“Regenerative Agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle” (Regeneration International).
Nearly 50 Mauritian and foreign professionals gathered for a “virtual workshop” on November 24th to discuss the potential for regenerative agriculture in Mauritius, a joint initiative of the Charles Telfair Centre and Regeneration Mauritius.
Food production systems in Mauritius urgently need to be rethought: with 70% of food products imported, overuse of phytosanitary products, impoverished soils, falling yields, dominance of intensive monoculture and lack of coordination between key stakeholders, the sector is ailing. Regenerative agriculture and its multiple solutions appear as an alternative of choice: its solutions propose simple and accessible technologies allowing soil regeneration, carbon storage, waste minimisation and thus a more sustainable and sovereign food system.
The Need for Change
The virtual workshop, organised for the second time this year by the Centre, allowed experts, economists, farmers, agronomists, academics, private and public companies, and NGOs to exchange and debate on the growing challenges faced by our food system. The workshop explored how we could rethink food systems in Mauritius in order to make them more sovereign and sustainable. Participants exchanged at length on the potential solutions offered by regenerative agriculture, their applicability to the Mauritian context and the opportunities made possible by technological developments.
The issue of food systems is intimately linked to the climate emergency, Nathalie Venis, Stewardship Manager at Regeneration Mauritius, pointed:
“Today, most agricultural practices are devastating for biodiversity: it is responsible for 2% of carbon emissions, is depleting our soil and has historically been the main source of deforestation. Regenerative agriculture is a way to reverse this trend and have a positive impact on the land and the planet while feeding us.”
Reacting to the presentation of the Mauritian context and its agricultural practices, Stellio Prefumo, Agricultural Management Consultant, summarised the situation as follows:
“Mauritius has moved from extensive agriculture to intensive agriculture focused on monoculture, which has had a considerable impact on our biodiversity: harmful chemicals have been overused, ecosystems have been disrupted and our soils, which take 500 years to build up, have been severely depleted by ploughing and the use of heavy machinery and equipment.”
The Mauritius context
The discussions during the workshop attempted to establish a mapping of the current context and practices in food production in Mauritius. Four main trends can be extracted form these exchanges:
- Agricultural practices in Mauritius, for both large and small-scale farmers, remain largely dominated by unsustainable practices with excessive use of harmful chemicals, field burning and, for sugar cane, the use of heavy machinery. The ways in which food is produced, stored and distributed is also relatively inefficient, resulting in significant food waste.
- Mauritius soil is of volcanic origin and is rocky to very rocky. The top soil is quite shallow, with an average depth of 20-25 cm, while in some regions the top soil can be as low as 10cm. MSRI research has shown that soil degradation is the main factor in yield loss in Mauritius, hence soil regeneration lies at the heart of the solution to improve agricultural yields.
- There are a number of isolated and fragmented sustainable initiatives in Mauritius, but they tend to be small-scale with limited data on yields and practices. In general, there is a lack of coordination, information and cooperation between different stakeholders.
- There is, however, an awareness of the urgency of the situation among key stakeholders: institutes and organisations such as FAREI, MSRI and the Chamber of Agriculture have been working for several years on more sustainable solutions for both the sugar and fruit and vegetable sectors. But the transition to truly regenerative food systems will require a more radical shift in consumer and producer behaviour towards local products and profoundly different agricultural practices.
Pathways for Regenerative Food systems in Mauritius
Building on the previous discussions, participants explored possible pathways for making regenerative practices a reality in the Mauritius context. They called, among other things, for a radical shift in behaviours across the value chain but also highlighted the need to better value the farming profession and attract a new generation of farmers.
- In-depth transformation: Moving towards sustainable food systems requires some critical change, including in how we grow and consume food, how we use, conserve, process and transport natural resources, but also how we recycle, and how we finance and organise our key activities and actors.
- Vision and Leadership: because it is a medium to long term process and because it involves profound changes in our practices and behaviours, the transition to regenerative agriculture will require strong leadership from public authorities and the private sector: consumers will only turn to local, seasonal and local products if the change is visible and if they are well informed.
- Valorisation, Coordination and Regulation: The complexity of food systems calls for a coordinated and concerted approach to agricultural land planning, farmer training, financing, access to knowledge and technologies that actively promote transformation towards regenerative agricultural practices across the value chain. Valuing the profession of farming, the introduction of more binding regulations and the definition of clearly defined objectives and timeframes must be part of the solution.
- Solutions exist: Many solutions and technologies are already being explored, used or being researched in Mauritius: mechanical weeding, crop rotation, use of predators to control pests, regenerative grazing of livestock, drone technologies, AI and precision farming, and reduced tillage are some examples. The tools and solutions are there: it is now up to Maurice to make choices, set targets and implement them.
- There are fundamental questions that remain to be explored: Is regenerative agriculture possible on a large scale? In what form? Does it have the same production capacity as current conventional agriculture? And if so, how much does the transition cost? What funding is needed to make the transition? Is food from regenerative agriculture more nutritious than food from conventional agriculture?
Myriam Blin, Director of the Charles Telfair Centre, concluded the workshop by underlining that “the conclusion of today’s discussion is that we cannot afford not to change, we are called upon not only to change our behaviours as consumers and producers, but also to act as champions of regenerative practices”.
Note : The main findings and the proposed avenues highlighted by the participants were presented at the Knowledge Exchange Event on National Food Systems in Mauritius and Seychelles organised by the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office for Mauritius and Seychelles (UNRCO) on 3 December 2021.
Charles Telfair Centre is an independent nonpartisan not for profit organisation and does not take specific positions. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in our publications are solely those of the author(s).