Thursday, May 16, 2013

Everyone a farmer?

Nature Seychelles' book 
The Seychelles is burdened with meetings – scores of them every month with the majority being quite forgetable and having little impact. However, I was at a not-so-ordinary workshop recently which despite not attracting enough publicity will, in my opinion, turn out to be a game changer. This was the national food and nutrition security workshop organized by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

I was taken by the notion of trying to rebrand agriculture as the food AND nutrition security sector. By doing so it is possible to shift our thinking and find new and innovative solutions for agriculture in Seychelles, which by all accounts is in the doldrums


It’s not an easy task. At the meeting, all manner of problems were tabled inlcluding loss of arable land, economic liberalization, climate change, to name only a few. The seeming disinterest of young people to enter this sector was discussed ad infinitum. The Horticultural and Agricultural Training Centre became an easy scapegoat for the lack of trained young recruits.

But, a similar problem exists in other parts of the world. A recent survey of horticultural businesses in the United Kingdom found that 70% cannot fill skilled vacancies, 20% are forced to recruit overseas and almost 70% claim that entrants are inadequately prepared for work. It seems that British youth believe that horticulture is for those who don't quite make it elsewhere, http://goo.gl/HUs1c .

Yet, all indications point to what many experts are calling a “coming food crisis”. With the multiple shocks of high oil prices and domino effect down the food production chain, increase in biofuel production, the credit crunch, speculation in commodity markets, higher demand for food in India and China, and climate change impacts, a total revolution in the way people think about food and agriculture is needed.

Tim Lang http://goo.gl/vOzXa, professor of food policy at City University, London.has said that the UK will have to rely on a return to past methods of food production. The country needs to re-learn the gardening skills it lost a century ago.. The UK has to consider planting on a massive scale as well as encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetable, he says.

I’ve been promoting similar ideas through the Heritage Garden program at Nature Seychelles. I'm convinced that we have to take agriculture beyond the traditional farms and make it everyone’s preoccupation. We should actively support household and community gardening on a nationwide scale.

One of the concepts I’ve disseminated is “Edible Landscaping” which is possible in all our urban areas. I would love to see edible landscaping become so popular that "Food Forests" are created in appropriate areas like around the new housing estate on Ile Perseverance. A Food Forest mimics a forest ecosystem but instead uses edible plants that can produce high yields of food without much maintenance. Food Forests are also fun and aesthetically pleasing because of the diversity of  plants used. Food Forests can build tremendous community resilience.

The Ministry and the Seychelles Agricultural Agency are supportive of these ideas, but we need donor funds to move to the next level. Let’s stop the talk shops and get some action please!


Adapted from Gaia, the author’s column in The People newspaper

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