Should food security become a greater priority for the country?

I would put a slight caveat in my answer. Yes, food security is, indeed, important for the country, food security being the ability of a country to provide food to its population whether produced locally or imported. But it is rather our food sovereignty that must become a priority for the country: that is to say our capacity to produce locally what we consume. We saw this during the Covid-19 pandemic with the closure of borders, but also with the war in Ukraine which disrupted the production flows of various countries. We are vulnerable. We import many of our products intended for our direct supply, but also for the food industry for processing. In the first quarter of 2024, the food import figure exceeded Rs 12 billion. We must quickly identify which products can be better produced locally and put in place an efficient and viable substitution mechanism.

What actions can we take to produce more food locally and reduce our dependence on imports, especially for basic products?

First, we must have an agricultural strategic plan which is worked on with all the stakeholders and whose objectives and actions are put together and known to all. This means working together to encourage production, facilitate access to technologies for processing and storage and above all supervise producers. The aging of the agricultural population, the glaring lack of labor, the lack of planning coupled with sometimes unfair competition with imports, cause great distress for local producers whatever their size. There is reason to sometimes feel like abandoning your land. We must attack the problem at the base: knowing who produces what and where and setting up a market information system for planning between producers. The country's climatology implies seasonality on a large part of our production, so importation is a necessary evil, unless there is
investments made in storage and processing.

The other possible action to put in place to reduce our dependence on imports is to change our eating habits: with everyone's commitment to only consume local and seasonal products, even ugly ones, our production can only be improved and our import bill reduced. By
example: potatoes are produced in the country from July to December. If everyone agrees, in the off-season, to consume sweet potatoes, cassava or arouille, there is no need to import some 10,000 tonnes of potatoes in the off-season. And the same exercise can be proposed for fruits: instead of eating apples, pears, oranges or grapes which are all imported, let's eat papaya, banana, guava in season, mangoes, lychees or local pineapple. We are all responsible, producers and consumers.

How does the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture help farmers adopt modern and eco-friendly methods, such as hydroponics and organic farming, to increase production?

The Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture initiated the Smart Agriculture project in 2015. This project focuses on the adoption of agroecological practices using the reduction of chemical inputs and pesticides by farmers as the main area of ​​improvement. A pilot project with 13 beneficiaries established that the transition to healthy agriculture is possible. The planters supported by the Chamber were able to maintain their level of income while reducing by 57% the rate of pesticides used on seven crops, between 2020 and 2022. You should know that this project mainly aims to support cultivation in
open ground while protecting the soil through several practices.

The other possible action, (…) is to change our eating habits, with the commitment of everyone to consume only local and seasonal products, even

In addition, with the Regional Training Center (RTC), the Chamber has set up training courses intended for those wishing to turn to agriculture: Starting your Journey in Agriculture. Between 2022 and 2023, around a hundred people have obtained the necessary basics to familiarize them with agricultural or livestock practices. We focus on support, training and encouragement. Now, it’s up to everyone to collaborate to encourage production.

We are pushing for planning for smart and healthy food production.”

What measures can be put in place to improve the storage and distribution of locally produced food, thereby reducing losses and ensuring constant availability?

Reducing losses in the agricultural production circuit must be done on four axes. The first, improve cultural practices allowing an improved lifespan. The second, implement production planning to avoid production surpluses followed by production deserts, but also to plan imports when and only when necessary. The third, install storage and processing units across the island, close to production areas. And fourth, put in place an agricultural policy that protects producers against climatic hazards, thieves and middlemen who often dictate prices.

What initiatives has the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture already launched to improve food security in Mauritius?

In addition to the budgetary proposals made by the Chamber of Agriculture during annual consultations with the government and the Ministry of Finance, the Chamber sits on several boards including the Agricultural Marketing Board, FAREI and the Small Farmers Welfare Fund. Through the aspects of collaboration carried out within these parastatal bodies, the Chamber supports the initiatives proposed to improve our food sovereignty. Our goal is to produce efficiently to avoid surpluses on the one hand and shortages on the other, so as not to result in “useless” imports on the one hand and waste on the other. We are pushing for planning for smart and healthy food production. The other possible action, (…) is to change our eating habits, with the commitment of everyone to consume only local and seasonal products, even ugly ones… We are pushing for there to be a planning for smart and healthy food production.

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