Proceedings of the People’s Forum on the Food and Energy Security of Mauritius held at St Andrews College – Rose Hill - 30th of August & 13th of September 2008

 

(1) Understanding the dynamic

 

This forum believes that the time has come for the people of the Republic of Mauritius to discuss, analyse and understand the dynamics of the food and energy security of the Republic

 

 

(2) Action follows understanding

 

This forum believes that action is to follow understanding and that action needs to be taken at the individual, regional, national and international level.

 

(3) What is food and energy security?

 

A definition of food and energy security: It is the ability of a country to satisfy an increasing proportion of its food and energy requirements from the use of local resources. It does not necessarily mean to be totally self sufficient in either food or energy.

 

The forum believes that any food crisis will lead to a social crisis, and a food crisis being defined as when food prices increases beyond the ability of large sections of the population to buy food or when food availability is diminished significantly.

 

There is also the need to go beyond the notions of security and embrace the notion of food and energy sovereignty which is the right of the people to decide for themselves on any aspects of food and energy security.

 

There cannot be any meaningful food security if the thorny issue of seeds is ignored. We will have to ensure the survival of our own agricultural biodiversity via seed banks. It is becoming a top most priority. Currently our agriculture is very much dependent on hybrid varieties that are sterile and hence new seeds must continually be purchased for the next crop. The argument that favours hybrids is that they are more productive.

Continued dependence on imported sterile hybrids for our food crops makes a mockery of any meaningful food security. Yet the question of hybrids and food security is rarely examined.

 

(4) The dominant model of development

 

It is clear that the current and dominant model of development is that of an export led strategy whereby countries are encouraged to export goods and services to rich western markets in order to import foodstuff from same western countries. This strategy was really possible when energy prices and mass produced foodstuff were relatively cheap. For decades, fossil fuels have been promoted at all costs. There has been a vested interest to do so in order to maintain an economic and political control over society. Furthermore, the dominant model of development meant the endless accumulation of wealth by any means. It also led to a crisis of over-production of goods and services, this situation makes it necessary to encourage and even push people to buy and buy. An example of over-production is the existence of 259 TV channels in the UK, how necessary is that?

 

(5) Food and energy interactions

 

The Forum recognises that the production of food, its processing, its transportation to markets, its final cooking consume large amounts of energy, the majority of which comes from oil, coal and natural gas. Furthermore, the industrial production of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides require significant quantities of oil and natural gas. Indeed, for every calorie of food consumed, 10 calories of energy has been expended from farm fields to final consumer. The production of food must take precedence over the production of ANY biofuels.

 

(6) The Peak in Oil Production

 

The forum recognises that fossil fuels are subject to depletion whereby the extraction of these fuels reduces the quantities left to be extracted from the Earth. Given that fossil fuels are non renewable, a point will be reached when the quantities left under ground will be insufficient to maintain current levels of production.  Hence production will have reached a maximum and thereafter begin a gradual decline year after year. This means that each year that goes by less fossil fuel will be available for consumption.

 

It is recognised that oil will be the first fossil fuel to experience a peak in production followed by a yearly decline in production. It is extremely likely that the period 2005 – 2015 will experience Peak Oil.

 

 

(7) The consequences of Peak Oil

 

The main use of oil is in transport for which few substitutes exist given the quantities of oil used. The impacts of peak oil on food production will be deep, profound and long lasting. Consider the impacts of US $ 200, 300, 400 per barrel on transport costs and agricultural inputs inclusive of availability.

Consider the consequences of Peak Oil and its associated shortages of fuel on the well being of the country.

 

 

(8) Governmental Policy

 

This Forum believes that there is a moral obligation to feed the population who have legitimate rights in that regard.

We find that there is insufficient support for local food production for local consumption, and perhaps certain foodstuff should be taxed at entry in the country in order to subsidise local food production.

We question the wisdom of a complete liberalisation of the sale of fertilisers whose prices have increased significantly recently.

We note that over the years there has been a large decline in the number and importance of the co-operative sectors. We believe that the cooperative sector has an important role to play in the food security of the country. It needs to be revived.

It is also clear that laws need to be passed to change the way buildings are built such that as from conception, energy conservation principles and renewable energy features such as passive solar principles are incorporated into the building.

The consumer is being asked to pay to maintain afloat the debt ridden CEB. We believe that the use of bagasse as a source of energy is welcomed but we are wary that it is being used to justify the use of coal in electricity production.

We ask that as quickly as possible, consumers can be encouraged to become small scale producers of energy through small scale renewable energy production.

We also question the pertinence of narrow economic thinking that favours fossil fuels due to lower costs compared to renewable energies when climate change is becoming a major threat to human welfare. Furthermore we question free market ideology which only leads to privatisation of Government assets for the benefit of a few.

 

 

(9) The impacts of speculation

 

This Forum recognises that price increases in both food and energy are partially due to speculative funds but it would be incorrect to lay blame exclusively or even mainly at the feet of speculators. The reason is that speculators tend to exacerbate underlying trends and cannot conjure trends out of thin air.

 

(10) The sea food hub and fisheries

 

Currently the seafood hub plays no role in securing our food supply given that it is mainly if not exclusively meant for export to rich European markets. Very little of it finds its way into the local market and at very high prices. The forum believes that more efforts must be made to enhance off lagoon fisheries by local fishermen. It also believes that aquaculture has potentially many undesirable impacts like pollution which means that any expansion of this activity may not be warranted.

 

(11) Regional food initiatives – Madagascar and Mozambique

 

To develop regional food initiatives is a good idea as it will enhance regional trade, but it cannot be a substitute for local food production. The priority remains local food production

 

(12) Globalisation and economic liberalisation

 

Cheap energy and food have enabled the US to promote a policy of dependence of the Third World on US food surplus as explained by the then US secretary of state for agriculture in 1986. Thus the commodification of food was well under way. The 1994 Marrakech Trade Accords established the WTO which accelerated the commodification of food and pushed for the dependency of Third World countries on western food surpluses which are now shrinking fast triggering price increases and a food crisis.

Peasant organisations like Via Campasina are now demanding an end to this process of commodification of food. There is the moral obligation to ensure that speculation does not affect availability of food and prices.

In Mauritius, a very liberal economic policy is favouring the sugar industry to produce electricity via bagasse at high prices instead of favouring food production.

In spite of pushing an ultra liberal agenda, the EU and US subsidise their own agricultural produce thereby undercutting local food production. A state of affairs that is unfair and detrimental to our welfare.

We question the carbon credit mechanism as it merely commodifies pollution due to fossil fuel burning.

 

(13) The Question of Land Reform

 

The accelerated urbanisation of agricultural land and the construction of IRS prevent any meaningful land reform. They represent a counter land reform in so far as it locks away agricultural lands from food production. It also confines the population to live on small parcels of land with little possibility of shifting to small scale gardens for food production. The issue of land reform will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

 

(14) The Rodrigues Experience

 

From the mid seventies onwards, there have been in Rodrigues numerous experiments to encourage small scale food production via schools gardens for instance. The slogans at that time were:

(a)    Compte lors manze to pays (depend on your own locally produced food)

(b)   Pas vinn dependant (don’t become too dependant on the outside)

(c)    Diboute lors to lipieds (stand on your own two feet)

(d)   Malere Rodrigues: vinne bourgeois (To become middle class would be ill fortune for Rodrigues)

 

Unfortunately Rodrigues youth are turning their backs on agriculture. Recently there is a move to introduce tobacco plantation there. This must be stopped as it will compete with food production and it requires large amounts of water (which Rodrigues is short of) and large quantities of agricultural inputs which are becoming expensive. Access to land is still vital and must be defended and upheld at all costs. A return to agriculture is also to enhance life, to make life better and increase its quality.

 

(15) The Educational System

 

Is the educational system relevant to our food and energy security situation? In what ways must this system evolve in view of the above?

 

(16) Our way of life

 

Our eating habits based on the importation of flour and rice for our staple foods need to be reassessed so that we eat more staple foods that can be grown locally, e.g. maize, manioc, breadfruit.

The responsibility of the citizen involves eliminating abuses and waste. Our expectations to live like westerners need to be re-examined. Adopt a simpler way of life. In the meanwhile, large prospects for energy conservation exists which ought to be implemented, together with continued education of the public.

 

(17) Environmental degradation

 

Worldwide soil degradation is reducing arable land, there is a lack of water and climate change is expected to worsen these trends. The impacts of environmental degradation on food production will worsen our food security

 

(18) Human health and food

 

We must ask questions as to the quality of the food we are eating. Is it wholesome? Is it nutritious? Is it healthy?

 

(19) Transport and food distribution

 

With hypermarkets there has been a continual decline in the number of corner or village shops. Such a change in the distributive trade increases dependence on transport to buy food and other necessities and so the overall cost of transport in the family budget.

 

(20) The potential of Mauritius to face the energy and food crisis of our century

 

Mauritius has a very wide expanse of sea which to date still is abundant in fish, its land is very fertile and the climate sunny and wet. These assets allow us to believe that it is possible to produce a large proportion of our food needs locally thus ensuring that our population is adequately fed.

 

The potential for renewable energy, be it solar, wind, biomass or tidal, allows us to believe that a large proportion of our energy needs can be met locally. Even if renewable energy is expensive, so what! Continued dependence on fossil fuels is costing more and more by the day. All large projects require massive public investments, so why not in the RE sector, even though neo-liberalism dictates that there should be no such support for these endeavours.

We note that there is a lack of training in RE, there is a high dependency on the private sector for any RE project and there is little local production of RE equipments.

 

Furthermore our biodiversity can be the source of many very useful products provided we use those resources sustainably.

 

Last but not least, we have significant culinary traditions that allow us to make use of a large array of foods which are nutritious and tasty. We need to make good use of all of the above. It is vital. In a way, food and energy security are also related to the quality of life we want for ourselves and our descendants.

 

(21) Renewable Energies and Mauritius

 

The implementation of RE projects will have to be specific to local contingencies and there cannot be a one size fits all approach. For instance a country like Denmark can rely for 25% of its electricity on wind energy because of its geographic location hence it does not follow that other countries can do the same. As mentioned earlier, a shift to RE cannot be solely a question of technical specifications and cost considerations, the survival of humanity depends on a timely shift away from fossil fuels. This aspect must always be at the forefront.