SHYAMAPARSAD BISNAUTHSING

In its issue of the 18th December 2020 of Le Mauricien, mention was made in the coverage that the Prime Minister acknowledged the difficulties in attaining self-sufficiency or Food Security. He also made suggestions to that end. In so doing, he has given a certificate of incompetence to the Ministry dealing with Food Security and all its services and parastatals, especially the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI). With the already difficult times being faced by farmers exacerbated by the various uncertainties looming ahead, it is evident that farmers will have to overcome a lot of challenges to get the ball rolling. Since they are great risk takers and that they are also dependent on farming for their livelihood or for rounding up the family budget, they will surely show their resilience and fight back but with difficulty. The more so since 2021 is the Year of Fruits and Vegetables as proclaimed by the United Nations. In this struggle, the handholding and accompanying measures of the Technical and Extension Services of the ministry of Agro-industry and Food Security will definitely be of great importance. Agricultural Extension is basically a communication exercise and is also a dynamic process wherein program planning and its Implementation are essential components. Extension cannot never remain static and be dependent on the budget and the will of those serving the purpose. It is a need-based program. Officers need to be visibly present in the fields of the farmers and also in the backyard projects of non-farmers. Moreover, those showing interests in food crop production should definitely be considered and encouraged to become entrepreneurs for transformation projects. Senior Officers need not be confined to the office during the mornings when they ought to be in the fields along with the Extension Officers and farmers and never alone except in exceptional circumstances. It is said that Extension Officers and Extension Assistants carry out regular/daily field visits in different localities under their jurisdiction and during each visit they meet around 8 to 10 planters or livestock keepers. As such, they are a storehouse of useful available data of the areas under their jurisdiction and a blue print for a development program can easily be worked out for the scope and prospects for development of the farming potential of the country. Here FAREI can use ICT to provide real time information to farmers so that the latter can better plan their activities and choice of crops. It is unfortunate to note that till date very little Information Technology is being used for the day-to-day farming activities. The website of FAREI is well designed but it is not regularly updated, not farmer friendly and not accessible to the average farmer as it tends to get complicated at 2nd and 3rd click. Information dissemination could be channelled through a call centre for more effectiveness as it would avoid displacements unless in exceptional circumstances. The data collected on the field could be regularly fed to a data centre for effective use in program planning. The data would be a very useful element in all future planning and forecasting exercises as our ability to predict things will be based on data, which is the very foundation of a strong economy. With lacking or faulty or inconsistent data and data processing which is too time consuming, one does not stand any chance. In this way, the present determines the future one wants. The need of substantial data from the planters that include planter’s and planting situations, field conditions and substantial budgetary data allocations from the Organisation or Government will be essential in chalking the way forward, and incidentally FAREI is in possession of both. Mention had been made during the second quarter of this year by the CEO of FAREI in one paper that farmers are having many facilities but they are not seizing the opportunities offered. Is he confident that they are fully informed of these opportunities and how to access them? Has he analysed the reasons for such a situation? If no, please I advise him do so and one will be surprised to note the reasons. May be the motives for abandonment of fertile lands will be known apart from those playing the speculation games. Accordingly, some schemes, after analysis of the field and market data, could be implemented to create a win-win situation as in the eighties when the country was self-sufficient in potatoes and producing and marketing dry maize cobs amongst others. It is time to create situations where farmers could be linked to both backwards and forward markets and create win-win situations. Since many years, AREU, now FAREI, had taken as mission to explore the economic potential of each crop grown in Mauritius through the various possibilities of transformation and minimal processing. With the technical support under the Northern Plains Irrigation Project (NPIP) undertaken in 2003, an attempt was made and the initiative did bear its fruits. Aggressive training programs were launched and sensitisation campaigns were undertaken. Many budding entrepreneurs were initiated and many have set up successful businesses in pickling and other food processing sectors at medium and micro levels. A storehouse of opportunities exists and those are unfortunately not tapped by farmers and farmer organisations. The Training Division of FAREI is performing in a lacklustre manner though it is properly equipped. Farming News, which was a monthly mouthpiece of Extension Division, is a very rare commodity and this shows the deficiency in communication exercise. Unfortunately during the last years, a complete stagnation in the Agro Industry and Food Security segments had been noted and acknowledged. The causes and effects are right there and it is not a Herculean task to fine-tune and bring remedial actions. FAREI has the capacity required, it just needs analysis and bring out the remedial factors and harness all necessary efforts to implement those. Many planters had migrated from sugarcane and food crops to pineapple production though it is a longer cycle crop and one that requires heavy investments but fetching good returns from the export markets. Unfortunately, the Covid 19 has turned their hopes into nightmares. Heavy losses were incurred by those who are and had bearing crops for want of markets. In absence of any support plan it should be appreciated if some life lines could be found. What is required is a strong and proactive Research and Development Institute that would meet the aspirations of its clients in putting up a system wherein the aspirations of its clients (vegetables, fruits and livestock producers) are met. To achieve this laudable goal, a thorough study and analysis of all the existing situational elements – which must be available by now from the Front Line Extension Officers and their supervisors out of their daily field visits wherein they have met, observed and assisted farmers by tendering advices to their problems and other related issues – must be undertaken. Adequate resources and funds should be budgeted and provided for and this is not an easy job for a CEO, especially during these days of economic difficulties! All support services need to be taken on board along with all mid-management personnel to help in formulating and monitoring mechanisms and procedures for effective project implementation while treating farming as a business activity with the applications of all the related scientific disciplines and not a mere occupation. Year in and year out, plantations and farms suffer from the vagaries of climate causing a situation of irregular supply of fresh vegetables and if ever those are available, they are automatically offered at rates that not everybody can afford and as every time the farmers fall back for compensations from Government. This has become so recurrent and solutions to the problem need to be worked out. A major study is urgently needed to find out whether we are adopting the right approach for food production – whether farmers are operating in the right environment by acting individually or grouping themselves into corporates (Producer Companies) to benefit from the economies of scales and break away from the Ti Planter economy with the support of Government and be more competitive. Around the world there is a paradigm shift. This process might be the solution in creating a new generation of farmers and generate the appropriate environment to reach self-sufficiency and ensure a Food Security condition for Mauritius and also be known as a food exporting nation. …. ACCROCHES « The website of FAREI is well designed but it is not regularly updated, not farmer friendly and not accessible to the average farmer as it tends to get complicated at 2nd and 3rd click. Information dissemination could be channelled through a call centre for more effectiveness as it would avoid displacements unless in exceptional circumstances. The data collected on the field could be regularly fed to a data centre for effective use in program planning. » « With the technical support under the Northern Plains Irrigation Project (NPIP) undertaken in 2003, an attempt was made and the initiative did bear its fruits. Aggressive training programs were launched and sensitisation campaigns were undertaken. Many budding entrepreneurs were initiated and many have set up successful businesses in pickling and other food processing sectors at medium and micro levels. » …