The MLF on Sunday 25 October held an All Women’s Convention on Food Production and Job Creation at 1:00 pm at the LPT Grand Riviere North West Hall, Port Louis.
Presided by Rajni Lallah, the format of the Convention was 6 short (literally 3-5 minute speeches) by MLF Committee members on different aspects of the subject, and then a general discussion. The speeches and discussion then led directly to the development of a 9-point platform and to the setting up of four meetings, at two of the neighbourhood Women’s Associations present, one amongst people in a poor area, and one organized by University students for students from the University of Mauritius, and to which some secondary school pupils will join in, via an HSC student present. These local meetings begin this coming week.
This was the structure of the speeches at the Convention
Government lack of a Proper Program: The first talk was on the lack of any real vision for food production and job creation on the part of the present Government, and similar lack from the Parliamentary Opposition. This speech was prepared for by Shabeela Kalla, but she was recovering from a foot injury on the day, so Ragini Kistnasamy stepped in with the introductory political scene-setting.
Small enterprises? The fragility of the State strategy of getting women to set up small enterprises: Talk by Marlene Joseph, around the various traps women have, it seems, until now no choice but to fall into around “setting up their own businesses” and “small loans”.
The necessity for Food Security: Talk by Anne-Marie Joly on the value of food security, with reference to the Charter on Food Security that the MLF was part of preparing in 2006, when the organization was part of the Common Front on Food Security. She structured her talk around foor production assuring food security, and when for export securing an improvement of the balance of payments, and at the same time creating jobs.
Big enterprises: The importance of women’s work in history and in the future in big enterprises involved in food production: talk by Rajni Lallah.
Land Reform: A speech by Ragini Kistnasamy on the need for access for everyone to land for agriculture. The failure to bring about any land reform from the times of slavery and indenture have meant that all the good agricultural land, except in Rodrigues, is still in the hands of the big sugar estates. Now this is being covered with concrete and golf courses, gated communities and so-called “smart cities”. The Government she said not just has “no vision”, but is blocking vision for a good future.
The Blue Economy: The importance of a proper development of marine resources, in particular, sustainable fishing in the massive sea space that is Mauritius. Talk by Begum Badulla. She used a map to show how Mauritius resources in land are about 2,000 square kilometres, while its sea is about 2.5 million square kilometres.
Agriculture in Rodrigues, based on MLF member in Rodrigues’ analysis: speech by Sadna Jumnoodoo. In her talk she outlined the difference in land rights in Rodrigues Island and Mauritius Island, and also spoke of the lack of a unified vision for Rodrigues planting, animal rearing and fishing. For some products, there is help in increasing production, and then no price control; in others there is no help with production, while there are fixed prices, but the prices are fixed too low for the producers.
Responsibility of women in providing food for families: Food production is a women’s issue for many reasons, but mainly because it is women who bear the responsibility for providing families with their food every day, and with making the monthly budget work out. Speech by Veronique Topize.
How to mobilize? Ways to move from the impasse society is in today: Talk by Lindsey Collen. She said how mobilization, or even demonstrations are of little use if you do not have a clear program developing at the same time. In fact, a program is not just a list of demands in common with others, but it needs an analysis of the present situation at the same time, and then some idea of how to move from there, through the demands to what we are aiming at. All this needs to be done at the same time as bringing in more and more organized forces. A proper program does not bring in atomized individuals. This is populism. It draws in people already in their co-ops, unions, associations, clubs. This way existing organizations control the more political aspects of the struggle. She also said to be very suspicious of many of the NGOs that are run with the money of the very big businesses that are the enemy of our struggle.
During the one-hour discussion, the following nine point program began to emerge, and will later be finalized by the MLF committee. But here is the draft:
1. Stop selling off agricultural land to millioners. The supposed Smart Cities (IRS and ERS projects) are a kind of re-colonization that has to be stopped. Land cannot just be sold off to the highest bidder and then the income be called “FDI”.
2. The State must encourage existing food production, in terms of infrastructure, storage, organizing units for food preservation and transformation, marketing, price controls, insurance and so on. The specificity of land tenure and food production in Rodrigues must be carefully taken into account, by including the producers in the decision-making process.
3. State must force the sugar estates to use totality of land under sugar-cane for inter-line cropping of food crops.
4. The State must stop encouraging cane and sugar, but use the kind of vast infrastructure it has, and has had, for this in order to promote food production, lor local consumption and for export to the Region.
5. The fishing industry must be developed, under peoples’ control.
6. Land must be freed up, so that the people as a whole can control its use.
7. The Government has a duty to create stable, good jobs for everyone, including women, and not just hand out “courses” and loans for small enterprises, of which 80% go bankrupt in their first 4 years.
8. Government must assure that before it gets to harvest time, milking time, slaughter time, or to the time of bringing in fish, that proper storage arrangements, preservation factories are already in place.
9. Work conditions in food production must be high level, starting with basic things like toilets in the fields, a roper 40-hour week.
The Convention called on the MLF Committee to re-draft these 9 points, perhaps in a better order, to study the minutes and include any major points left out because of the time factor.