Port Louis — Jean-Claude Autrey unveiled lately "a new approach to derocking of small planters' land" during a meeting with sugar industry stakeholders. He estimates the initial cost of this exercise to be Rs 353 millions for 6 227 hectares.
"A critical mass of cane production will be achieved on lands which otherwise may leave cane and jeopardize the objectives of the Multi-Annual Adaptation Strategy Action Plan 2006-2015", concluded Dr Jean-Claude Autrey, director of the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute.
With a 36% price cut in the sugar price as from 2009/2010, the industry is bound to reform itself into a diversified cane industry. Production costs in the fields need to be drastically cut down so that, at the end of the day, the cane industry as a whole remains viable.
The most vulnerable group who will face the price cut shock remains the small planters, (who amount to some 30 000) as they do not have the relevant know-how and means. Derocking is one of a list of measures that will help these vulnerable planters to get mechanization rolling in their fields.
At first, the plan addresses coarse derocking in areas of easy and moderate levels of workability. Such a derocking consists of raking the subsoil to a depth of 30 to 45 centimetres for large to medium sized rocks as well as removal of scattered rocks and piles on the land surface.
To grind 4,3 million tons of rocks
According to MSIRI figures, 3 819 hectares will be easily derocked whilst 2 408 will take much more time. Hence, stone crushers would be called upon to grind some 4,3 million tonnes of rocks. Up to now, miller-planters have derocked 48% of land owned whereas small planters lag behind with only 3% of 27 568 hectares.
During his presentation Dr Autrey stressed on the following prerequisites for the implementation. It must be considered on a sector basis (north, east, south and centre/west) and led by the corporate sector. All resources available need to be inventoried, pertaining to heavy machinery, tractors, loaders, transport, and capacity of stony crushers amongst others.
Small planters should be invited to join in the process. Instead of getting them involved in a contract, they should rather submit a letter committing themselves to keep cane for a cycle, that is seven years. Moreover, stated Dr Autrey, the community must be offered a full package that includes land preparation, fertilisation, plantation, pre and post-emergence herbicide application, harvesting and loading.
Before its implementation, the plan advocates the establishment of priority zones according to a list of parameters. Thereafter, the identified sites must be sorted into an order of proceeding. For example, irrigated lands should be derocked first.