MAHEN SEERUTTUN: “BIO FARMING WILL SUPPLY HEALTHY AND SAFE PRODUCTS”
Sustainable agriculture is one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030. In Mauritius, the Ministry of Agro-industry and Food Security has been working to this end by promoting bio farming and by encouraging planters to use less chemicals and more compost for quality products while reducing our carbon footprint.
Minister Seeruttun spoke to News On Sunday on 8th July 2016. Excerpts:
What is the current situation amongst vegetables planters as far as bio food production is concerned?
Bio farming is an integrated approach of crop production that works in harmony with nature. It takes care of the environment and the biodiversity while ensuring food quality and safety. The concept of bio farming is new to most of the traditional farmers in Mauritius. The shift will be a gradual process from the heavy use of synthetic agro chemicals to bio farming practices. Farmers are gradually replacing chemical fertilisers and pesticides by bio fertilizers and bio pesticides. However, there are a few initiatives to pioneer organic food production, which is already under way.
How many arpents are under cultivation and what is the total production from January 2015 to date?
There are already some 15 existing growers who informally undertake bio farming for a particular local niche market. In fact, there is an increasing number of growers of fruits and vegetables who have already embarked in the change process from the conventional approach to the bio farming practices, using ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ techniques, which is an agro-ecological approach to farming promoted by Dr. Subhas Palekar, a well-known naturalist in India. As at date, it can be stated that there is a total of 17 Arpents of land under bio farming practices in Mauritius.
To promote the bio farming practices among growers in Mauritius, my ministry has put in place the following incentives
(i) Introduction of the Bio Farming Promotion Scheme, which is operational since May 2016, whereby farmers satisfying the eligibility criteria benefit from fiscal and financial incentives such as VAT exemption on agricultural equipment and inputs, income tax holiday for the first eight years of operation and loan facilities at an annual interest rate currently at 3.4% over a period of 10 years for a maximum of 90% project financing under the MauBank SME Development Scheme;
(ii) Implementation of a Compost Subsidy Scheme to encourage planters to shift from the use of chemical inputs to organic ones. As at date, some 3 300 planters have taken advantage of the scheme;
(iii) Implementation of a Sheltered Farming Scheme to encourage planters to undertake crop production under protected structures, leading to lower dependence on agro chemicals. As at date, some 68 planters have taken advantage of this Scheme.
(iv) The release of a plot of land on State Land over 66 Arpents at Britannia for the exclusive use of bio farming projects, This plot of land will be equipped with all production infrastructure including land preparation works, irrigation facilities and other infrastructures,
(v) Training and technical assistance as support services will be made available to potential promoters of bio farming food production systems.
What are the possibilities that one day our food production is totally bio?
In Budget 2015, Government has set a target of 50% of local food to be produced according to bio-norms within 5 years. To promote bio farming, my Ministry has initiated the following actions:
(a) The setting up of a proper Organizational Structure at both the Ministry and FAREI for provision of technical assistance and for facilitating access of farmers to the Bio Farming Scheme;
(b) The development of a training package by FAREI on the MauriGap Level 1 Standard which is the basic standard to facilitate the gradual shift towards bio farming. Currently, FAREI is conducting training of some 240 farmers in the MAURIGAP level 1
(c) The establishment of a demonstration plot over 1 arpent on State Land at Bois Marchand to showcase zero budget natural farming practices.
(d) The implementation of a Technical Cooperation Assistance Programme funded by the FAO to support the development of organic farming and institutional capacity building in Mauritius over a period of two years. As per this project, the FAO will, inter alia, assist my Ministry in drafting a national legislation on organic agriculture and develop strategy on the marketing of organic products.
We firmly believe that these initiatives, along with the forthcoming certification process and quality assurance, and all the technical support being provided by my Ministry, will foster the necessary change/shift from conventional farming systems that rely on intensive use of agro-chemicals to bio farming practices that will help to supply on the local market fruits and vegetable that are both healthy and safe.
What is the impact of bio food production on its market price?
The present trend clearly indicates an ever increasing demand for bio food products, most of which are imported. These bio food products are often sold at higher prices than those of conventional food products due to their low supply on the local market.
My ministry has therefore initiated preliminary ground works with the assistance of FAO to investigate the pricing of bio food products to ultimate consumers. The pricing policy will go in line with the development of a certification process and appropriate labeling for the proper recognition of bio foods. Once the pricing strategy is established, more bio foods will be produced and certified, which will lead to lower prices of bio foods on the market.
Is manure used in the production of vegetables accounted as bio?
Along with the application of chemical fertilizers, manure is already another source of plant nutrients in conventional farming system. As farmers shift to the bio farming system, manure will become the main source of nutrients for crop development. Under the Zero Budget Natural Farming approach, cow dung is used as source input for natural liquid or solid soil enricher preparation.
What are the other stuffs that can be used under the bio label for food production?
Cow dung along with cow urine from local cow breed can be used for natural soil enricher preparation under the Zero Budget Natural Farming approach. Natural pesticides can be prepared from cow urine and selected plant materials. Natural farming also lay emphasis on mixed cropping and has recourse to natural mulching, which in addition to help in weed control and in reducing the use of herbicides, will also enhance the biological activity and replenish the nutrient base of the soil.
There are also now many imported bio-pesticide products that are available locally and that can be used. Under the Compost Subsidy Scheme, growers are being encouraged to use compost in their production systems. Parasitoids can also be used as biological control to pests in crops production under the support of FAREI.
Which country in the world has a total production of bio foods?
The countries having the largest land area under organic production are Australia (17.1 million hectares), Argentina (3.1 million hectares) and the United States (2.2 million hectares). The highest shares of country’s agricultural land devoted to organic production are in the Falkland Islands of the South Atlantics (36.3 percent), Liechtenstein which is between Austria and Switzerland (30.9 percent), and Austria (19.4 percent). The countries with the highest numbers of producers are India, Uganda and Mexico.
And which country could be taken as a model for Mauritius?
Kenya could be taken as a model for Mauritius. The organic sector is relatively small but fast growing and led mainly by civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector. Organic products, mainly vegetables and fruits produced on large-scale farms, have been exported from Kenya over the past two decades. Over the years, exports have developed beyond vegetables and fruits to include other products such as essential oils, dried herbs and spices, as well as products for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries which are more often produced or collected by small holders.