Exploring the cause of the persisting productivity gap of small scale sugar cane planters in Mauritius : new directions for research and development and agricultural extension.
Pillay, Kessawa Pillay Payandi.
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Despite progress made by Research and Development in the Mauritian sugar cane industry, a productivity gap averaging 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes of sugar per hectare has been constantly observed between large corporate planters and the small planters. Although recent studies (MSIRI, 2010) show that only a small proportion of the small planters have access to research findings, it is strongly believed that this alone cannot be the reason for this productivity gap. To be able to identify other factors that may also contribute to this gap, a qualitative study was undertaken. It comprised focus group discussions with research specialists, extension officers and representatives of farmers’ organizations and other service providing institutions to explore explored current extension practices in Mauritius. Secondly, a survey was conducted among a sample of small planters operating in three milling areas, located in the major agro-climatic zones of Mauritius. A realistic and practical sample size, adhering as closely as possible to the intent of the concept of saturation (Mason, 2010:1), was used, due to limited resources and funds. A total of 147 small sugar cane planters were interviewed using a questionnaire designed for that purpose and the information collected was processed and analysed using Microsoft Access and IBM SPSS Statistics 20.0. Knowledge of the demographics of the planters is important to be able to understand the reason for the productivity gap. The study found that the majority of the respondents own small-sized fields (less or equal to one hectare), are males over the age of 40 years, and have more than 15 years of experience in sugar cane farming. In terms of cane yield per hectare, a slight majority of the respondents (52%) indicated that they are not achieving their field potential. Among those achieving good cane yields, the majority are experienced farmers (< 15 years farming sugar cane) who own their sugar cane lands; 46% operate on farm sizes of less than one hectare and 94% adopt good management practices. Income, family tradition and a sense of duty were the most common reasons given by respondents for farming sugar cane. However, no single one of these was identified by a majority of farmers as the primary reasons for engaging in sugar cane farming; most gave a combination of these factors. The contribution of this income to the total income of the small planters is generally insignificant. Among the major conclusions of the study, the phenomenon of risk aversion /disincentive among the small planters towards further investments and adoption of new technologies is discussed. Three options are identified for the small sugar cane planters in Mauritius - small planters willing to improve their production levels; those willing to maintain the status quo; and those planters willing to opt out of the sugar cane business. It is conceded that to respond to these options, and particularly if there is a desire to improve the livelihood of the small sugar cane planters in Mauritius, research and extension have to review their functioning. They will, henceforth, have to engage themselves in genuine partnerships with the small planters and in this context a framework is proposed for the research process.
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