The European Union defines organic farming as an agricultural system which seeks to provide the consumer with fresh, tasty and authentic food while respecting natural life-cycle systems. Also known as biofarming, this concept is gaining ground in Mauritius, forcing producers to review their methods and innovate.
Bio fertilizers Aadicon, a company at Piton du Milieu, produces bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and other agriculturally important microbe’s production. Bio-fertilizers like Nitrogen Fixation Bacteria, Phosphorus Mobilizing microbes, (PSM) Phosphate Solubilising Bacteria (KMB) Plant Growth Promoters Decomposing Bacteria and Bio-pesticides Microbes like Bacteria, Fungi and Viruses are known to have controlling effects on various pests, diseases and weeds in agricultural systems. These are called Bio-control agents and the range of the product available is Metarhizium anisopliae, Verticillium lecanii Bacillus thuringenesis and Beauveria Spp (BB) and the likes.
Zero Budget Natural Farming This method of farming, also known as holistic agriculture is a method of agriculture that counters the commercial expenditure and market dependency of farmers for the inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. The method involves locally obtainable natural bio-degradable materials and combine scientific knowledge of ecology and modern technology with traditional farming practices based on naturally occurring biological processes. Zero Budget Natural Farming was developed by Dr Subhash Palekar, an Indian Natural Scientist. In this concept, cow dung is used as manure, while cow urine is used as fertilizer. One adept of this farming concept is Mr Vishal Bheekharry, Senior Research Scientist at FAREI (ex AREU). He has been conducting lectures across the country, sharing knowledge about Zero Budget Natural Farming to small planters and anyone else who is interested. Zero Budget Natural Farming techniques have already been launched in Mauritius and adopted by many local farmers.
Organic farming, put simply, works in harmony with nature rather than against it. This involves using techniques to achieve good crop yields without harming the environment or the people who live and work in it. Organic farming is becoming popular as consumers are becoming more and more cautious of what they eat. The rise in non communicable diseases, often linked to poor nutrition and contamination with hazardous substances such as chemical residues on food crops is prompting consumers to change their eating habits. Producers are thus gradually moving to natural farming, avoiding the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Farmers are now being encouraged to adopt responsible farming, relying more and more of bio products and compost. Furthermore, to enrich the soil, the use of green manures coupled with crop rotation is encouraged. With new technology emerging, farming is becoming more and more precise, with new methods aimed at cutting costs, boosting crop yield and improving quality, while keeping within norms and standards.
Organic farming does not mean going ‘back’ to traditional methods. Many of the farming methods used in the past are still useful today. Organic farming takes the best of these and combines them with modern scientific and technical knowledge. The farmer is today an entrepreneur and farming is now becoming a structured business in Mauritius.
Benefits Organic farming provides long-term benefits to people and the environment. It helps to increase long-term soil fertility, control pests and diseases without harming the environment and produces nutritious food free from health hazards. Organic farming has also opened up new avenues, such as the production of bio fertilizers and bio pesticides. In this field, Aadicon Biotechnologies remains a reference. Compost production is another lucrative activity. Awareness on quality has also seen entrepreneurs setting up business in the supply chain, with storage facilities and refrigerated delivery trucks. The growing demand of bio products is also encouraging new entrepreneurs to venture into the field of agribusiness.
Incentives Biofarming is high on the government’s agenda. Over and above the existing facilities and incentives provided to small farmers and breeders, the new SME Development Scheme aims to provide further incentives to entrepreneurs in various fields, including the biofarming sector. Enterprises will thus benefit from an eight-year tax holiday as well as grants and easy access to finance. Farmers will also be given the necessary assistance to tap the export market.
Why crop rotation? Growing the same crops in the same site year after year reduces soil fertility and can encourage a buildup of pests, diseases and weeds in the soil, explains Dayanand, a small planter of Terre Rouge. “For vegetables a three to four year rotation is usually recommended as a minimum. Crop rotation means having times where the fertility of the soil is being built up and times where crops are grown which remove nutrients. Crop rotation also helps a variety of natural predators to survive on the farm by providing diverse habitats and sources of food for them.”
Natural pest and disease control pests are part of nature. In an ideal system, there is a natural balance between predators and pests. If the system is imbalanced, then one population can become dominant because it is not being preyed upon by another. The aim of natural control is to restore a natural balance between pest and predator and to keep pests and diseases down to an acceptable level. The aim is not to eradicate them altogether. Chemical control pesticides do not solve the pest problem, but can aggravate the problem.
Mauritius to transfer biofarming technology
The first joint committee meeting between India and Mauritius for the cooperation in Micro and Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector was held successfully on 21 January in India. Possible areas of cooperation were identified. The issues discussed for cooperation were in the areas of capacity-building through training of trainers, surveys on potential areas, managerial and technical skills, marketing, exhibitions and trade fairs exchange of business missions, setting up of business incubators, easy access to finance, clusters initiative, etc. The two sides also agreed to formulate an action plan in the area of coir, khadi and handicraft sectors in addition to the above areas. The Government of Mauritius has exclusively offered to India transfer of biofarming technology and also cooperation in the health sector. The Mauritius delegation for this meeting was led by Soomilduth Sunil Bholah, Minister of Business, Enterprises and Cooperatives.
Why natural control is preferable to pesticide use? Unlike yesteryears, today the farmer does not see every insect as a pest, every plant out of place as a weed and the solution to every problem in an artificial chemical spray. The aim is not to eradicate all pests and weeds, but to keep them down to an acceptable level and make the most of the benefits that they may provide.
For example, leafy residues are now converted into green manure and used in cultivation. Artificial pesticides containing chemicals can quickly find their way into food chains and water courses such as rivers and groundwater. This can create health hazards for humans. Human health can also be harmed by people eating foods (especially fruit and vegetables) which still contain residues of pesticides that were sprayed on the crop.
FieldGood Brand: Higher yield in greenhouse farming
ENL Agri, part of the ENL Group, launched the ‘FieldGood’ brand about four years ago. Alban Doger de Speville, Manager, says that the company specialises in the production of vegetables in greenhouses. While the products are not necessarily 100% bio, as they still use pesticides when required, the company says it practises responsible farming and resorts mainly to bio fertilisers.
“We grow our vegetables in a controlled environment which allows us to have a minimal use of pesticides compared to open field production,” he explains. “Our products are harvested and brought to our plant in Moka where they are cleaned and packed and distributed to sales outlet the same day, in refrigerated trucks. We are conscious of the need to provide quality trusted products, hence the reason of creating a brand that offers better traceability, among others.”
He further explains that even in conventional farming, the issue is not always about the use of pesticide. “Farmers have to use a minimal amount of pesticides in open fields because of pest attacks, and there is no harm as long as pesticides are used responsibly, respecting doses and the time frame between application and harvesting. In greenhouse farming however, plants are protected from pests and insects, reducing the need for pesticides and plants are also shielded from bad weather conditions.”
He adds that Mauritians are more and more conscious of the need to eat quality vegetables, the source of which can be easily traced. The company produces carrots, lettuces, cucumber, among others and its sales volumes see an annual increase of 10%. “With greenhouse methods, it is possible to produce more with less land, as controlled environment ensures higher yield.” In 2015, the company produced 720 tonnes of food crops.