Growing onions in the sand of Mauritius

 

Belle Mare is a small village situated on the eastern coastal side of the island of Mauritius. Residents are mainly small planters highly vulnerable to a high incidence of pests and disease due to climatic conditions such as high temperature and humidity. They also face the challenge of climate extremes, such as drought and high-intensity rainfall.

This is where an EU-funded project combines scientific knowledge from the University of Mauritius with nature-based solutions. To cultivate their crops, coastal farmers have been using high levels of agrochemicals, fertilisers, and pesticides. All of these chemicals leach through the sand and ground, creating big problems also for the tourism industry.

3
© GCCA+/EU 2020. Photos by Diksh Potter

 

“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”, explains Sunita Facknath, professor in Sustainable Agriculture, who leads the project on the transformation of Belle Mare into a Climate-Smart Agriculture village, supported by the EU-funded Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+).

 

1
© GCCA+/EU 2020. Photos by Diksh Potter

This is how onion fields can grow in the sand of coastal regions in Mauritius. The training and mentorship in Climate Smart Agriculture techniques by the staff from the University of Mauritius include placing a thick layer of sugarcane stalks on the soil prior to planting seeds (mulching); planting melliferous plants such as marigold, petunia and other plants that attract honeybees and other pollinators; using compost instead of fertilisers, and natural pesticides known as biopesticides instead of the usual toxic pesticides. The use of simple gravity-based drip irrigation instead of electrically operated overhead sprinklers limits the waste of water in this dry area with irregular water supply. 9000 litres water tanks provide a good supply of water on a daily basis.

 “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,” says Dr. Facknath.

Fifteen small planters were selected and are beneficiaries of the programme. Each of them received water tanks, sprayers for biopesticides and tillers. The final goal is transforming Belle-Mare into a Climate Smart Agriculture village that could set a trend to promote sustainable livelihood, enhancing national food security in a productive, climate-resilient, environment-friendly way that produces lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

3
© GCCA+/EU 2020. Photos by Diksh Potter

Links