“The person working the soil is just as intelligent as the one bearing a diploma”

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 “The person working the soil is just as intelligent as the one bearing a diploma” Empty “The person working the soil is just as intelligent as the one bearing a diploma”

Post  Sirop14 on Tue Jul 31, 2018 7:48 am

Today in Seychelles
2 hrs ·
Monday 30 July 2018

The Big interview with Guynemer Corgat

“The person working the soil is just as intelligent as the one bearing a diploma”

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has recently held a series of meetings in various regions on Mahé, as well as on Praslin and La Digue to gauge the challenges the agricultural industry faces as well as determine the measures it needs to implement to revive it. Guynemer Corgat, a well-known figure on the local agricultural scene and proponent of food security speaks to TODAY of SMB, pointing out that flawed decision-making by government has led to the decline and devastation of some segments of the once vibrant sector. He is adamant that government must be more receptive to feedback from farmers.

by J. Florentine and R. J. Lawen

Mr. Corgat, do you think the consultative meetings being held for the agricultural sector will make much of a difference?

I am someone who always believes in hope, but if you are looking at the Agricultural sector in Seychelles, this is not the first meeting I attend. Even before the closure of the ex-Mahé Beach hotel, there were such sessions being held. Experts from overseas have been around to talk about the problems we are facing. Sometimes we bring in experts from overseas who do not necessarily know and understand the situation in Seychelles.

What would you suggest then?

The situation in Seychelles should be diagnosed and discussed by people who know the industry in the country. Often we have individuals who have gone to further their studies in agriculture, returning to the country armed with doctorates or a masters’ degree in this and that and this I believe is all well and good, because we need the theoretical knowledge. But what the decision makers do not realise is that when these people come back they go to work in offices, where they continue to do paperwork.

They have never been to the university that I went through. My university does not have pencils and pens, but it is full of tools such as shovels, hoes and whatever else is at the farmer’s disposal. We must never forget that the person working the soil is just as intelligent as the one bearing a diploma. This is a completely different university that they have attended. Everyone who wants to succeed in life has to go through the University of Life, to gain much-needed experience. Often these people do not do that. What they are good at is getting on TV and making big speeches, on the field, however, that is a different story.
When you look at the agriculture sector in Seychelles, you need to find out how many of the people working in the offices have actually worked in the agricultural sector. It could be that they covered some of it when they were studying, and they usually cover backyard farming and not the intensive agriculture that we practice when we are in the business. In the business we are on call 365 days a year in any weather. This is what I believe is the first weakness of our local sector.

What are the others?

When I observe the people at the Ministry for Agriculture I realise that they are not ready to listen to those working on the field. Even if we try to tell them anything they have a ‘Yes tande, no konpran’ approach to our contributions. Meaning they hear us speaking but are not listening to what we have to say. I have worked for eight years on Frégate Island in the agricultural sector. I know what we can produce there – which is a lot! I gained a lot of experience while working there; I was working mainly with Livestock and a bit of hard crops.

From 1978 up to early eighties, the sector was on top. Even the students at the then Agricultural School were producing amazing results. Then the sector started declining, the first mistake we made was when the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB) came into being, it was buying all fruits and vegetables from farmers. Farmers in Seychelles were just producing without the burden of having to sell their produce. The job of a farmer is to produce, let somebody else do the selling, all they have to do is continue pushing production. SMB was absorbing all the vegetables. Praslin was producing so many tomatoes, that at some point the farmers there were dumping truck loads of their produce – they were simply producing too much!

This was when the government decided to create Agro Industries – of which I was on the board.

It was with this situation that the Praslin farmers started to complain that the prices were not what they were expecting and the Government told them to go ahead and sell their produce wherever they wanted to. This is when the explosion happened. Farmers were unable to deal with volume they were producing; it went down, down and still continuing to go down to this day.

What happened as a result? Did SMB start importing produce?

Yes, it was free to get produce from wherever it wanted. I understand where that decision came from - SMB was supplying all the institutions in the country with produce. And then the hotels also got into that game, and started importing their own produce till that day we had the economic breakdown.

Other players also came in, such as ISPC, and Global Supplies also joined in to supply the hotels in the country. As a result we see that all those big companies have flooded the local market, causing an additional burden that the government itself has allowed – which it should not have.

Instead the government should have informed these companies that your purpose here was to supply the hotels and not flood our local market, and “now, why don’t you buy from the farmer to supply the hotels?”

You have recently aired very strong views on the importation of poultry by SMB. Why so?

The decision by government to allow SMB to import chickens from Brazil and from France was yet another mistake. Back in those days, farmers were producing 80 per cent of the livestock for the country’s consumption. Government said that farmers were making too much money in poultry production! This is a fact: I was at the table when it was said. So in order to curb this trend and considering that the country was going through an economic crisis, it was decided that it should let poultry from these countries into the market as they were cheaper.

What they did not realise is that the chicken was cheaper, but it had 44 per cent of water in it. So when you do the math, a chicken of 1.2 kg for SCR 37 for a Seychellois family is enough to make dinner or lunch. Whereas local producers are providing chickens of 2.4 kg 2.6 kg which would cost anything from SCR40 to SCR70. So if a family only had SCR 100 of course they would go for the cheaper option at SCR 35, the money carried over could then be used to buy rice, onions and anything else necessary to make a complete meal to feed the whole family. I don’t blame them. But in reality the chicken did not cost SCR35 as flesh and bone, because you were paying for the 45 per cent of water found in it; when breaking down the cost, you were still paying the same price as you would for one bought from a local producer.

Did you say anything at the time the decision was being taken?

Yes, I kept telling them that this was not the correct step to take. I admit that our chickens cost more. Since we were providing six-week old chickens, I suggested we do so at five weeks. The local farmers disagreed because they wanted their chickens to be heavier resulting in better profits. I was one of the farmers who went ahead to provide five-week old chickens. At that time the Farmers’ Co-operative had taken over the feed production of which it was doing a good job. And even then I could manage to still bring my chickens to 2.2 kg at five weeks. So the money that I would have used to keep the chicken for the additional week saved me SCR 64,000, which meant I could still bring the price of my chickens down.

I did that for a whole year, spreading the news to other farmers, who, sadly, did not want to take it onboard. I strongly believe in passing on my knowledge because I also have learnt from others. Maybe you can improve on what I have showed you and you can do better. To which I say good luck to you!

All these changes happened overnight. Imagine we were only selling our poultry to SMB at SCR13 for 1 kg live weight. SMB then slaughtered them and sold them at SCR 21 dressed weight. Back in those days 20 per cent was for importation as a security measure, since we were only producing 80 per cent. This again was another political manoeuvre as they actually were importing 40 per cent. Considering the dollar was at SCR5 and the chickens were being sold at SCR 21 – they were making money!

Only now after ten years, maybe after researching on the internet that people were injecting chickens to put the weight on, I think it has finally sunk in that what I, the stupid idiot, was telling them was a fact. After ten years can you imagine the effect this decision has had on our population? I can guarantee you that it has had a devastating effect on the farmers who have invested millions into poultry farming.


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