The morning was cold and misty in the south of Mauritius. Les Serres du Sud is found in the middle of L’Union Sugar Estate, surrounded by a peaceful field of green sugar canes. Les Serres du Sud consists of approximately two acres of greenhouses and six acres of open fields, where peppers, lettuce, tomato, butternut squash, and many other vegetables and fruits are cultivated.
At six o’clock sharp, Armand, the manager responsible for the operation and the supervisor of 35 workers (of which 23 are women), can already be seen greeting the farmers and starting the daily activities of the day. Kareen, the internal consultant providing support to the Smart Agriculture diversification project, joins him shortly.
After a few minutes, the sun rises up with occasional little droplets of rain, and the day begins. Two farmers water the fields before a bigger group starts to make holes in the soil for the lettuce seedlings. After completing this task, they are then diverted to different fields and greenhouses, where they observe the plants and do the weeding.
Geeta, one of the field workers accompanies us through the fields. “I have been working here for over 12 years now, and I feel satisfied the moment my finger touches the fruits of the plants - which we grow with our own hands every day.” Geeta is one of the 23 women trained and employed under the project, where 65% of its 35 staff members are women.
The greenhouses shelter vivid yellow and red peppers, tomatoes, and butternut squashes growing healthily in the hands of the affectionate workers. Every day, they finish their job by one in the afternoon and return home after a hard day’s work.
The insular and tropical context of Mauritius makes vegetable production and fight against pest and diseases of crops complex, and has led the planters to use pesticides excessively. This situation has been aggravated by the observed effects of climate change such as an acceleration in the growth and propagation of pests and disease carriers, as well as a decrease in the soil humidity. As a means of addressing those challenges, the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture, in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Research Extension Institute has set up the Gender Empowerment and Climate Smart Agriculture project. The project is financed by the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+), a European Union (EU) initiative, amongst other funding bodies.
Through a structured and collective approach that is inclusive of women, this project proposes to redesign the cultivation systems of agricultural producers through a stepwise process and empower the economic well-being of women farmers in the community. This project is based on the hypothesis that the transition from the current agricultural systems to agro-ecological systems will increase the resilience of our agriculture in the face of climate change, shared by the scientific communities. These changes will also, in the long term, mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on the environment while supporting the economic empowerment of women in the community. The agro-ecological transition of these systems should also help in reducing the use of pesticides on cultivations, therefore diminishing the sanitary risks which is linked to the spraying of pesticides and the subsequent consumption of these vegetables.