"Overseas regions are at the forefront of current issues that concern each and every one of us: food sovereignty, climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity and health preservation by means of a One Health approach, and also reduced pesticide use thanks to agroecology. CIRAD has been working with the overseas regions on all these topics for many years, with results that suggest we have made the right choices and encourage us to go even further with the vast transitions that are now necessary", CIRAD CEO Elisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin said at the opening session.
We have brought together our overseas partners, local authorities, State services and representatives of four ministries*, of the Agence Française de Développement, ODEADOM, ACTA, and the French Chambers of Agriculture, to take stock of our partnership, our successes and new expectations, and co-build a roadmap for research to foster farming systems that preserve their environment.
Elisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin
The roadmap, construction of which was launched at the meeting, will be unveiled at the 2024 Paris International Agricultural Show.
This first-ever meeting covered two days:
• Monday 27 November, on the issues and challenges of agriculture in the overseas regions, giving the floor to the overseas territories by means of roundtables and collective expression workshops. The day ended with the signing of CIRAD's contract of objectives, resources and performance with the Réunion Regional Council (see framework agreement)
• Tuesday 28 November was given over to visits of CIRAD's infrastructures in Montpellier, on the topics of agroecology and adaptation to climate change (Baillarguet campus), food sovereignty and the energy transition (Lavalette campus).
1. Aiming for food sovereignty by 2030
The overseas regions are still dependent on imported foodstuffs and some departments have been hit by the water crisis. How can some form of sovereignty be achieved, to feed their 2.2 million inhabitants?
In French Guiana and Mayotte, almost 85% of local demand for fruit and vegetables is satisfied, compared to almost 70% on Réunion, and 40-45% in Guadeloupe and Martinique. In terms of livestock operations, French Guiana and Réunion have the best developed cattle sectors (20% of requirements satisfied), and Réunion comes top in terms of poultry production for meat, with 35% of requirements satisfied (Agreste agricultural statistics). In all, there are more than 26 500 farms, of which around a hundred are organic in the west Indies and French Guiana, and more than 350 in Réunion.
Is self-sufficiency possible in these territories that are subject to strong constraints and highly dependent on agricultural inputs?
Vingt-trois leviers pour améliorer l’autosuffisance alimentaire des départements d’Outre-mer sont identifiés dans une étude, coordonnée par le Cirad et présentée au Salon international de l’agriculture.
Is it possible to produce more locally while respecting environmental and human health?
This is the objective set by all the local authorities and by the 2030 food sovereignty plan for the French overseas regions.
One of our priorities is the strategy of achieving food sovereignty by means of agroecology, as voted by the local territorial authority.
Executive Councillor in charge of economic development, attractiveness, agriculture, food, digital technology and citizen participation, territorial authority of Martinique
In Martinique and Réunion, trials of local, organic food supplies to school canteens are also under way under the umbrella of the territorial Food Plans, with support from CIRAD.
2. Protecting and promoting exceptional biodiversity
The French overseas regions are home to 80% of the country's biodiversity, with four out of five French endemic species found in those regions. For instance, 96% of French Guiana is covered by the Amazon rainforest.
Through its research, CIRAD supports managers of these exceptional environments, such as the Réunion National Park, which it is helping to fight invasive exotic species, or the ONF (French Forestry Commission), which it is helping to manage natural forests and timber plantations in French Guiana.
It is also helping to inventory biological diversity and conserve crop biodiversity by means of a number of edible plant collections housed at biological resource centres. Those collections provide access to varieties used in the past and make it possible to create new disease-resistant or -tolerant ones. Knowledge of this diversity makes it easier to obtain recognition of local animal races, for instance in Réunion or Mayotte. It also offers remarkable potential for cosmeceuticals.
New species are sometimes discovered during such inventories and surveys, like the recent discovery of five new worm species in Martinique.
3. Are the overseas regions the cradle of agroecology?
This wealth of biodiversity is fertile ground for agroecology. Whether in French Guiana or in the French West Indies, agroforestry, which consists in combining trees and crops, is expanding, and Mayotte has more recently followed suit. In French Guiana and Réunion, cocoa is grown under trees, as it is in its original habitat, and in Guadeloupe, growers have recently begun intercropping banana with fruit trees such as citrus. They have also worked with researchers on introducing sheep to control weeds in banana plantings, as part of the Territoires durables (Sustainable territories) project, which ended recently.
These recent trials follow on from more than a decade of agroecological transition within the banana chain in the West Indies (under the Banane durable - sustainable banana - plans), which has resulted in substantial reductions in pesticide use, particularly insecticides and nematicides.
French bananas, which are grown in the French West Indies, are the fruits of a long history, fraught with difficulties, that CIRAD has supported over the years. Forty years that have revolutionized banana growing and seen biodiversity return to banana plantations.
Large-scale trials are also under way within the market gardening sector in Martinique to reduce crop protection product use, as part of the ECOPHYTO PUMAT project.
We want to return to territory-based agriculture, on small areas, to feed our population with market garden and food crops that don't consume much water.
Chair of the Green Economy Commission, Guadeloupe Regional Council
In Réunion, pilot trials conducted jointly by CIRAD, ARMEFLHOR and the Saint Paul agricultural college as part of the STOP project have shown that it is possible to cut pesticide use by switching to agroecological practices, although there is still some way to go before this can be scaled up. Biocontrol trials are also being stepped up in Réunion and the Indian Ocean, and have prompted the creation of a platform in partnership on the topic.
in Mayotte, insect nets have already removed the need for certain insecticides.
We are keen to make our farming systems more resilient, based on the jardin mahorais (a form of agroforestry). This means intensifying production in an agroecological way and training farmers to know more about their soils.
Deputy Head of terrestrial and maritime resources, Terrestrial and Maritime Resources Directorate, Mayotte
4. One Health: pioneering networks
These various projects are part of a territorial health approach, within the framework of a more general One Health approach encompassing ecosystem, plant, animal and human health.
CIRAD and its partners have launched a series of pioneering networks in this field in the French overseas regions over the past 15 years.
The CaribVET network and the One Health-OI platform in partnership were co-founded by CIRAD with the aim of rapidly detecting emerging animal diseases that may subsequently be transmitted to humans, in order to act quickly on a local level and raise the alarm on a wider scale. They associate veterinarians, researchers and other health stakeholders, and work to prevent animal diseases entering island territories or to control them, by means of the One Health concept. We look at the impact of these networks, more than a decade on.
These approaches are now really coming into their own, with the emergence of zoonoses in various parts of the world and the spread of antimicrobial resistance and of diseases carried by vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks. The island territories of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean have been working for many years to organize management of such diseases, since the first crises in terms of animal and human health (dengue, Chikungunya and Zika), or plant health (citrus greening or HLB, fruit flies and the threat of Fusarium wilt).
Globalization and climate change mean that species are migrating and finding new ecological niches in previously unsuitable climates, such as the South of France.
5. Climate change: capturing carbon in soils
To mitigate global warming, agriculture, grasslands and forests are major levers for carbon capture, as shown by the Overseas 4 per 1000 study.
The "Overseas 4 per 1000" study, coordinated by CIRAD in partnership with INRAE and IRD, set out to inventory soil carbon stocks in the French overseas regions. The authors made operational and research recommendations to preserve these substantial stocks and tackle the main agricultural issues resulting from climate change on a national and territorial level.
Agroecology and agroforestry, as described above, are also ways of mitigating and adapting to climate change. the overseas regions, which are subject to violent climate hazards such as cyclones, will be increasingly affected, and unless it adapts, agriculture will be the first victim.
There is a need for public policy to adapt agriculture to climate change.
How can we adapt? This is where we need scientific research. We are keen to help the smallholder sector develop and reconcile environmental protection and agricultural production.
Vice-Chair in charge of agriculture, fisheries and food sovereignty, territorial authority of French Guiana
6. The RITAs: a network to foster agricultural innovation
The agricultural innovation and transfer networks (RITAs) co-coordinated over the past ten years by CIRAD and ACTA are now entering their third phase, and now involve the French Chambers of Agriculture. Their aim is to facilitate the adoption of agricultural innovations by producers in the overseas regions.
France's agricultural innovation and transfer networks are one of the few tools for exchanges between its various overseas regions. For more than ten years now, the networks, founded on the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, local authorities, CIRAD and ACTA, have succeeded in fostering a dynamic of inter-institutional collaborations that benefit the agricultural world and the agroecological transition. They involve some 150 structures working on around 20 topics, in eight overseas territories. We take stock of their achievements ten years after their operational launch, as they embark upon a third phase, this time involving the French Chambers of Agriculture.
We need to reconquer agricultural land to reconcile sugarcane and food production, within the framework of our land use planning strategy.
Regional Councillor in charge of higher education, research and the energy transition, Réunion Regional Council
Those innovations could go hand-in-hand with a reduction in dependency on inputs, in line with a circular economy, and the development of processing units for certain agricultural products.
*Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty; Ministry of the Overseas Regions; Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation; Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs
**Agence Française de Développement; ODEADOM; Association de Coordination Technique Agricole (ACTA); French Chambers of Agriculture.
CIRAD in the overseas regions is:
25% of CIRAD's total staff numbers
20% of CIRAD's budget
Unique infrastructures such as the Paracou forest site
in French Guiana, the emerging disease surveillance centre in Guadeloupe, and the plant protection platform