‘Bio food’ is legally coined by the European Union. Foods falling into this category originate from controlled organic sources, are not genetically modifi ed and don’t use conventional pesticides, artifi cial fertilizers or sewage sludge. For animal products it stipulates that animals be kept in appropriate conditions as defi ned by EU regulations and are not fed any antibiotics or growth hormones. Source: www.gesundwachsen. org/organic-bio-foods.
More or less when we are talking about bio-food, it means organic food.
Based on the small knowledge I have of the food crop production industry, I am reacting to points 75 and 76 of our budget speech 2015-16. First of all let me congratulate the Honorable Minister of Finance for his budget speech. There is no doubt that the use of chemicals has an impact on our health and it can be related to the increase in the amount of cancer diagnoses. But at the same time, since the last 10 years several harmful active ingredients have been banned worldwide and some are still on the waiting list. We do have competent bodies in our country which are monitoring these hazardous chemicals and persistent organic pollutants closely.
Now, how are we going to implement such a ‘dream’ project? Normally, we cultivate around 7000 hectares of land annually and the average production has remained almost the same for the last fi ve years. The bio-food crop production is around 1/3 of the conventional crop production and we must not forget that in Mauritius, we are almost self suffi cient in food crop production. Therefore, to cater for the 50% bio production we will need a surplus of 7000 hectares of land. Are these lands available?
We are a young island compared to the old continents and most of our lands are marginal and are of basaltic type, they are very poor in nutrients and minerals as our average top soil is around 6 inches and those of the continents go up to more than 36 inches. To compensate these mineral requirements we are totally dependent on chemical fertilizers although we use manure and compost for the balance of the soil bio-diversity and there is no way out.
Most of the time, we use seeds and tubers as planting materials. There are very few well-established companies around the globe, which can provide these bio planting materials under a bio certified label and they are very limited in terms of varieties for the same crop species. This can cause a high bargaining power by suppliers as there are monopoly situations on the market and taking such a risk will expose us to food security problems.
There are two types of crops : the cash crop and the food crop. Those falling under the cash crop category are sugar cane, rice, wheat, maize etc. Food crops refer to vegetables and in Mauritius only sugarcane is produced as cash crop. Some bio-planting materials are patented and require an intellectual property rights fee on every production. These planting materials can be genetically modifi ed seeds or new hybrid seeds with characteristics of pests and diseases resistance. Therefore, embarking on the vision of 50% bio-food, we will need to set up an intensive research institution to produce around 30 common vegetable species. This will entail high investment and resources; over 90% of failures are recorded on research programs and out of which a percentage fails on trials and development programs; and only 10% remains. Out of this 10% rate of success only 1% will be adopted by the farming community.
What about the alternatives of chemical fertilisers? Organic fertilizers are not the solution because of the adaptation problems and they need complex minerals to feed on so as to release absorbable minerals that are used as nutrients by plants. The source of manure must come from a bio certifi ed farm – which is not applicable in Mauritius because none of our livestock and dairy farm can provide such product. Even our local compost manufacturers will have diffi culties to market under a bio label because their sources of raw materials are from household green waste and segregation is being done on site and not at source.
Another issue is the process of certifi cation; there are two levels of certifi cation, one is land which will be under production and second the products. To certify 7000 hectares of land is quite a big task and necessitate a huge amount of time, resources and technology. Now just imagine about the production certifi cation. It can be done either by public or private sectors and this cost will be transferred to the customers. Are the customers ready to bear this additional cost which will be quite heavy? Above that, we will need a mechanism to control these rates because vegetables’ prices fl uctuate everyday depending on market demand and supply. We will also need new regulations under a Bio Food Act that will resolve disputes should there be frauds in production and sales of produce. Another issue will be the application of compulsory trademarks or labeling for traceability purposes for those dealing in bio production.
The treatment and minimal processing zone facilities. On an individual basis we don’t have capital for investment and even under regroupings it is quite a heavy investment. The type of water, the packing and labeling area, the control unit etc are the logistics that should be present to differentiate bio-food from common ones. All these additional costs will have an incidence on the customer’s bill at the end.
Maybe there is a misinterpretation of bio-food production and sustainable agriculture which are two different concepts but bring almost the same results in the end. The world is moving towards sustainable development, and sustainable agriculture forms part of it.
Production systems, policies and institutions that underpin global food security are increasingly inadequate.
Sustainable agriculture must nurture healthy ecosystems and support the proper management of land, water and natural resources, while ensuring world food security.
To be sustainable, agriculture must meet the needs of present and future generations for its products and services, while ensuring profi tability, environmental health and socioeconomic equity.
The global transition to sustainable food and agriculture will require major improvements in the effi ciency of resource use, in environmental protection and in systems resilience.
Sustainable agriculture requires a system of global governance that promotes food security concerns in trade regimes and trade policies, and revisits agricultural policies to promote local and regional agricultural markets. Source: FAO.
We have chosen the wrong way and this bio-food project will engulf a huge amount of public funds. There is an alternative way, sustainable agriculture. Our farming community has already encompassed it and is moving slowly but surely.