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Speech by Dr. Hon A. Boolell, Minister of Agro Industry and Fisheries at the opening of the 31st Session of IFAD’s Governing Council

Mr Lennart Bäge
President of IFAD
Governors of IFAD Council
Distinguished participants

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me first congratulate IFAD for the celebration of its 30th Anniversary this year and for its accomplishments over the past decades to alleviate poverty in the developing world.

I am pleased to note that this 31st session of the Governing Council of IFAD will address pertinent issues to our agricultural sector, namely the challenges and opportunities for smallholder farmers in the context of climate change, the new demands on agriculture, bio fuels expansion and the rising prices of food and agriculture commodities.

I am thankful to IFAD for its contribution to help the rural poor in Mauritius through the implementation of the Rural Diversification Programme as from 2000. The objectives of the programme, which will last up to 30 June 2008 are to support the poverty alleviation strategy of the Government of Mauritius and to stimulate sustainable activities for low-income households. With its wealth of experience and knowledge base, IFAD has played a critical role to improve the welfare and livelihood of our rural poor.

The Government of Mauritius has agreed to a proposal made by IFAD for the implementation of the Marine and Agricultural Resources Support Programme as from this year. The rationale of this programme is based on the fact that with the structural changes in the sugar and textile industries, there is a high risk that a large number of marginal households will slip back into poverty unless there is proactive action to help them establish new means of livelihoods.

The fishermen communities and the smallholder planters in Mauritius and Rodrigues have been identified as the most vulnerable groups under the new programme. The challenge thereof is to ensure that it responds to the concrete and particular constraints of the targeted vulnerable groups and provides them with sustainable opportunities to come out of poverty.

The Government of Mauritius is also, on its part, taking a series of measures to address the pro-poor dimensions. In 2006, Government formulated a ten year economic reform programme to return the economy into a growth path of over 6% in the longer term. The Reform Programme outlines a string of measures for all sections of Society. The Mauritius Multi-Annual Adaptation Strategy 2006-2015 for the sugar sector forms an integral part of this comprehensive ten-year economic reform programme.

In line with goal one of the UN Millennium Development Goals on eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, various means have been taken for the protection of the most vulnerable segments of the population. The Empowerment Programme, introduced in 2006, is being broadened and deepened with addition of various activities including those related to agri business. A Special Programme for Unemployed women provides support to retrenched and unemployed women to engage in innovative and sustainable business activities in groups. Furthermore, a Placement for Training Programme has been launched which gives on the job training to young unemployed to enable them to acquire skills and experience to integrate the new sectors of the economy.

In the 2007-08 Budget, extension of training and re-skilling with a focus on women, youth and the low-skilled long-term unemployed usually with little education is being provided. To support the Programme, a solid network of institutions and organizations has been created.

Government is now looking at NGOs and social organizations to come up with proposals on how to access these funds to development programmes for women and the long term unemployed.

Furthermore, under the European Union Decentralised Cooperation Programme, various arrangements have been made for targeting of the most deprived areas and the poorest segments of the population, including Rodrigues and complements actions undertaken under the Empowerment Programme.

Finally, the Trust Fund for the Social Integration of Vulnerable Groups continues in its endeavour to assist the most needy and the vulnerable persons to bring them to a level where they can participate in self-help programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the agricultural sector apart from its traditional mission is now being called upon to play a more pronounced role in employment creation, rural development, poverty alleviation and environment protection. We sincerely wish to see this sector coming out of its difficulty and undergoing the reform process smoothly and in the best conditions.

Measures contained in the Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy for the sugar cane sector with regard to social aspects are being implemented. In that respect, a training programme for workers opting to retire is under preparation and the aim is to empower the retiring workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to enable them to find an alternative employment or engage in business activity after their retirement.

Government is aware of the vulnerability of the population with regard to economic changes, in particular the sugar drop and food price increases, and climate changes which are particularly relevant for Mauritius as a small island developing state. It is in this context that a strategic option document for the agricultural sector has been recently prepared highlighting measures to boost up diversification for enhanced food security.

Regarding the fisheries section, the objective is to integrate our fisherman into the mainstream and allow them to increase their income.

Government has come up with the Fisherman Investment Trust. And provisions have been made in the new budget for fisherman to become shareholders of the Trust through a Government grant, fishermen own equity and a loan.

Furthermore, a fish auction market will be set up with assistance from the Greek Government to facilitate marketing of fish from both the industrial and artisanal sectors.

Opportunities are being created to open up new avenues such as aquaculture to shift fishermen from an over-exploited lagoon where income prospects are poor. In parallel, promoters of the Integrated Resort Scheme are being encouraged to build capacity of fisherman and small planters to become suppliers of products and services to the Integrated Report Scheme.

Mr. President, Mauritius is and is seen by many as a development success. As highlighted above, many challenges are still ahead of us.

We do need assistance from our External Partners and in particular from IFAD, our institution.

However, I hereby request that the conditionalities in particular the lending rates be revised in order to make IFAD's assistance affordable to Mauritius and the people of Mauritius.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me conclude by once again expressing my appreciation to IFAD for its intervention in the agricultural sector in Mauritius and Rodrigues. I sincerely hope to rely on its vital support to move forward.

Thank you for your attention.