Improving the livelihood of Onion farmers of the South East and protecting the Local Red onion as a Patrimoine Agricole de Maurice
Improving the livelihood of Onion farmers of the South East and protecting the Local Red onion as a Patrimoine Agricole de Maurice
Discouraged by regular crop loss during the rainy seasons by heavy flooding waters, tired of reinstating their soil medium following severe soil erosion, many onion growers from the narrow coastal trip regions of Petit Sable, Grand sable and Bamboux Virieux have ceased the Local Red onion (Onion Toupie) production during the last twenty years to seek their livelihood elsewhere. Furthermore remaining farmers have been trying very hard during the last five years to maintain production and are unconsciously protecting this local variety considered as a ‘Patrimoine Agricole de Maurice’ from disappearing from Mauritian cuisine. Marginalised by the authority, the South East onion farmers have strived hard to face the odds for more than one hundred years of their existence to maintain onion production as their only source of livelihoods. As main producers and suppliers of Local red onion seeds and ‘setts’ to the rest of planters’ community over the island, they strategically controlled this variety of onion production in Mauritius. However seeds and ‘setts’ production have been on the diminishing trend due to crop damage, soil fertility and irrigation problems, and a subsequent reduction of onion farmers. In order to reverse the decreasing trend in seeds yield and to revamp ‘setts’ production for transformation, the project seeks to address both production and environmental factors that have restrained crops production on the South East coast for years.

Mouvement Pour L’Autosuffsance Alimentaire (MAA) came to the support of the South East coast Farmers following the May 1998 major flooding which resulted in total crop damage, heavy soil erosion and their subsequent impoverishment. Two years later in April 2000, another severe flood disaster hit the South East region which devastated all crops down the mountain slopes and took farmers soil medium’ to the sea. At this critical juncture, it was crucial for MAA to lift farmers’ morals against abandoning production and to advocate on their behalf for a financial compensation from the authority for total crop loss. In the same move MAA entreated Government for the urgent planning and implementation of an ‘Amenagement du Territoire du Sud Est’. Unfortunately government responded through piecemeal actions such as the dredging of rivers on mountain slopes and the reinforcement of river bank/cross drains at specific sites considered to be only temporary corrective solutions to the flooding problems. Government non-compliance for sustainable long-term solutions to the flooding problems is in fact a political issue and is embedded in financial priorities rather than the security of the South East communities.

The dread of heavy flooding risks is a real psychological burden for farmers during the rainy seasons. During the last four years farmers have been spared from the devastating floods of summer rains but a recent mild flood in October 2007, which caused 10% loss of onion seedlings, gave us a strong warning of existing flooding risks. The region is characterised by having small well-defined watersheds of between 100 to 200 ha. Each watershed has several drainage lines that join together into main drains that finally open into the sea. The strategy to mitigate flooding problems rests on improving existing natural drainage system and to supplement these with new appropriate drainage infrastructure from the mountain slopes downwards that can channel voluminous excess rushing water through main evacuation canals to the sea. Moreover the improvement and consolidation of the main and lateral drains of farmers’ plots would additionally facilitate the fast evacuation of water to avoid crop loss and manage the land sustainability.

The 1998, 2003 and 2005 MAA workshops at Petit Sable set new objectives and actions to improve the livelihood of farmers, to mitigate the massive loss of topsoil to the sea and the continuous destruction of the S.E fragile ecosystem. Regrouping and structuring the South East farmers were among the main priorities. The ‘Association des Planteurs du Sud Est’ (APSE), was registered in 2001. However the 2005 MAA/APSE workshop report recommended that in order to reverse the decreasing trend in production and to maintain the onion growers into business it was crucial that the drainage, irrigation, soil fertility, and seed production problems be addressed. It also stressed out on the necessity for farmers to go for the exploitation of the value addition of their produce.

The Local Red onion variety is native to the area. There are two types of onion in Mauritius: the open pollinated (OP) one including the local Red, Veronique and Novelise and the Hybrid Varieties. Among the OP, the local red is the most appreciated by Mauritian for its pungency, shape, colour and shelf life compared to hybrid varieties which is characterised by relatively poor storability leading to high percentage of post harvest loses. The high storability of the local red is governed by its small size and its colour. Among its main characteristics the native Local Red is ‘Toupee’ shape with closed neck, reddish-brown colour and its high soluble solids contribute to its high storability to 6 months with 6 to 9% losses. A. Lottoo in 2006 (MAA Secretary Cum social worker) pointed out in a research study on onion that Saxena et al (1974) reported that red cultivars have higher storage potential in comparison with yellow and white. She also pointed out that Local red is reputed to have high dry matter content and high pungency. The university of Winconsin-Madison researches also have found out that the more pungent onions exhibit strong anti-platelet activity. Platelet aggregation is associated with atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke. The pungency in onion is related to amount of Pyruvic acid. Local red onion has high Pyrovic acid and can thus be considered positive to our health.

30 Farmers were trained in agro-processing at Wooton AREU in 2006. Following the training they have been able to produce on trial basis 300 pots of both onions Confi and Pickle at Petit Sables. Marketing outlets in hotels through their executive chefs and niche markets abroad through Eugenie ltd have been worked out. Already Sun Internationals have registered APSE as a supplier and a first order has been fulfilled. Moreover the products have obtained the Food Lab Certification and have thus the green light to be marketed and consumed safely.

The introduction of honeybees in onion plots 2006 and 2007 almost doubled seeds production in the region. This is in line with MAA/APSE objectives to reverse the diminishing trend of local red onion seed production in the South East. Bees are very effective insect pollinators that are however not exploited as it should be in Mauritius. Many researchers have observed that population of pollinating insects is declining year after year which adds to the problem of sustaining onion seed production and quality. Flower abortion in onion is most probably associated with the lack of sufficient and effective insects to affect pollination.

Additionally an appropriate irrigation system should replace the backbreaking use of traditional water-cans that for generations have been exhausting for women in addition to their family chores. This new irrigation system would be of great relief to planters in the region.

Another issue related to salinity problems for plots nearer to the sea and that have been bothering planters for a long time. This has been addressed very timidly by the authorities. A proper monitoring of the salinity level of the irrigated water together with the consolidation of existing retaining walls to reduce the incoming saline water will certainly allow more acreage under cultivation.

More than 50% of the farmers’ beneficiaries are women and are fully involved in all the activities related to onion and vegetable production. Moreover the project is related to the protection of indigenous practices based on 100 years knowledge gained by South East farmers during three generations.

The Empowerment Program is contributing to a total of Rs 610,000. to the agro-processing project for basic equipments, capacity building, research, Branding and marketing, and working capitals. Other sources of requested co-funding contribution amount to Rs 289,960. The total request to GEF SGP for the whole project is Rs1,500,000. Contributions in terms of community labour, technical support and AMB assets amount to Rs 1,080,000. GEF SGP funds would be used to co-fund the agro-processing project in upgrading the existing abandoned AMB onion store building at Petit Sables and for setting up the different sections of the agro-processing unit. Secondly funds would be used to mitigate the salinity problems through proper monitoring of the irrigation water conductivity level and the consolidation of retaining walls for the incoming seawater. Fund will also be used for improving and consolidating the draining systems at Petit Sables, which is causing land degradation and sedimentation. The use of water cans by farmers, mainly woman, for irrigation more than 100 years by the different generations has been very strenuous and would be replaced by the micro sprinklers and family drips, which will be more friendly and effective in rendering the farming activities as a whole less wearisome.
 
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Project Snapshot

Grantee:
Association des Planteurs du Sud Est
Country:
Mauritius
Area Of Work:
Community Based Adaptation
Biodiversity
Grant Amount:
US$ 50,000.00
Co-Financing Cash:
US$ 35,911.00
Co-Financing in-Kind:
US$ 40,136.00
Project Number:
MAR/SGP/OP4/RAF/07/01
Status:
Satisfactorily Completed

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Project Characteristics and Results
Promoting Public Awareness of Global Environment
Historically for over 100 years, the South East Coastal region has a tradition of plantation of local red. While this region was among the pioneers in onion production, this crop has almost disappeared in other coastal areas of Mauritius. This unique variety of union known for its quality, has found a special place in the traditional food culture and cuisine of Mauritius. The protection of this Patrimoine Agricole is in our view important to GEF SGP. It is in line with Operational Programme 13 that relates to conservation and to sustainable use of biological diversity important to agriculture. Local Red onion (Onion Toupie) has a unique physical and chemical property. It’s a variety that has high pungency, low water content (which extends its shelf life), and has more attractive shape and colour. The variety also has medicinal properties that need to be further developed. The natural shape of the neck of the onion, being completely closed compared to other varieties of onions (e.g. hybrid varieties) makes it more disease resistant. Only connoisseurs are familiar with the real characteristics of this product. GEF SGP is for the protection of local varieties and genes of reproductive qualities against the imported hybrid ones which are non-reproductive. Onion ‘Toupie’ also known as ‘Oignon Mars’ is an onion variety that has been adapted and is best suited to the climatic conditions of the region. Its cultivation is based on the production of local seeds and ‘setts’, which promotes local inputs rather than depends on the current import of the very high cost hybrid seeds. The use of local and low cost inputs in agriculture by South East farmers contributes to foreign savings. This is in line with GEF SGP, which encourages the use of local inputs. The production of seeds, setts and onion takes place during different periods of the year: Seeds production spans from April to July, setts production cycle extends from end July to November and cycle of onion production starts from March/April to June/August. Furthermore the project addresses OP 15, which relates to sustainable land management.
Emphasis on Sustainable Livelihoods
Onion ‘Toupie’ also known as ‘Oignon Mars’ is an onion variety that has been adapted and is best suited to the climatic conditions of the region. Its cultivation is based on the production of local seeds and ‘setts’, which promotes local inputs rather than depends on the current import of the very high cost hybrid seeds. The use of local and low cost inputs in agriculture by South East farmers contributes to foreign savings. This is in line with GEF SGP, which encourages the use of local inputs. The production of seeds, setts and onion takes place during different periods of the year: Seeds production spans from April to July, setts production cycle extends from end July to November and cycle of onion production starts from March/April to June/August.
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Indicators
Biophysical
Number of globally significant species protected by project 4

Partnership

AREU of Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Grantee Contact

Mr. Ekwan Savetree
Phone: 230 9569521/ 230 4660271
Email: maa_eric@hotmail.com
 

Address

APSE c/o Ekwan Savetree, Benee Str, Grand Sable.Street Address: Benee Str, Grand Sable

SGP Country office contact

Mrs. Pamela Bapoo-Dundoo
Phone:
(230) 213 53 84
Fax:
(230) 212 14 11
Email:

Address

2nd Floor, Sugar Industry Pension Fund Building, 1 Remy Ollier Street
Port Louis, Mauritius

Country Website