SHYAMAPARSAD BISNAUTHSING

The 2020/2021 Budget has brought forward many interesting proposals for boosting food production and security. It has also proposed New Normal and the Economy of Life concepts. To achieve the targets set, a shift in the present paradigm is essential. The executive agencies of the Ministries cannot continue operating in the same process as before but, in fact, need to reinvent themselves or think out of the box.

The aim of any farmer is to increase his farm produce and income and earn a decent living. Ever since the country acceded to independence in 1968 and even before, Government has been introducing various schemes to alleviate poverty and increase income of rural households wherein many were dependent either directly or indirectly on agriculture as their only source of livelihood. Some of these initiatives have been fruitful over a certain period in time and eventually lost momentum. Here, I have in mind the Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Societies and the Farmers Service Centers. The former has turned into a marketing organisation while the latter has become a mere commercial input providing organisations with huge mark ups that are not beneficial to the farmers. The High-Powered Committee on Agricultural Diversification of the years 1983 to 1986 resulted in manifold increase in agricultural production and even led us to self-sufficiency in potatoes and a real diversification of our agricultural production while maintaining a production of around 500,000 tons of sugar annually. Unfortunately, these processes led to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides while neglecting the most crucial aspect of our soil health and creating avenues for human health hazards.

In brief, productivity has peaked out and there is not much scope left to increase it under the present conditions. Instead, decline in production levels of all crops (vegetables and sugar cane) is constantly being observed. The soil micro flora has been constantly depleted. To elucidate further, earth worms which were in abundance in the fields are rare commodities in present times.  Therefore, in order to increase farmers’ income, it is imperative to look at alternatives. Considering that land and productivity do not offer much scope for growth, it is essential to lay emphasis on the reduction of input costs of farming and creating alternate market linkages as new methods of increasing farm incomes. The plight of small farmers is obvious, but what needs to be acknowledged and acted upon by Government is that resolving their problems is an essential part of eradicating even greater ones which the country has to face, e.g. financial mismanagement, lobbying of the wealthy, reliance on foreign investment alone to build an economy… The latter aspect alone keeps us enslaved and at the beck and call of those holding the purse strings which in turn makes the concept of genuine democracy an illusion.

Reduction of Input Cost: Farmers can reduce input costs to almost zero by adopting a well-defined Zero Budget Natural Farming project. In case of difficulties in implementation, alternate Bio/Organic farming methods with use of Nano and/or Bio Fertilizers can be adopted. This will help rejuvenate the soil and there won’t be any need for chemical fertilizers in as far as healthy value added food production for the betterment of local consumption as well as creating opportunities for export-oriented farming programs. All the inputs used in this mode of farming are produced by farmers at their homes or fields.

In Mauritius, Government introduced the concept in 2015 and timid efforts, though encouraging, were observed. But it had unfortunately to be put on hold due to the epidemics affecting cattle and nothing much has been heard ever since. Other means of organic production have also been tried but no consistency in efforts was noted. Instead, it has impoverished many (reference to those entrepreneurs of Britannia project who have mostly abandoned midway). This might be explained by the fact that the campaigns had not been carried out under thorough and proper conditions. Instead, a concept of Smart Agriculture as proposed by the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture with the optimal utilisation of fertilizers and pesticides is being preconized. It needs to be mentioned that the planters (and even the big producers) do not find themselves in this concept.

Farmer Producer Organization: Another initiative is the mobilization of farmers and to assist in a Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) by a Promoting Agency (PA). These FPOs operate under a well-defined Business Plan and are used as a vehicle to create backward and forward linkages. FPO-owned input store offers quality inputs to farmers at lesser price resulting in lower input costs. On the forward linkage front, FPOs have been foraying into post-harvest management, transformation, value addition, storage and marketing of farm produce to garner higher prices. One such example of FPOs adding value to various crop products, is directly supplying to organized retail chains and by creating their own Brands which would have prior been certified by well-known and internationally recognized agencies (The production and certification processes will be undertaken concurrently).

Application of Information Technology in Agricultural Production

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for Farmer Producer Companies: In order to facilitate the smooth functioning of Farmer Producer Organizations, a comprehensive ERP which helps FPCs to manage all data and business operation including inventory, billing, accounts and supply chain shall be worked out. This software must be given to all the FPCs promoted under this project. This software will help as proposed below:

– Using Cloud Computing Technology, setting of a Data Center of all farmers. All information will be available online and with simple operation;

– Inventory management and stock visibility from a central point;

– Production/Harvest forecast and marketing strategies;

– All transactions and financial information of Farmer Companies available on a centralized location.

Other Applications and technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, should be included in the program.

Expectations from Government: In order to make this project successful, the government will be required to take initiatives to make the environment conducive to the growth of Farmer Collectives. Some of these initiatives are:

– Make provision in law for registration of Farmer Producer Company;

– Direct farm subsidies and other financial incentives to Farmer Companies;

– Initiate schemes like Equity Grant and Credit Guarantee Scheme for the promotion of Farmer Producer Companies;

– Give preference to Farmer Companies in government schemes aimed at farm sector and food processing sector;

– Support financially  the PA.

Opportunity Rationale

1. Convert farming into a structured, professional and profitable venture for the small planters and more especially for those who have abandoned their fields recently and not only lately;

2. Recognise farming as a Formal Production Enterprise;

3. Encourage emerging markets of quality crop and products diversification and also reduce importations while exploring avenues for export markets;

4. Reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agricultural production while improving the quality of life and health conditions of the consumers;

5. Create entrepreneurial skills among small planters and unemployed youth;

6. Create a path for a vibrant food industry in Mauritius;

7. Lead the way to Food Security.