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Food Security Colloquium


At a Colloquium on food security held at the University of Mauritius, Thursday 26 June, Prof. George Chan, world-renowned for his work on integrated farms, spoke on this subject, Prof. Juggessur on land-based oceanic industries and the sea-riches of the vast Mauritian territorial waters, while Mr. Rajcoomar, cadre at the AREU (Agricultural Research and Extension Services Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture) outlined the food-crops, with emphasis on staples, that grow well in different areas of Mauritius. The event was organized by the association "Organisation pour L'Unite", and was presided over by Dr. Kris Virahsawmy and moderated by Mr. Moutou.

Prof Chan is one of the few people in Mauritius, outside of Lalit, who is not afraid to challenge the hegemony of cane in Mauritian agriculture. He broke the taboo at the Colloquium, calling for some sugar cane to be replaced by the dams and planting areas of integrated farms. He had beautiful slides of these, including one that shows a vast area in China where sustainable agriculture has been continuous in this form for over 2,000 years. The Professor, in saying cane must be pulled out in some areas, thus pronounces the words that the influencial sugar barons and their defenders have made into something more serious than blasphemy or even apostacy, for centuries during their reign as "oligarchs". The professor is a world-famous expert in both the social cycles of food, energy, waste and the chemical cycles of nitrogen, carbon and other elements, and this gives him the authority to challenge the hegemony. In any case, with the new crisis in food production and distribution, coupled with the energy crisis, even the sugar barons are beginning to "larg enpe lest", and talk about potatoes and onions, even if they still warn against in any way affecting cane. That the sugar barons should act in this way is understandable. They are "rentiers" who have for all their history made oodles of money from the simplicity of cane-growing. What is shocking is the host of commentators and often even academics and experts who talk as if they are the ones that own the land in this country, when all they get is a wage, even if sometimes a big one. It is a sign of the continued power of the sugar cane bosses and of their mentality.

Prof. Juggessur outlined in a coherent way the government's plan for land-based oceanic industries, its science, its technology and its time-line. He referred to the 2 million square mile territorial waters, and Lalit members present noted that he included Chagos in what is Mauritius, unlike many other academics, who even often refer to the country as "Ile Maurice". He said that the industry could affect food security in two ways: Firstly, by the use of seaweed as food and in food, and secondly its use as fertiliser.

Mr. Rajcoomar of AREU gave one of those speeches that very beautifully links the knowledge of ordinary planters, that he gains from the seminars he holds and from his field-work, with scientific knowledge of the most detailed sort that the Ministry has built up. He even presented detailed maps of what crops grow where cane is at present growing. Unlike most other Mauritians who are unfamiliar with food security, he makes very clear that what we are short of is staples and milk, and that eating more vegetable crops and less meat will be an advantage. He also starts from the very basic fact that eating habits in Mauritius are, in any case, changing. All that must be added to this ongoing change is proper knowledge of good eating habits, he said. "It is not a question of forcing people to change their eating habits." He put emphasis on the fact that the remarkable success with food crops and with vegetables is all the more astounding in that it has been produced on marginal land sold-off by sugar estates in various past crises and on unlikely bits of Stateland rented to planters.

At the time for comments, Ram Seegobin said that it was not just in countries like Brazil and the US that agricultural land was being used for bio-gas, but that Mauritius was also responsible. As the sugar price falls, the cane ends up being used essentially for ethanol and electricity production. To this, Prof Jugessur replied that the Government is not going ahead with ethanol production, implying that he is in the know on this.

Ram Seegobin also criticized the line that large-scale planting should be done by Mauritian bosses on land in other countries, like Mozambique and Madagascar, as being a way of avoiding the key issue that needs to be addressed, that of putting cane into question. He also said that at times of crisis, national boundaries are respected for food needs, in any case, so that it was only a pretence that it meant food "security".

Taking up from what Mr. Rajcoomar had said about the necessity for processing, Ram Seegobin, added that some large-scale plants for preserving and processing food would be necessary, so as to stabilize prices and prepare for export of food crops. In the future, it is food crops that will be lacking, not sugar, he said.