- Krity Neermul
Agricultural Climate Adaptation Plan: A Case Study of the Mauritius Sugar Cane Industry
Climate change being now a reality, the future weather projections of Mauritius is contemplating a warmer and drier condition in the coming years. The annual temperature is expected to increase by 2.0°C by the 2060s and a decrease in the annual rainfall by 13% by 2050s coupled with extreme events like recurrent flash flood, acute drought and cyclone (McSweeney et al., 2010). Agriculture is fundamentally driven and dependent on climate and as such any distortion in the climatic conditions would have serious consequences on production. Likewise, the thread of climate change to the sugarcane industry of Mauritius is now real. Hence, given it considerable economic, social and environmental importance, sugar cane industry should be; prepared for and shielded again, the potential devastating effect of climate change.
It is undebatable that the effect of climate on the industry would be felt all throughout its value chain line starting from the primary industry, passing through secondary level and going up the ladder till the national economic benchmark (Muchow et al., 1999). The impacts are real which are mainly due to due rise in temperature, low precipitation and extreme events and are concentrated around:
- Low yield
- Decrease in sugar production.
- Inefficient planning of crushing campaign by millers and harvesting period extended.
- Penalties by buyer, for unable to supply required amount of sugar as per contract.
- Required underground water for irrigation. Hence competition with other crops.
- Emergence of pests and diseases.
- Replantation constraints.
- Decrease of GDP.
- Decrease in foreign currency return.
- Affect policy and national budget program.
- Economic dis-balance
Having an overview of the potential impacts of climate change on the Mauritian Sugarcane Industry, its effect can be reduced by formulating the right mitigation and adaptation strategies. Both strategies are of uttermost importance in the sense that; mitigation would mainly focus on stratagems required to limits further deterioration of the global climate and adaptation would address specific issues on how to reduce the severity of climate change due to past and future emission by mankind.
Therefore the objective of this paper is to prepare an adaptation and mitigation plan on how to make the sugarcane industry viable and continue to be effective in projected harsh climatic conditions like higher temperature, low precipitation and extreme events.
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2.0 Adaptation strategies
2.1 Government involvement
The Government of Mauritius being a signatory of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and member in several international bodies like IPCC, World Climate Programme of the World Meteorological Organisation and UNFCCC, is duty bound to fulfil its commitment in mitigating and preparation of its national adaptation plan for climate change. Furthermore, in the wake of framing the adaptation plan, the leadership of the government is crucial for its concretisation together with all stakeholders. Government of Mauritius should play a central role in the development of an adaptation strategy for the sugarcane sector pertaining to policy formulation, research and development, fund disbursement, role of institutions among others. The concept of Maurice Ile Durable is the right project which is looking into climate adaptation strategies.
2.2 Research and development
Assessment proves that climate change particularly due to low rainfall and rise in temperature would affect sugar cane production if the existing varieties together with operational framework are maintained. Therefore, to mitigate the effect of water stress due to low rainfall and high temperature, researches should be oriented toward breeding new cultivars that would be drought resistant and at the same time withstand higher temperature. There is real potential in breeding new varieties, like evocated by Inman-Bamber et al., (2012) that sugarcane cultivar differences in drought adaptation exist and concurrently, Matthieson (2007) further stated that plant breeders should therefore continue to breed varieties that tolerate drought conditions or greater water use efficiency. Another strategy could be that growers drop single variety plantation throughout their fields and move to multi-cultivars field cover which would decrease the risk of collateral damage in the event of failure of one particular variety due to water stress (Challinor et al., 2007).
Pests and diseases incidences are expected to increase with climate change and they are even expected to be difficult to control due to alteration of their genomes (Harmon et al., 2009). To that regard, together with plant breeding program, biotechnology could be an essential tool in developing new cultivars which would be pests and diseases resistant and their release could be faster in an eventual outbreaks. As stated by Cheavegatti-Gianotto et al. (2011) that apart from conventional breeding of new varieties to shadow the effect of climate change, researchers should practice biotechnology so as to diminish abiotic and biotic stresses associated with sugarcane.
These tasks are under the responsibilities of the Mauritius Sugarcane Industry Research Institute which is the sugarcane research and development arm of the Island.
2.3 Water and land requirement
Water is expected to be a limited resources in the near future as a result of climate change and the effect of low water availability on sugar cane production is well known. Therefore, apart from having drought tolerant varieties, it is essential to curtail water wastage and inefficient use. In view thereof, introduction of appropriate irrigation technologies and schemes are fundamental like increasing use of supplementary water, optimisation of irrigation scheduled to maximise water use efficiency, effective irrigation water delivery technologies, and modification to row spacing, minimum tillage and the use of cover crops. Under its reform program of the sugarcane industry, the Government of Mauritius is already investing in the Field Operation, Re-grouping and Irrigation Project (FORIP). Since most small farmers fields are rain fed, thus the aim is to install irrigation facilities to these lands which would at time benefit the growers and also preparing to sustain future attack of climate change. Another ambitious project laid by the government is construction of additional dams for water storage and this would be an important strategy in mitigating the effect of low rainfall in the long run.
Climate change would also affect the soil structure required by sugarcane for growth and maturing. Heavy rainfall, cyclone and thunderstorms as a result of climate change, impact the soil aggregate, causes surface runoff and affect infiltration rate (Várallyay, 2010). Furthermore, Brevik (2013) mapped response of plants to elevated atmospheric CO2level with soil nutrients (N and P) dis-balance and soil organic matter reduction essential to support growth and maintain soil stability. In Mauritius sugarcane is harvested either fresh of burnt. Therefore one possible way to mitigate effect of climate change would be adopting fresh harvest. This would imply leaving all residues in the fields which could be useful in weed suppression, increasing the content of organic matter in the soil which increases water holding capacity; improve soil structure and biological activity in the soil. Furthermore use of trash blanketing to intercept raindrops and increase water infiltration; conserve tillage, and alter row configurations are also recommended.
2.4 Harvesting and milling requirement
It is known that decrease yield would create some degree of uncertainty in planning for harvesting and crushing campaign. A potential strategy could be use of seasonal climate forecasts in planning for optimum harvesting and crushing season.
Low yield would also entail poor viability and profitability of sugar mills. In this line, in the Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy (MAAS) mentioned has been made for centralisation of existing sugar factories into clusters so as to be more efficient and profitable. Previously there were 21 factories around the island and now with the reform spelled under MAAS, there are 4 big flexi-factories which are operational.
Despite sugarcane is mainly cultivated for sugar production, yet derivatives products like energy from bagasse and bio-fuel from molasses are having increasing important. The concept of flexi-factory resides around the fact that the mill can instantly shift from its main product which is sugar, in case of an event, to another production like electricity from biomass. This could become an economic opportunity in case the primary industry is affected with regard to low sucrose content within the crop stand.
2.5 Extreme events (Cyclone)
More cyclone with higher intensity is expected as a result of climate change and such occurrence would affect the whole industry. During cyclone the crop would be affected seriously which would require additional post cyclone inputs for the re-establishment. As an adaptation strategy, it is therefore proposed to plant trees around the field to act as windbreak. In order to mitigate the financial losses to be incurred by planters in an event of cyclone, government should encourage growers to take insurance policy again the associated risk.
2.6 Economic implications
Financial shortfall due to low sugar production could have serious economic consequences for all stakeholders of the industry including national budgetary planning. To lessen the economic burden that might result due to climate change, initiatives like diversification of the economy is imperative. Emerging sectors like ICT and offshores are already in the pipeline of the central government policy framework.
Since Mauritius has a contractual obligation to supply 400, 000 tonnes of refined white sugar annually to the buyer, therefore a good initiative has recently been taken which deal with importing raw sugar from other partner countries and reprocessing same into white sugar. This step fill the gap if ever the quota is not met as a result of climate change.
3.0 Barriers to effective adaptation plan for the sugarcane industry
In the attempt to prepare an effective adaptation plan for the Mauritian Sugarcane industry to continue to be resilient despite facing the negative impacts of climate change, several barriers emerged. The barriers are particularly categorised in four main pillars pertaining to regulatory, organisational, market failure and behavioural barriers.
3.1 Regulatory barriers
The central government has a very important role to play in the preparation of the adaptation strategies for policy and regulatory making. As evocated earlier that biotechnology could prove to be an essential tool for designing new cultivars that would suit and adapt climate change. Moreover, one barrier that exist is that there is no proper piece of legislation so far that would legalised biotechnology and genetically modified organism. Another barrier is not enough fund and resources being allocated to the sugar cane industry these days hence constraints for the scientist to explore deeper for potential varieties. It is often observed that in the Finance Act these days marginal finance is deployed to R&D for sugarcane industry in fact there is reduction of staff and cut cost process. Mentioned has also been made for insurance cover but the constraint that might arose is government intervention with private companies or for subsidies initiatives. Government processes always take time and this would acting as an obstacle for prompt intervention to help and assist for farmers in distress following extreme events like cyclone. Mentioned has also been made for the concept of flexi-factory pertaining to electricity generation rather than sugar manufacture in extreme event. The biggest draw back and barrier for this concept is that planters, entitlement. The current law makes provision for planters being remunerated for amount of recoverable sugar from their cane and a very marginal return from bagasse used to generate electricity. Therefore if no proper act is enacted where equitable share of return is given to the planters’ community then the take-off of the flexi-factory project particularly for energy production would be hindered.
3.1.1 Organisational Barrier
Disputes between millers and farmers are omnipresent when sugarcane quality supplied to the factories come in to play. Arbitration of disputes have never been an easy and rapid task since it has legal implications. Therefore in circumstances of extreme event where the sucrose per cent is low, millers would refused to take the cane for milling until a decision is not taken by competent authorities. The time taken by organisation to make a decision would result in more economic losses to planters since already harvested canes deteriorate with time if milling delayed.
3.1.2 Market failures
It is proposed that raw sugar be imported from other countries and reprocessed into refine white sugar in case the quota not fulfilled from local production. But the main constraint might be market accessibility and acceptability. There is a growing concern for fair trade these days where all cultural practices are documented and norms respected. Moreover, if raw sugar is used from a country which does not satisfy the standards, then this strategy would just fail and its recurrent might end up the contractual agreement, then further problem would arise in searching for alternate potential buyers.
3.1.3 Behavioural barriers.
Acceptance of GMO is still having some ethnical refusal and this would act as a barrier in developing new resistant varieties. It is commonly observed that planters are more attached to traditional farming and system and they are quite resistant in adopting new strategies like regrouping and mechanisation. Therefore this is impeding the ambitious project of FORIP to reach its cruised speed with the objective to mitigate the effects of climate change.
4.0 Mitigation strategies
In the attempt of decreasing considerably green-house gas emission in the atmosphere, sugarcane industry could play a role model. The co-generation of electricity recently embraced by the sugarcane industry is a good show piece. In this concept, during the harvesting period, the power plant utilised bagasse instead of coal to produce electricity for export to the national grid. The sugarcane industry is a whole picture in itself where every emission from power plant are trapped back by the sugarcane plant which is well known for its carbon dioxide fixing capability. Another by-product which came out from the processing of sugar is filter cake (scum). The scum is used as bio-fertiliser in grower’s fields. This strategy decreases the dependency on chemical fertiliser and at the same time helps in soil conservation.
To conclude, the impacts of climate change is likely to affect all stakeholders of the Mauritian Sugarcane Industry throughout all its operating value chain. Having a good adaptation plan is important but to be successful, the adaptation strategies demand for active participation of each and every one. Moreover, not all strategies could easily be implemented because there are barriers that prevent its effective implementation. Furthermore as always said prevention is better than cure, then it is equally important to have a climate change mitigation framework with aim not to further deteriorate the already affected climate.
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