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
Sustainability has various definitions for different people in different context. For me, sustainability deals with our activities to meet our present needs, which in the long-run have an impact socially, economically and environmentally on our society. Hence, sustainable development is the development taking place in different sectors (health, environment, gender, education, agriculture etc.) that meet our present needs without causing any kind of harm to our society in the long run through proper management of resources, so that we can leave the heritage we got from our ancestors to the future generations.
Are we sustainable in our activities in Mauritius?
In terms of sustainability in our actions in Mauritius, we cannot say whether we are sustainable or not as this varies in different situations. Some who understand the concept of sustainability are implementing it, but those who are ignorant do not care much about it. At the National level, it can be said that we are gradually moving towards sustainability with the introduction of Maurice Ile Durable (which envisions to turn Mauritius into a Model Sustainable Island), and the inclusion of sustainability in our policies in different sectors (Green paper by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and sustainable agriculture in the one of the Agricultural Policy for example), and implementation of several projects based in sustainable development by NGOs. However, these initiatives are just a beginning. We have a very long way to go.
The challenges faced in Mauritius, their causes and possible solutions
In terms of challenges, Mauritius is facing several of them with respect to sustainable development which can be classified under economic, environmental and social sectors as shown in the figure below:
Foreign Direct Investment
New Model of Economic Development
Corporate Social Responsibility
Preservation of Natural Resources
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.
The training provided at the university/high school should be in line with what is required on the job market and pre-job training should be provided so that youth have enough experience to be eligible candidates for employment. Moreover, in the education system in Mauritius, there is a lack of leadership culture. Youth should be encouraged to get involved in extra-curricular activities to develop their leadership skills, which would enable them to have an "entrepreneurial" mindset. If Mauritian youth have the appropriate training, skills and leadership experience, solutions regarding employment would come on their own. They may start up their business and contribute to the economy and reaching their full potential.
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.
We need to change our eating habits, which i believe is the only solution as prevention is better than cure! this could be achieved through education and massive sensitization campaigns across the country.
Conservation of the Environment and Natural resources
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.
In order to conserve the environment and natural resources, a lot of sensitization campaigns are required and it is crucial to involve youth in this process. They should be working on these issues to understand the concept and implementing sustainable activities. Sustainable measures should be adopted: Rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy etc. In short, these small actions would have a huge impact in the long run.
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.).
Climate change is a reality and we should build resilience against it. Through small actions in each sector, this can be achieved (use of solar energy, reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture by practising climate-smart agriculture for example).
The future I see
If I think about the future I would like to see, it would be a World where there is peace and harmony. I see a picture where people are happy, children are playing around and the young and older generations have achieved their full potential by achieving their goals and contributing positively to their society. But in order to achieve this, all the challenges described above should be addressed in a sustainable manner and this would only happen when each and every individual makes sustainability become one of their values and and act sustainably in meeting our present needs, so that in the long run, our actions would not compromise the ability of our future generations to meet their needs. The time for action is NOW, and it starts with each one of US!