs of every stakeholder in the clustering process —- As far as planters are concerned Good Agricultural practices from preharvest to post harvest, on-site training, Market Intelligence, TIDS, Biotech support are relevant. I don’t know why the Ministry has done away with NABAC (National Agricultural biotechnology advisory committee). Professor A Sason, former UNESCO expert, in his book titled Biotechnologies in Developing Countries, present and future, stated: ‘It was the Coordinating and funding body for monitoring applications of biotechnologies in agriculture and for sharing of responsibilities among the MOA, MSIRI, FARC, MSIRI, UOM.

It channelled resources into identified projects and avoided unnecessary duplication of resources. One priority area related to minimum use of pesticides through the increasing availability of high quality planting material through micropropagation, with emphasis on the elite, disease free high value crops, in order to raise Agricultural production and achieve crop diversification.’

Economies of Scale

If there is no structured support the planter will not reap any possible benefit from the setting up of NAM (New Auction Market). The project cost, much to the dismay of the Director of Audit, has doubled even before Construction starts. His produce will be graded low range or rejected because of non-compliance to SPS norms.

Do you know of any planter who likes to use pesticides indiscriminately? No? Does he have prime Agricultural land? Besides his soil type is not optimum and his cost of production is too high compared to the corporate Sector, e.g. Medine which has economies of scale.

Our farmers are also subject to unfair Competition from the imports of food products which are dumped on local markets. The MRL are not always complied with. UNFAIR trade practices and Antidumping legislation exist but enforcement is a big issue. The Enforcement officers should do their job diligently and not arbitrarily hit at the planters.

LEVY

There should be a levy on GMO products and tax collected used to fund pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest technology. Prevention is a better cure. Rigorous control through monitoring and surveillance is essential. From import of pesticides to retail sale and judicious use in the field, the supply chain has to be scrutinized. Are the Chemicals properly stored as per the strict criteria set by Fire Services? There was a huge fire in Flacq over poor storage of chemicals. Regular visits should be mandatory.

Complaints

Several complaints have been registered against field officers for poor follow up and random tests of agricultural produce carried out too randomly. Results of food basket analysis have to be published regularly. The Ministry had an excellent food lab which is also a reference lab for COMESA. It will lose this status if it does not acquire new and updated equipment.

Traceability is easy if the system is well structured. Use of registered codes is essential.

If there is non-compliance then a guilty party has to bear the consequences of his action. It has to be established that an offense has been committed. From collection of samples at farm gate to food tech lab there should be no human interference. A certified sealing bag should be used.

As stated earlier an aggrieved planter should be given the right to refer his case to a dispute settlement body. The Ministry cannot be judge and party. The planter should not be held responsible if there is wind dispersal of pesticides from one narrow plot to another. The risk of accidental spread is higher if he or she is growing mixed vegetables.

MANDATORY

The Minister will have to come with a Farm bill and look at the harsh realities. It’s unlikely for a SIDS like Mauritius with its different soil types and microclimatic conditions to produce bio. However, we have to protect our biodiversity and aim for sustainable development with Good Practices, Agricultural and others. If we export, we have to benchmark to meet SPS.

The Puerto Rico Case

Before I conclude let me highlight the intended and unintended consequences of excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers from Puerto Rico, which is the biggest world exporter of pineapple. Water table has gone down due to excessive use of water from aquifers and the intrusion of salt mixed with pesticides and fertilizers are a lethal cocktail for health. Consequently, water supply on a regular basis is a major issue in Puerto Rico.

In Mauritius, epidemiological surveys, if conducted, will establish links between pesticides and a host of medical disorders.

I will end on a note of caution. Do not encroach further upon prime Agricultural land. Too much harm has been done already. The price for giving excessive fiscal concessions to the corporate sector for property development is too high to pay. Unfortunately, the land which is converted is mainly prime Agricultural land.

Marginal lands will of course need pesticide more than required. Besides conversion of fertile land, abandoned land under sugarcane is an ecological crime. Sugarcane is a great carbon dioxide cleanser and has multifunctional dimension. It protects runoff into lagoons. Do you know the harm that pesticides do to our lagoons? We can tap funding from GEF (Global Environment Fund).

My plea is to Save our soil from Pesticides residues and let us bequeath a legacy of sustainable development to all of us, especially to our children.