One of the difficulties that Ram Seegobin responded to at LALIT’s meeting to discuss the gains made over the past one year of our most recent campaign on the Land Question, is the vastness of the campaign. When calling for a whole new economy, people who agree wholeheartedly with what we are saying often cannot get a handle on what we are proposing or how it might come true. So, it is necessary for us to become clearer on some specific demands that people can respond to, defend when they are questioned by work-mates or neighbours. This kind of demand gives a “transitional” nature to our program, making it both easy for ordinary people to defend and at the same time moving us in the general direction of our political program.
So, here, Ram Seegobin said, are some ideas:
Repeal laws that encourage selling off of arable land
1. Force the Government to repeal all the laws that allow land to be converted and sold off with such ease. These laws concern mainly tax concessions. People at once understand when they realize that we all, them included, pay VAT on building materials when we add a room to our house, while the sugar cane bosses don’t. The sellers of a bit of family land pay Registration duty at 11%, while the sugar cane bosses are exempted. All the tax concessions at each stage (conversion of land, parcelization of land and selling of land) need to be cut. So, we need to make a list of all these bits and pieces of legislation that have been voted over the past 20 years.
Set up agricultural villages
2. Call on the Government to build “agricultural villages” instead of their so-called smart cities. The agricultural villages can be much smarter. This idea was first proposed by a newspaper editor, Gilbert Ahnee, and the idea is good. It addresses food insecurity, unemployment and housing – all at once. So, instead of the Government building a few NHDC houses, it takes 100 arpents of land, builds a 100 houses all around the land, and in the middle, there is land where people can plant food crops and do animal rearing. Prof. George Chan, in our campaign around food security, showed us how this kind of farm can be self-perpetuating with no need for new “intran”. In Rodrigues, people can be encouraged to set up similar agricultural villages.
Inter-line cropping generalized over 7 years
3. That inter-line cropping be made compulsory in all sugar estate land. In LALIT, we have never said pull out all the cane, plant beans and peanuts on all the land. We propose, instead, a measure that allows diversification to get going, while letting cane continue, and be phased out as its futility becomes apparent to all those addicted to it. There used to be interline cropping in almost all the newly replanted cane, i.e. in one-seventh or so of the total area. All over the country were small planters who rented the interlines for cropping, as well as those cultivated by sugar estate workers. Then when the price of sugar fell, and when the estates mechanized to be able to face this cut in price, they mechanized everything in sight, including irrigation. Anyway, we call for the government to force the sugar estates to re-organize their new plantations (one seventh every year), by planting two lines of cane at close proximity, and leaving enough space between the next two lines for a crop to be harvested before the cane grows over it. Within seven years, with the cane production staying more-or-less the same, there will be food crops in half the total of the cane land at the same time. This is large scale production.
Food Preservation and Transformation Factories
4. The Government needs, however, at the same time as the food crops come to harvest for the first time, to have already taken the initiative to build food transformation plants all over the country, including in Rodrigues. This way, there can be canning factories, drying ovens for pulses, factories that freeze-dry food crops, sun-drying facilities, cooking oil-plants for making oil from, say, peanuts and sunflower oil, and facilities for making frozen products. The Government can then also organize for traditional planting skills to be joined up with agronomists’ knowledge. Planters can be given guaranteed prices all the year round for anything not sold fresh.
Shift subsidy from sugar to food crops
5. At present the sugar and cane industry only exists, only functions at all, because it is subsidised. It is otherwise running at a loss. So the Government and the Sugar Insurance Fund Board is subsidizing a lame duck industry. Subsidising food security, and an industry that creates jobs, is another question.
All the subsidies that, over centuries, have gone to sugar and cane must now be shifted to food crop production, preservation and transformation. Here are one or two examples.
a) The MSIRI must change the emphasis of its aims from the first two being to conduct research on cane in the fields, and technical and engineering options for sugar mills to the same thing for food crops.
b) The Sugar Industry Mechanical Pool, too must change its mission from being to provide a fleet of vehicles for small cane planters, to doing the same thing for food crop planters.
c) The Sugar Insurance Fund Board must change from supporting cane planters and estates to food crop planters. At present its site says this is its objective : To insure the sugar production of planters, metayers and millers, against losses due to the effects of inclement weather such as, cyclones, drought and excessive rainfall under its General Insurance policy. Fire occurrence in sugar cane field is another risk covered by the Fund under its Fire Insurance policy. The emphasis should be on food production.
And so on for all the other myriad Government run bodies that support sugar. And just as the Minister sent huge delegations to negotiate sugar sale, so they should support food production.
Fishing industry and preservation factories
6. And while Mauritius has little land, it has one of the biggest maritime territories of any country: 2.3 million square kilometres. And the country has no proper fishing industry! The free port fish packing industry packs fish for Korean, Spanish, Japanese and French ships. Mauritius gets a pittance in permit money, and little else. Seychelles, a much smaller country than Mauritius, has a fine shipping industry. value-added factories must be set up by Government.
7. In all our proposals, we must emphasis the job creation potential – whether it be in agricultural work, factory work, academic work, transport, marketing. Jobs for everyone helps make society a better place to live. It also prevents drug problems, petty theft, hold-ups, dangerous forms of prostitution – all manner of problems that chronic unemployment bring.
8. In our campaign to prevent the selling off of land to millionaires from abroad, and the subsidising of this destructive real estate industry, we must call for good housing for everyone in the country.
This kind of demand helps in recruitment. People, when they agree, have some of the tools necessary to defend the program, as they learn more about it and join the campaign. We don’t want people just to agree with our campaign. We need them to become active in developing it. We need to recruit to our branches, if we are to expand at the rate necessary to take on a campaign that is so vast in its importance.
[Report on one aspect of the LALIT meeting held in the Grand River North West Hall on Independence Day, 12 March, 2017.]