Lisa Singh, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mauritius and Seychelles, was speaking before the United Nations Food Systems Summit +2 which takes place in Italy from July 24 to 26.
“It is a particularly interesting time to be the resident coordinator of a small island state like Mauritius. Since my arrival here in 2022, I have experienced examples of extreme weather conditions such as floods and cyclones on the one hand and water shortages on the other.
This visible effect of climate change, combined with our geographical remoteness, the small size of our economies and the high import costs, has serious consequences for the food security of our island. It has grown since the COVID-19 the pandemic and war-related supply and commodity shocks in Ukraine, raising strong concerns about food security as key to the sustainable economic transformation agenda.
Food systems emerged not just as an agricultural challenge, but as a game-changer to catalyze results on multiple SDGs. The upcoming event in Italy provides an opportunity for both countries to focus on the way forward to accelerate the transformative power of food systems.
Food production must be considered in all sectors and not in isolation. Water and energy are direct inputs at all stages of the food value chain, while natural resources, ecosystems and their services underpin the security of these inputs. Agriculture accounts for 30% of water use in Mauritius alone. Globally, a third of the energy available in the world is consumed by the food production value chain.
Take a holistic approach
Addressing water scarcity and investing in renewable energy are key to food security. Mauritius imports three quarters of its energy with renewable energies, which represents 24% of its current energy mix. It imports over 77% of its food needs and households are under pressure as the prices of basic foodstuffs such as bread, black lentils, powdered milk and cooking oil continue to rise. Our reliance on imports such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, technology and equipment makes it vulnerable to global commodity and supply disruptions.
Food systems transformation can play a key role in national climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. For example, in line with its Nationally Determined Contributions, Mauritius has reaffirmed its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector. The country has also identified agriculture as a priority sector for climate change adaptation with a focus on efficient irrigation techniques and climate-smart agriculture.
Clearly, for the UN team, it is essential to support a holistic systems approach to addressing the links between food, climate, water, energy and gender.
Power of partnerships
We adopt a double orientation. There is the institutional commitment to inform the strategies, policies and budgets needed to transform food systems as well as to influence budget allocations.
We also aim to build community resilience, leveraging the power of partnerships, digital platforms, private-public modalities and data, with the inclusion of women and youth at the center.
For countries like Mauritius, where tourism is an important source of GDP revenue, the impact of climate change poses a sustainability risk given its rare but fragile natural ecosystems.
The lives and livelihoods of communities, especially in coastal areas, are directly affected. Coral bleaching and human pollution put pressure on the lagoon ecosystem affecting our artisanal fishermen like Nazma and her family.
She has been an artisanal fisherman for more than 30 years with her husband and several of her children. It is a sustainable way of fishing, as only lines are used unlike commercial fishing. Furthermore, most of the fish they catch is for consumption in Mauritius and not for export.
Nazma says she loves everything about fishing. It is a passion that has become his profession. But, she points out, life is expensive, fuel is expensive and there are fewer fish in the lagoon.
The UN, in collaboration with the European Union through the Ecofish project, is using technological innovations to empower small-scale fishers to leave overfished lagoons.
Promoting “smart” agriculture
By improving the economic resilience of these traditional fishing communities, food security will be enhanced through better management of marine resources.
In Rodrigues, which is part of the Mauritius archipelago, we work with eight women who have formed the Rodrigues Turmeric Producers Association to grow and process turmeric into powder for sale.
Discussing energy inputs in agriculture, one of the association’s members, Marie-Anne, explains that with the financial support of the UN-supported Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Program (SGP), she and her peers were able to purchase a solar dryer to replace an electric dryer that used a lot of energy and was very expensive.
Her colleague and friend, Perrine, explains how the profession allows women to emancipate themselves. This will also allow their grandchildren to continue this work because the turmeric will always be there.
There are other innovative sustainable food systems solutions piloted by UN agencies in Mauritius. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (CAM) And UN Women under the SDG Joint Fundpromote low-cost biofertilizers made locally from seaweed.
With only seven years left to deliver the Agenda 2030 OUR United Nations Country Team in Mauritius will continue its efforts to support the diversification of the economy, strengthen the circular economy and invest in human capital to combat supply shocks.
Working in partnership to advance climate action and foster resilient pathways is key to securing Mauritius’ future for our people, our planet, prosperity and peace.
United Nations Resident Coordinator
- The United Nations Resident Coordinator, sometimes referred to as the RC, is the highest representative of the United Nations development system at country level.
- In this occasional series, UN news invites RCs to blog about issues important to the UN and the country where they serve.
- Learn more about the work of the UN in Mauritius here.
- Learn more about the United Nations Development Coordination Office here.