The Art of Farming Smartly

Digging our eating forks in quality and safe vegetables appeals to all of us. At the heart of this vision, are the key actors, farmers, who need to handle the art of farming in a smart manner. The best way to achieve this is by treading onto the path of agroecological principles. 
The Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture (MCA), being initiative-driven, has embarked on the Smart Agriculture Project with this end in mind. It focused on vegetable growers and aimed at reducing the use of chemicals. 
The Smart Agriculture Project:
To drive agriculture in the direction of good agroecological practices, we need to first understand where we stand. This was the very first step of the project back in 2015. It consisted of surveying 300 vegetable growers across the Island of Mauritius and that study revealed an uncontrolled use of pesticides and poor knowledge from the farmers for doing differently. 
This major finding called for a paradigm shift from our vegetable growers. The journey towards a sustainable and more climate-resilient production system was undertaken by 13 strong, risk-taking vegetable growers. The MCA thus pushed the Smart Agriculture project forward from 2017 till 2023. Training was given to those farmers to help them shape a different mindset from conventional farming to Smart Agriculture. Both local and international expertise were sought to achieve this first milestone. 
Next, the core agronomic practices used on each farm were re-engineered with the main objective of reducing the use of synthetic pesticides and limiting their negative impacts on the environment. Treatment Frequency Indices (TFI) were the main indicators used. The farmer had the responsibility to keep records of all its field operations and ensure traceability.
Farmers also benefited from fully paid farm equipment and materials such as rotovators, semi-mechanical weeders, insect traps, cover crops and other useful crops (for push-pull strategies) and sanitation aids like Augmentorium
The astounding results obtained in the fields are the fruits of real endeavours, no green washing. During year 2022, agronomic performance was assessed and the average reduction in TFI was by 57% among the beneficiaries, considering the 10 monitored crops (butternut, calabash gourd, carrot, cabbage, pumpkin, green beans, lettuce, peanut, tomato, and radish). The highest reduction was observed in calabash (-94%), followed by lettuce (-90%).
Economic performances were also assessed. The initial results show that, on average over a span of three years, the average annual net margins of the 13 beneficiaries have slightly more than doubled, from MUR 148,000 per arpent to MUR 353,000, with mint and beet the least and most profitable crops, respectively. 
Smart agricultural practices often yield unattractive, ugly vegetables that cost more to produce. Aesthetics cannot be a refraining factor from expanding Smart Agriculture. A change in mindset is fundamental to bring forth the real quality of the vegetable, beyond its looks. The Smart Agriculture project cannot stop at the farm level only.  
Driving Smart Agriculture Forward
To drive it forward, the MCA has worked actively on the third phase of the project entitled Karo Natirel (meaning Natural Field in Mauritian creole). A first step of the project was to attract farmers towards an agriculture that respects the environment and educate consumers on the ugly yet healthy vegetables. Both conscientious farmers and sensitised consumers ask for a product-differentiated distribution channel. This will be the second phase of the Karo Natirel project.

Stay tuned for more information: el/.