2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Mauritians are confined to their homes and social networks are in full swing. At this point, nothing comes before covid-19-related news, but one piece of information catches the eye: according to the latest statistics from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mauritius is the world’s biggest user of pesticides per agricultural area. This ugly image has never left Mauritius, except that this information is not true, and probably never was. Le journal des Archipels investigated.
Read the rest of the article in our edition of JDA 12…
….It’s in the area of food crops that a great deal of work remains to be done. “During the 70s and 80s, we promoted intensive agriculture with the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Today, things have changed, but it’s going to take some time to adapt”, says Suman Seeruttun, adding that today, thanks to innovation, fertilizers require a more sophisticated technique. Instead of using several kilos per hectare, in many cases only a few grams are used. A 10% margin of error is easier to manage when spreading kilos per hectare rather than a few grams. Fertilizers are also much more targeted, and therefore require greater technical mastery of spreading methods to enable the products to hit their target,” he explains. For example, the choice of nozzles is essential.
Public awareness is also important.
Another precaution to take: the product cocktail. In order to save time, product cocktails are applied to crops using, for example, herbicides and fungicides, or two types of fungicide. This can affect not only the effectiveness of the products, but also have unpredictable and undesirable effects on the environment and human health.
For his part, Prakash Goolaub argues that farmers suffer a great deal from this bad reputation, unfairly so. According to him, Mauritian farmers have understood that it’s in their interest to use as few chemicals as possible: it’s becoming increasingly expensive to use imported chemicals that won’t reassure their customers in the end. “We’re more likely to find excuses for a driver who exceeds the speed limit, even if he’s aware of the law and has been made aware of it. But it’s easy to point the finger at a farmer whose income depends on his production”, he says, pointing out that public awareness is also important. It’s the customers who refuse to eat and buy ugly fruit and vegetables, even though they’re perfectly edible.
In the final analysis, pesticides are used because farmers need to earn a living, while consumers want beautiful, uniform produce: an aberration that farmers pay for, unfairly.
Correction for China, but not a word for Mauritius.
Mauritius is not the only country to have had its FAO figures corrected. In the FAO report published in 2022 (Pesticides use, pesticides trade and pesticides indicators), the FAO acknowledges that the previous figures for China have been revised: “The 2022 update includes a major downward revision of total pesticide use in China, which represents a decrease of 85% compared to previously released data. The revision reduced total global pesticide use by 40% compared to previous data. This was the result of new information received from the country, clarifying that previous figures had been reported to the FAO for total formulated products rather than active ingredients.” This is the same error for China and Mauritius, but the FAO has not written anything about Mauritius in this report. Le journal des Archipels sent an email to the FAO which went unanswered.