By Student Delegate Paige Beyer
Small island developing states (SIDS) are often characterized by their size, remoteness, and bountiful marine resources. Highly dependent on fisheries for food, these island nations face agricultural limitations resulting in a heavy reliance on imports. Import dependency is fraught with issues such as volatile food prices and food/nutrition insecurity. As sea-levels rise and freshwater sources diminish, island nations face increasing agricultural challenges and food security issues.
Farming is often small-scale and family-run. Limited investment in commercial agriculture and farming technology greatly impedes export markets, meaning agriculture products are simply not competitive commodities. While agriculture carries its economic issues, it also shines a light on gender inequality. Women and girls play a large (and often invisible, unpaid) role in agriculture. Women plant, weed, harvest, and process crops, providing for their families.
As a member of SIDS, Seychelles faces these agricultural challenges. In the Seychelles, fisheries, tourism, and the seafood industry dominate much of the economy, while agriculture makes up a mere 2.07% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). In terms of food-related commodities, the Seychelles’ total exports is USD 8 million while their total imports are USD 126 million. The country is highly dependent on food imports, with 80% of food being imported. This means that the local agriculture productions are too small for the nation to be self-reliant.
Although completely surrounded by water, the Seychelles has about 1,540 hectares (or roughly 3,805 acres) of agricultural land, representing 3.4% of the total land area in the county. Of that land, only 0.3% is considered arable and 3% of land area constitutes permanent crops. The food production includes tropical fruits, such as bananas and mangoes, and root vegetables such as yams and cabbages. A majority of agriculture in the Seychelles relies on rainfall, although there are irrigations systems. The agriculture input is further lowered through a limited use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Some of the biggest obstacles facing Seychellois agriculture include an aging farming population, funding, and limited land. Younger populations choose to pursue other career paths, putting pressure on an already small industry. With an insufficient domestic food supply, the nation heavily relies on imports. Coupled with the high cost of farming technology, money to pay for imports is almost more necessary than funding domestic agriculture. Further, land ownership presents another impediment. Women in particular lack the resources and control to land and production assets. The discrepancy in land access highlights the gender divide and its social and economic impact.
And yet, perhaps the biggest threat of all is climate change. As a small island state, Seychelles is particularly vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. The already small agriculture sector faces issues of food security and dwindling farmer livelihoods. However, the Seychelles has implemented several climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies. CSA technologies work to enhance food security while also addressing issues of adaptation or mitigation. Some of the CSA practices the Seychelles have adopted include inter cropping and anti-erosion measures.
Inter cropping refers to planting crops in between rows of trees. In the Seychelles, intercropping works as a natural pest repellant, improves soil structure, and balances fertility levels of the soil. Anti-erosion measures refer to practices that mitigate erosion. Examples of such include planting grasses along the outer areas of farms as a means of filtering sediments, excess nutrients, or pesticides from water runoff.
CSA practices are linked to broader climate action and policy. Although the oceans are the heart of many SIDS, agriculture plays a unique and understated role. Investing in sustainable agriculture is a way to not only increase food security, but to create food sovereignty or bolster domestic food reliance. In doing so, SIDS can decrease their reliance on imports and instead support domestic farming operations.