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Seychelles: Producing Fresh Ideas for Food Security

The Seychelles' attempts to link up its farming sectors with tourism could provide a useful model for small-island states across the world.
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A market on Mahe Island, Seychelles. Photograph by Fabio Achilli.

Denis Island – ‘the island at the end of the world’ – is just one of the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles. But this tiny privately-owned slice of paradise in the Indian Ocean, once an important coconut plantation, could hold the answers to some of the most troubling problems facing small island states around the world today.

Denis Island’s successful ‘agritourism’ approach brings together private and public sectors. With a small-scale fishery and farm operating in parallel with an up-market tourist resort, this small island is almost completely self-sufficient. It produces its own fish, pork, chicken, duck, eggs, fresh milk, and a range of vegetables and fruits for its inhabitants and visitors.

For a country that has to import 90% of its food consumed, the success of Denis Island could be a lesson for the rest of Seychelles – and beyond.

Trawling for economic solutions

With a population around 90,000 and GDP of $1 billon in 2011 the Seychelles is an upper-middle income country. Its income is mostly generated through tourism and fishing, with industrial fishing having surpassed tourism as a source of foreign exchange earnings since the emergence of Port Victoria as the principal tuna trans-shipment port in the region during the mid-1980s and the development of tuna canning in the late 1990s.

Artisanal fishing, however, remains underdeveloped and, like in many small island states, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns have adversely affected the productivity of small-scale Seychellois fishers and farmers. In 2010, for instance, the country suffered its worst drought in decades, followed by severe flooding; and this January, a state of emergency was called after the islands were hit by a series of floods and landslides which are very rare for that time of year.

The Seychelles aims to be an active participant in regional and global trade, but it faces many challenges. Small island states are amongst the first parts of the world to be afflicted by the consequences of climate change, which can severely undermine economic and food security. And for some countries such as the Seychelles, these problems are exacerbated by the scourge of piracy, which can significantly inflate prices or, in some instances, completely block the precious food imports. Aside from acts of God or geopolitical dramas, the Seychelles is also plagued by limited natural resources, scarce agricultural land, and remoteness from major markets. It is also at a severe disadvantage in terms of regional trade because of its own small market size.

But yet, imported food sold in local markets is typically substantially cheaper than locally-produced food. In some instances, local poultry producers have been forced out of markets because they are simply unable to compete.

To address this situation, the Seychelles is looking to diversify and, following in Denis Island’s footsteps, promote fresh, locally-produced livestock and vegetables (including organic produce) to supply the haut de gamme (or ‘upscale’) tourism establishments and local markets. Mixing agriculture and tourism could provide high-quality, organic products to hotels, supermarkets and more traditional markets, as well as increase employment opportunities for the youth. This kind of approach could allow the two sectors to not only coexist but complement each other. Such partnerships are critical to enhance agricultural and rural development.

At the same time, however, as one of the world’s most environmentally-conscious nations, the Seychelles has also now legally protected more than half of its total land area from development.

Meeting tomorrow's challenges

In the same way that the Seychelles seems to be learning from Denis Island, it will be crucial going forwards for small island states to learn from one another. Successful models will have to be shared across oceans between countries looking to strengthen partnerships between agriculture and tourism. This pooling of knowledge, and the direct transfer of useful information, technology and support to smallholder farmers in specific contexts could be highly effective in reducing poverty and increasing food security.

An ongoing grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development is trying to facilitate such endeavours by supporting the Regional Initiative for Smallholder Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change in the Indian Ocean Islands. This initiative is creating a regional platform providing adaptation strategies for small-scale farmers. The platform actively disseminates information on environmentally-sound agricultural practices, such as farming with low or zero tillage, composting, integrating livestock and farming activities.

This kind of sharing between countries or regions facing similar challenges allows for policies and agricultural projects to be based on a broader risk assessment. It also allows for a better understanding of the connections between people and their environmental landscapes. Replicating practices that have worked elsewhere could be a major boon for sustainable agriculture. In turn, this collaborative approach could help build climate resilience that goes beyond just one island or one rural community.

However, at the same time, we must be careful not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and rural development. Solutions must be tailored to the specific problems of a specific rural community.

The task of growing more food for these small island states is only possible through these complementary solutions between sectors that allow farmers to adapt and develop. Naturally, this would also contribute to meeting the world’s food security, environmental and poverty reduction challenges. In our increasingly globalised world, the problems of people on one side of the planet cannot be ignored by the other. Perhaps fittingly, this small island “at the end of the world” could hold the key to solving some big problems.

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