In the context of the upcoming United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development (also known as Rio+20), people over the world are sharing their thoughts and opinions on how they see their future, so that their voice is heard at the conference from 20-22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This is being done through various methods: essay contests, blogs, questionnaires, field hearings, videos, pictures etc.
Well, here are my thoughts on sustainable development…
Sustainable Development – My understanding
· Foreign Direct Investment
· New Model of Economic Development
· Corporate Social Responsibility
· Public Infrastructure
· Preservation of Natural Resources
· Social Cohesion
· Women Disabled
· Food Security
· Law and Order
The following are few examples of what type of challenges we are facing, their causes and possible solutions:
Agricultural production and Food security
Mauritius is a net importing country with less than 30% of local food production and the country is not food secured. It is in our policy to increase local food production to attain self-sufficiency and in 2008, the government decided to invest in agriculture through the Food Security Fund (FSF), under which several programmes have been designed in each sub-sector (crop, livestock, horticulture etc.) to increase our local production.
The challenges we are facing in Mauritian Agriculture are as follows:
(a) Lack of labour to work in the fields
People prefer to do a less tiring job, and labour is a must in areas where the land is not appropriate for mechanization. In order to have a profitable business in agriculture (crop production), one needs to have at least 5 Arpent of land with 10 labourers (2 labourers/Arpent). With no labour, this becomes a challenge.
(b) High cost of production
The price of inputs (quality seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and other agricultural products/equipments) has increased drastically over the past years and these have been affecting mainly smallholders who are cultivating crops on less than 1 ha. Many have even abandoned their land and got into another more profitable business.
(c) Over-use of agro-chemicals
Since the Green Revolution, farmers have started to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their fields, which have increased productivity, but over the years, the use of these products has increased. As a result, there are food safety issues (pesticide residues), leading to health problems and also the use of these products in agriculture is polluting ground waters, affecting the marine and human life. This practice is not sustainable and actions need to be taken on this issue. Other unsustainable issues related to agriculture are food wastage and improper food handling, leading to food contamination.
d) Ageing farming population and lack of youth interest in the sector
Today if we go in Agricultural fields in Mauritius, we will hardly see youth in them. This is because this sector is perceived as unattractive, which involves a lot of physical work. They prefer to get in other sectors like management, medical science, engineering or ICTs in order to get a “white-collar” job. The questions we should ask ourselves are that if we do not get our youth in agriculture now, who will produce our food in 10-20 years’ time? Will we go towards sustainability if we increase our food imports and dependency on other countries?
e) Increase in number of pests and diseases
Unsustainable practices (linked to improper use of agro-chemicals), coupled with the effects of climate change have led to an increase in the number of pests and diseases in agriculture. In order to control them so that farm productivity is not affected, farmers have increased the use of agro-chemicals in their production system.
f) Greenhouse gas emissions by the agricultural sector
Agriculture is a victim of climate change as productivity is being affected, but very often we do not realize that agriculture is one of the biggest contributor to global warming with the high rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
Hence, the challenges in Agriculture are to increase productivity to be food-secured, while adopting sustainable practices to build resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse emissions.
While there is no perfect solution to all the above mentioned challenges, the following could be considered:
Sustainable practices need to be adopted (use of manure/compost instead of fertilizers and incorporate more environment friendly products in the farming system). We should be careful of not confusing sustainable agriculture with organic agriculture. For lands to remain productive, we cannot stop the use chemical fertilizers completely, but the amount to be applied should be calculated. Regarding the control of pests and diseases, the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) should be considered.
In order for the agricultural sector to be sustainable, youth should be incorporated in the sector. But unfortunately youth in agriculture are most of the time unemployed, do not have a decent job and work in other sectors. In the end we have an ageing farming population and lack of young agricultural entrepreneurs in the country. There should be a political will for this to happen and have policies linking youth to agriculture and providing them with incentives and opportunities. Moreover, for the agricultural sector to be more productive and competitive, there is a serious need to increase the use of ICTs along the value-chain in Mauritius.
Social Issue: Violence and High rate of crime
This social unrest is very often linked to poverty, lack of education and unemployment.
If we want to tackle this problem we need to start at grass-root levels. That is, ensuring that ALL children are educated and have a DECENT JOB. Formulate the school curriculum in such a way that it inspires leadership at very young age and provide skills that are needed in the professional world. Eradicate poverty in poverty-hit areas through programmes that are tailor-made to address the specific problems faced by these people. Training and capacity building of women should also be considered.
Mauritius is a country that is producing a lot of graduates, and when out of University, these degree-holders find it a challenge to find a good job. Most of the time, they have to take the first job that they are getting, which very often does not meet their qualifications or expertise. They are under-paid and exploited. This situation de-motivates them and in the end they are not reaching their full potential and not contributing to the social and economic development of the country.
Mauritius is a country where a high percentage of the population is affected by diabetes, hypertension and coronary diseases. The situation is getting worse due to the fact that Mauritians have bad eating habits. From our culture itself, the food we eat is not considered as a balanced diet.
Very few Mauritians understand the need to conserve our biodiversity and environment. A simple example I would take is the fact that when there are some trash (dead leaves for instance) in the yard, people would burn it when they could very well have used it for composting and use it in their garden. In the same way, energy and water are wasted everyday.
Being a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Mauritius is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the effects have already started to be experienced (agriculture, fisheries, environment etc.).