Interview with Dr Sunita Facknath: Professor in Sustainable Agriculture and the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Mauritius
With a population of about 1.2 million people in 2017, Mauritius, unlike most regions in Africa, is heavily dependent on external agricultural inputs like fertilisers, agrochemicals, and the use of sophisticated irrigation systems, according to Dr Facknath who, for the past 20 years, has been working on climate change issues in relation to the agricultural sector.
In what way is GCCA+ support to Mauritius climate smart?
Mauritius is a small island developing state (SIDS) which benefits from the EU’s flagship Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) project devised to enable farmers to transform unsustainable agricultural practices into climate smart agriculture, a term coined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2010 at the Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change.
The project provides coastal farmers with a training package that will help them to reduce the effects of farming along the coasts of Mauritius.
What are the main problems on Mauritian coasts?
To cultivate their crops, coastal farmers use high levels of agrochemicals, high inputs of fertilisers, and pesticides. All of these chemicals leach through the sand and ground, creating big problems for the thriving tourism industry which sees the direct effects of the chemicals leaching into the sea. The agrochemicals the farmers are using cause eutrophication or algae blooms – this is an excess of salt in water which creates a foul smell that you can imagine does not help the tourism industry.
So, what is the solution?
The project is training farmers to use compost to add a layer of mulch to the soil instead of using synthetic fertilisers. In today’s world, we need the hybrid integration of technology-based solutions with nature-based ones, which I believe will be crucial for the survival of the planet and thriving communities. When you use a layer of organic mulch or even straw from debris left over from the previous cropping season, the nutrients do not go down through the sand. By introducing techniques like mulching and composting, the soil is able to retain more water that is usually lost through evaporation and can hold more nutrients.
And how will the knowledge be kept?
For the past year, the project has been training small-scale farmers in the region in how to use climate-smart farming techniques to improve their produce and minimise environmental degradation along the coast. A significant part of the project is to create a handbook that local farmers can refer to even after this project has ended. The goal is to identify local farmers who will become changemakers in their communities through practical, hands-on training.