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Open letter to Minister Sithanen

16.04.2008

This letter below calling for an EMERGENCY PROGRAM on food security was delivered to the Minister of Finance at Government House on Wednesday 16 April, 2008 at 10:00 am by a group of 15 LALIT members. The letter was accompanied by a large dossier explaining LALIT's credentials on the subject as a result of our different actions in the past and recently. A "Press Point" was held in front of Government House at which Ram Seegobin and Rajni Lallah addressed reporters from the written media and from radio.

Open Letter to Minister Sithanen
Dear Sir,
In LALIT we have for some three or four years been publicly sounding the alarm as to the systemic crisis that now shakes Mauritius with the collapse of sugar. As if this systemic crisis were not bad enough on its own, what with textiles threatening to collapse at the same time, the people of Mauritius now face the worldwide food crisis. The food crisis is, as you know, in turn linked, in part at least, to the fuel crisis, and the cost of freight can be expected to rise. Our main food suppliers are vast distances from us. The systemic crisis in Mauritius with the widespread loss of employment it is provoking, and the food and fuel crises worldwide are direct results of the chaotic economy run for private profit. We believe it is therefore ludicrous for Government and the private sector to be addressing "poverty" this week as if it were some unexpected occurrence when it is, in fact, so obviously caused by the separation of the economy from democratic control. We cannot sit back and wait for market forces to make food available to people. Food security is today a political and social imperative.

The situation is grave. LALIT therefore proposes a TEN-POINT PROGRAM of urgent measures from you, as Minister of Finance. We will be mobilizing support for this program:
UNDER THE BUDGET AND IN THE BUDGET SPEECH: The Prime Minister has already announced that he has called on you to "encourage" food production in your coming Budget. We call on you to bring in massive measures in this direction, and to break with your tradition of token gestures to agricultural diversification and agro-industrial development (encouraging a few plastic-topped green-houses here and there). Food production must be mainstreamed in your next budget. In particular, we call for five simultaneous measures

•Allot financial and logistic support to planters of food crops and animal rearers in both Mauritius and Rodrigues now, while the knowledge is still available in peoples' collective and individual memories. Dams must be built in Rodrigues, and terracing organised alongside the people.

• Introduce a tax on sugar estates that refuse to set aside a proportion of their land for food crops, or alternatively re-arrange their fields so that all their interlines can be used for food crops.

• Call on the University to immediately organize Conferences and Seminars uniting traditional knowledge that planters and animal rearers in Mauritius and Rodrigues have with scientific farming. We strongly advise you to steer clear of the GMO crops that the Leader of the Opposition suggests.

• Organize for all Ministers concerned to get out of their "tirwar" all past studies on food production, including fishing, and put them into action.

•Vote a budget for the promotion of food products abroad, similar to that of the Mauritius Tourist Promotion Authority. Food production on a large scale will be more stable if such units preserve and transform food crops for both local consumption and for the export of any surplus.

WITH EUROPEAN UNION MONEY: To at once divert the European Union "accompanying measures" money from cane to food production. This will entail:

• That the de-rocking and grouping of small farmers should no longer be on the express condition that they plant cane. On the contrary it should be on the express condition that they plant food crops.

• VRS should be halted and workers be transferred to agricultural diversification on present work conditions.

• To plan conversion of closed-down sugar factories and their infrastructure into modern agro-industrial units to preserve and transform (canning, oil-production, freeze-drying, pickling, etc) the food crops as they are produced by farmers and planters. Maize can be used for food, for animal feed, the cobs for animal feed, and the stalks and leaves can be used as bagasse.

PREPARE LEGISLATION: Laws will need to be prepared together with other ministries in case the sugar estates do not diversify into food crops fast enough, in the same way as was done when merchant shipping collapsed during the Second World War. This will ensure maximal use of agricultural land already served by existing infra-structure (irrigation and roads). The laws will force estates to either:

• Re-organize their cane so as to permit interline-cropping in all their cane fields, i.e planting two rows of cane close together and leaving a large enough space to allow interline cropping, OR

• To set aside a sufficient proportion of their agricultural land for food crops, so as to feed the people of the country.

If the Government and private sector cannot work out how people will have food security, people will have to do it themselves. There is no other alternative.

We draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that our demands for facing the systemic crisis, had they been implemented three years ago, would be mitigating the gravity of the impending food crisis. Your initiative to "combat poverty" is, in this context, totally inappropriate.

We in LALIT send a dossier with this letter, in order to show our credentials for making the above ten-point demands. In the dossier you will budget proposals we made in April 2006, precisely to pre-empt the present crisis.

Yours sincerely,
Ram Seegobin
For LALIT
Copy of letter and dossier to the Press
14 April 2008