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LALIT addressed a letter to Minister Gobin calling for urgent measures to ensure food security

08.04.2020

To: Minister of Agro Industry & Food Security 


8th April, 2020


Dear Minister Gobin,


 It is during an epidemic that we are all forced to see the mortal danger of our over-reliance on imports for our basic food. Air freight is down to near nil. Ships only circulate as long as their crews remain well and as long as borders remain open. We need at once to move to local production on a massive scale of the 6 basic kinds of foodstuff: 


 1. Staples: this needs to be a mix of rice – Vita showed the way – and maize and potatoes (already widely produced), breadfruit and manioc – Sarjua has shown the way for milling flour from these.


2. Dairy produce: We cannot afford not to increase our very low milk production.


3. Poultry – eggs and chicken. This is fairly developed.


4. The State must at once organize for a national fishing industry. Seychelles has shown the way. 


5. Vegetables and fruit: These need not only to be produced, but also to be preserved as part of canning, freezing, freeze-drying and also transformed into diversified foods (i.e. even humble tomatoes can be canned whole, canned diced, made into juice, soup, rogay, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and mixed with other foods into ladob in cans or jars, as well as being sun-dried, freeze-dried.) 


6. The meat industry, if fishing is increased, can remain modest, including venison, pork, beef, and goat.


 But what do we see? At the front end of the COVID 19 pandemic, everyone is already aware of the precarity of basic staples, and many have resorted to panic buying and even hoarding. There are even shortages and price increases even for local vegetables. We could ignore our vulnerability, or pretend to ignore it, before the epidemic. But no-one can ignore it any longer. Everyone agrees now: food security is a priority in the short term, the medium term, and long term. 


 Yet during the lockdown, while most small planters have been able to get to their respective plantations, their workers have often not been able to, not having been issued permits. The State has not been able to organise a distribution system that supplies supermarkets and local shops with whatever vegetables were left in the fields, while new planting is sporadic. 


 And in the big picture, it is now evident to everyone that small planters do not have the means to ensure food security on a national scale. This much is clear now.


 We know that you, as Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, were one of the first Ministers to prepare for the onslaught of COVID 19 in Mauritius. 


 On the morning of 18th March, some 12 hours before Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the first case of COVID 19, you met with representatives of tablisman/ex-tablisman (the biggest agricultural land-owners in Mauritius), with the head of the Chambre d'Agriculture, with representatives of the Public sector: Agricultural Marketing Board, FAREI, Rose Belle Sugar Estate, Landscope Mauritius to discuss how to map out a plan for food security. With all these representatives present, you held a press conference right after the meeting to announce that “Leta pu pran tu mezir pu asir sekirite alimanter”. You stated on your Facebook page “Il est chagrinant de constater, dans un pays tropical comme Maurice, que beaucoup de terrains sont abandonnés ou bétonnés.” We could add that it is chagrinant that while sugar clearly has no future, most good land is still being wasted on sugar cane.


After the meeting, Medine CEO (now ex-CEO) Thierry Sauzier announced that Medine would use its land to ensure food security (Defimedia 18 March 2020). Over a week later, Medine issued a Communiqué to announce that Thierry Sauzier is no longer CEO. Why? We do not know. Was it because Medine owners disagreed with you and Thierry Sauzier’s food security strategy? 


 On 18th March, you pledged that your Ministry “is acting proactively and will ensure that meetings be held regularly with stakeholders so as to communicate effectively important information to the public as the situation evolves”. (Government Information Service 18 March, 2020). 


 Yet 20 days have passed, and the public has still not heard from you. Does this mean that your food security plan has been sabotaged by sugar estates? We do not know because we have not been kept informed. How has the situation evolved? What measures are you taking? 


The same day you held your press conference, 18th March, LALIT, having campaigned for food security for 36 years, aware of the impact of COVID 19 on food security, called for specific measures to ensure food security. Our demands were, a few days later, taken up by other organisations. As concerns food security, the main demand of LALIT together with 6 union federations and a national women's association: CTSP (Reeaz Chuttoo), MLC & AWF (Haniff Peerun), ACSEF (Vinod Seegum), FPBOU (Deepak Benydin), GSEA (Radhakrisna Sadien and Muvman Liberasyon Fam (Ragini Kistnasamy), calls for is this:


 “To assure food security over time, one-third of all sugar estate land (either “plennter” or “antreliyn”) be used for food crops, while each estate or ex-estate immediately sets up a food preservation factory to preserve and transform the crops, ready for production just as the first crop is harvested. This is essential work. If the sugar estates do not obey Government, their land must be requisitioned and nationalized to this end.” 


 The MSIRI has a clear idea, arpent by arpent, of what land can be used for what produce. The first harvest will, we realize, given that there are sufficient seeds available immediately, take at least three or four months.


 


 If the sugar estates, or ex-sugar estates, and all big land owners do not agree with a food security strategy, it is obvious what must be done in this period of crisis. And this is not only to ensure food security for everyone, but to create jobs for all:


 


 In the short, medium and long-term, thousands of jobs must be created to replace the ones that are being lost and will be lost. The big land-owners must take on agricultural and mill/factory workers in the new food industry. And Rose Belle S.E should play a key role in this transformation by showing the way. (A 2014 BDO report has already outlined a detailed plan to transform Rose Belle S.E into a food-production unit.) If the other estates do not take on workers, they must immediately cede interline cropping or “plennter” to small planters. And if they still do not co-operate this way, their land must be requisitioned.


All that is needed is the political will for this to become a reality. There is nothing like a crisis to create this will.


 We call on you, as Minister in charge of agriculture, the food production industry and food security to take matters into your own hands. If laws need to be changed in order to force land owners to produce food, or to lease their land for food crops, or on refusal to commandeer land, you are in a position to bring such laws before the National Assembly.


 


Yours sincerely,


 Rajni Lallah


for LALIT

Copy to the Press, 
CTSP (Reeaz Chuttoo), 
MLC & AWF (Haniff Peerun), 
ACSEF (Vinod Seegum), 
FPBOU (Deepak Benydin), ‘'
GSEA (Radhakrisna Sadien 
Muvman Liberasyon Fam (Ragini Kistnasamy),


 


To : Minister of Agro Industry & Food Security  


Note: Given that the Ministry is not open in the lockdown, we are having to send this email to the personal email address of the Minister: